ForwardX Robotics Inc., which has developed vision-based autonomous mobile robots, yesterday announced that it has raised $15 million in Series B+ funding. The Beijing-based company’s customers include SF DHL China, the largest third-party logistics provider in the world.
ForwardX has more than 160 patents pending and said its computer vision and fleet-management capabilities are designed to help manufacturing and logistics companies maximize efficiency. The company has more than 180 staffers, including 120 engineers, 10 of whom hold Ph.D.s.
It has also been recognized with awards including two first-place prices at the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s TRECVID digital video retrieval evaluation and a first-place price for IEEE’s VOT-RT visual object tracking challenge.
Portfolio of vision-based AMRs, fleet manager, smart luggage
Unlike many other autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), which rely on expensive lidar and other sensors for navigation and obstacle avoidance, ForwardX said it uses computer vision and deep learning with multi-sensor input for functionality including segmentation, detection, tracking, and recognition to perceive scene semantics.
“In its current state, lidar is simply a sensor input used for obstacle detection and avoidance,” said ForwardX. “It understands the environment as binary, simply recognizing free or occupied space. In practice, this binary understanding equates to confusion in highly dynamic surroundings, like warehouses and manufacturing plants, where errors result in high costs and danger.”
ForwardX currently offers two models of AMRs — the X200, with a payload capacity of 200 kg (440 lb.) and the X500, which can carry 500 kg (1,100 lb.).
ForwardX said its FX Fleet Manager can manage up to 200 AMRs, apply machine learning to traffic management, and optimize battery management for round-the-clock operation. It works with manufacturing execution systems (MES) and warehouse management systems (WMS) and provides a dashboard for productivity and efficiency tracking. The company also makes the OVIS carry-on luggage, which can follow a traveler.
ForwardX expands to North American supply chains
The market for automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and AMRs will generate over $10 billion by 2023, predicts Interact Analysis. ForwardX said it plans to continue its rapid growth with a recent expansion into the North American market.
“We are seeing huge challenges for supply chain leaders across the logistics and manufacturing industries, from growing labor shortages and consumer expectations to a greater need for flexibility,” stated Nicholas Chee, founder and CEO of ForwardX Robotics. He was formerly software-as-a-service product head at Oracle.
“Our AI-based automation solutions allow our customers to adapt to a rapidly changing landscape and boost their productivity and efficiency threefold,” Chee said. “With the fallout of COVID-19 already here, enterprises will be looking to future-proof their operations, and we’re going to be there with them as they make the transition.”
Customers have already observed near-100% accuracy, with doubled and tripled levels of productivity and operational cost savings of up to 50%, claimed the company.
“Most of the automation equipment in the industry is used to replace manual labor in repetitive and simple processes. However, in the future, we believe collaborative robots will increasingly participate in complex production processes,” said Felix Yang, accelerated digitalization lead for Greater China at SF DHL China, part of Deutsche Post DHL Group. “While improving production efficiency, ForwardX’s collaborative solutions help us respond flexibly to a changing industry and bring us closer to industry needs.”
Funding for growth
China Merchants Capital led the round as part of its SINO-BLR Industrial Investment Fund. In addition to 2018’s $10 million Series A and last year’s $15 million Series B, the latest investment brings ForwardX’s total funding to more than $40 million.
The company said it will use the Series B+ funding to continue its growth through further product development, international expansion, and increased production and commercial deployment of its systems.
“In just over three years, ForwardX Robotics has cultivated its own unique competitive advantages and grown to become a leading AMR provider,” said Anthony Yang, managing director at China Merchants Capital. “Having successfully deployed their solutions in both logistics and manufacturing scenarios, we are very optimistic about ForwardX’s future. Moving forward, the SINO-BLR Industrial Investment Fund will help ForwardX Robotics expand the breadth and depth of its applications and continue to enhance its competitive advantage.”