Although robots have been used in pick-and-place operations in factories, warehouses, and fulfillment centers for years, the goal of achieving human-like dexterity with robotic repeatability and accuracy has been elusive. Dexterity Inc. this week emerged from stealth with $56.2 million in Series A funding. It also announced the availability of its “full stack” of software and robots for supply chain operations.
“While robots are the backbone of manufacturing, they have historically lacked the ability to adapt and operate in dynamic environments like warehouses,” stated Samir Menon, founder and CEO of Dexterity. “Dexterity’s intelligent robots constantly adapt to warehouse operations and do the tedious and strenuous tasks, which maximizes productivity by enabling humans to focus on meaningful work.”
Menon founded the Redwood City, Calif.-based company in 2017, and The Robot Report named it a “startup to watch” at Automate/ProMat 2019. For his Ph.D. thesis at Stanford University, Menon worked on a control theory framework to describe how the human brain controls and coordinates the body, which serves as a model to distill human skill into mathematical programs that control robots in a graceful human-like manner.
Dexterity AI designed to be hardware-agnostic
The startup said that its hardware-agnostic robotic systems allow customers to automate pick-pack tasks and can handle complex manipulations in unpredictable environments. This allows warehouse employees to focus on higher-level cognitive work, it said. The robots use artificial intelligence, advanced control theory, computer vision, and the sense of touch to adapt quickly, making them safe to work alongside humans.
Unlike other systems in the market, Dexterity said its robots can move on rails, pack items, and work with one another. For instance, two robots can collaborate to pick trays or crates and move them across a work area if required.
Dexterity said it can manage the entire automation deployment process, from system design and engineering to deployments with operational guarantees. It claimed that its systems are already picking more than 200 unique items in production with 99.5% accuracy, reliably picking a wide variety of objects such as plastic bags, glass, perishables, and low-profile items.
A full-stack and modular approach
Dexterity said it has developed its robots with a full-stack approach, combining both software and hardware. To support high performance and adaptability with safe human-robot interaction, its robots have capabilities including force control and contextual awareness.
The company said it has partnered with customers to design systems and controls that match their individual needs and products. The robots help perform tasks such as fulfillment, kitting, sortation, singulation, palletization, and depalletization.
Dexterity added that its platform is modular, so depending on the use case, the robots can use grippers or suction cups to handle different objects. They can also track items with 3D camera systems and identify arbitrary unknown objects with general machine learning models.
Dexterity addresses warehouse challenges
While supply chains continue to expand at a rapid pace driven by growth in e-commerce, interest in jobs that are dirty, dull, or dangerous continues to decline. Dexterity said this trend has been further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with increased volume, an exacerbated labor shortage due to health concerns, and the inability to guarantee safety for workers without heavily disrupting operations has amplified the need for automation.
Traditionally, robots could only be deployed for precise pre-programmed tasks, such as welding in automotive manufacturing, said the company. Dexterity said it enables human-like intelligence and dexterity to unlock a larger set of tasks in supply chain environments that have been previously unsolved by robotics.
Operators have become 47% more productive with Dexterity robots, and that improvement is growing over time as the robots learn and are more tightly integrate into local operations, claimed the company. Its initial customers include a global food manufacturer and distributor, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd., and a worldwide package delivery provider.
“Dexterity’s artificial intelligence, computer vision, and stacking design technology was what really stood out to us,” said Toshihiko M., manager of the Robotics Business Center at Kawasaki. “Samir provides a clear vision for the future of our robotic applications and gives us confidence that with this partnership, we can easily deploy our robots in a variety of ways.”
Other companies applying advanced sensing and AI to robotic manipulation include Tactile Telerobot, Covariant, and RIOS Corp.
Dexterity said it is exiting stealth with “deep customer relationships.” The company is considered an essential business because, among other things, it has helped ship more than half a million units of packaged food.
The startup has raised $56.2 million to date, including venture investments and debt from Kleiner Perkins, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Obvious Ventures, Pacific West Bank, B37 Ventures, Presidio (Sumitomo) Ventures, Blackhorn Ventures, Liquid 2 Ventures, and Stanford StartX.
“Technically, Dexterity’s robotic solution can do what their predecessors could not,” said Wen Hsieh, a partner at Kleiner Perkins. “Their robot’s ability to learn as it picks, packs, and places novel objects is unsurpassed.”
“Dexterity also stands out because of their high-touch approach with customers, which includes gaining a deep understanding of customers’ needs, and then offering a robots-as-a-service [RaaS] offering,” he added. “This unique pricing model allows Dexterity to deploy quickly and effectively, which results in an immediate performance and financial impact on customers’ warehouse operations.”
“Dexterity is one of the very few companies in the world which has almost an unlimited market opportunity,” said Raviraj Jain, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners. “When I first met Samir, I immediately knew he had the technical chops, the drive, and the vision to do something exceptional. In the short 2.5 years, Samir has assembled an exceptional team of some of the best and the brightest in robotics, built a strong tech stack that is generalizable, and delivered significant customer value.”
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