China has been the world’s number one buyer of industrial robots since 2013, and last year surpassed Japan’s total of operating robots. And as the country battles rising wages, the automation trend is only going to accelerate.
But it’s not just manufacturers – like iPhone maker Foxconn – that are turning to robotics. So are online shopping companies.
That’s why Alibaba is emulating Amazon in putting more robots into the logistics warehouses it runs with several Chinese delivery firms. For robots that’ll fetch and carry stacks of goods, Jack Ma’s ecommerce behemoth, through its Cainiao spin-off, turns to a local startup named Geek+. It makes these:
That small team, put together in 2015, has just secured US$22 million in series A+ funding to help it grow amid China’s robotics boom, reports China Money Network today. Alibaba is its biggest name client.
Geek+’s automated pods look like those from Kiva, the American startup snapped up by Amazon for US$775 million in 2012. Now it’s a unit of Jeff Bezos’ company called Amazon Robotics.
The larger Geek+ bot can transport 1,000kg, while the smaller one scoots up to 100kg. They’re designed for any warehouse or factory where bits and pieces need to be moved to be accessed by human workers.
The startup says it has over 300 robots already in commercial use across China.
Its fresh US$14 million round was led by Vertex Ventures, a spin-off from Singapore’s state-owned sovereign wealth fund, Temasek. Volcanics Ventures and Banyan Capital also contributed.
Approximately 70 percent of China’s bots were produced by overseas firms. So Geek+ is also helping push forward China’s drive to challenge the US, Japan, and Germany as a leading maker of industrial robots.
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