RightHand Robotics, a Somerville, Mass-based company founded in 2014 by Leif Jentoft and Yaro Tenzer, closed a $23 million Series B round for its RightPick robotic piece-picking technology. The round was led by Menlo Ventures and included participation from GV (formerly Google Ventures) and existing investors Dream Incubator, Matrix Partners, and Playground Global. Prior to this, RightHand Robotics raised $11.3 million via Seed (October 2015) and Series A rounds (March 2017).
Jentoft told The Robot Report the new funding will help RightHand Robotics scale its RightPick solution by expanding its sales and deployment teams, as well as other technical areas within the company. Jentoft said RightHand Robotics currently has 40 employees and is looking to hire 30 more.
“We are aggressively investing in talent acquisition, international growth, and advancing our RightPick product line as we bring the benefits of advanced automation to the material handling industry,” Jentoft said.
But as important as the funding, perhaps, is a new addition who will advise RightHand Robotics on its strategic direction. Mick Mountz, founder and former CEO of Kiva Systems, is joining RightHand Robotics’ board of directors. Mountz founded Kiva Systems in January 2003 and sold it to Amazon in 2012 for a measly $775 million.
Mountz has known Jentoft and Tenzer since their days at Harvard University. The RightHand Robotics co-founders occasionally reached out to Mountz for advice on how to turn their technology into a business. Now he will help RightHand on an official basis, advising them on product development, go-to-market strategy, how to build a sales organization and more.
“They’re not hiring me for introductions,” said Mountz, who left Amazon in December 2015. “They have plenty of customers already. The reason I’m jumping in now more formally is because I’ve seen RightHand Robotics develop traction in the market with their solution. They are poised for a real growth phase, which is where I can help them by sharing some of my experience while Kiva went through a similar phase from 2006-2012. RightHand Robotics is right on the cusp of that.”
RightHand’s RightPick platform is an all-in-one piece-picking system that combines off-the-shelf robot arms and cameras with the company’s gripper and software. Jentoft said RightPick mimics a human’s hand-eye coordination and uses machine learning to figure out how to grasp items it has never seen before. The system is robot agnostic, and according to Jentoft, can perform 900-plus picks per hour.
“The key challenge in piece-picking is similar to self-driving cars,” said Jentoft. “There are lots of edge cases. And the more you have, the more you solve, the higher customer value you can provide.”
RightHand Robotics has a slew of robot arms constantly picking items at its Somerville office. But it also has systems operational in Europe, Japan and the US. Jentoft would not name customers, but said they work in the e-commerce, grocery and pharmaceutical industries. All in all, Jentoft said RightHand Robotics has performed millions of picks worldwide.
“Typically warehouses don’t know what the products are until they show up to the docking station,” Jentoft said. “We see RightPick working across all the places where you’re handling pieces.”
RightHand Robotics picking up where Kiva left off
Mountz said customers always asked Kiva why it did not use a robot for piece-picking. Mountz told The Robot Report Kiva never experimented with robotic piece-picking because the technology simply was not ready back then.
“We were laser-focused on our mobile robotic fulfillment solution,” Mountz said. “We had a demo at Kiva that always impressed customers. We would present them with a web page with groceries to buy. They would click on Coke, Captain Crunch, chocolate chip cookies and then hit submit. Then a robot would deliver those three items to them and I’d pick them out and scan them. Back then, you’d need a NASA-sized research budget to solve the picking task.”
Mountz said RightHand Robotics is picking up where Kiva left off. “I think of the grasping problem as an extension of the Kiva system,” said Mountz. “We wiped out the wasted walking throughout the warehouse, while RightHand takes out the next level in the operation of picking and packing.”
Mountz and Kiva are essentially responsible for kickstarting the warehouse robotics market. But after all these years, Mountz said the warehouse robotics space is still in the early days of development.
“There still is a voracious appetite for technologies that improve the efficiencies of warehouses. When you have hundreds of people doing repetitive tasks, like picking up items, you’re going to look for ways to automate that,” said Mountz. “There will be a lot of innovation in the space in the coming decade, and we’ll continue to see productivity improvements.
“Another thing that attracted me to RightHand is that there’s a practical reality where you have to be in the field to understand how these processes work. And that’s where RightHand has an edge right now. You don’t have to feed their robot millions of cycles of learning to do the right thing. It learns as it goes. Because of their mechanical intelligence, software and vision working together, it allows them to jam the gripper into the tote and grasp stuff they haven’t seen before. It makes for more rapid deployment and scale up.”
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