Ambi Robotics is securing a $32 million infusion to deploy its item-sorting robots in warehouses

Ambi Robotics, a startup developing hardware for supply chain automation, announced today that it has raised $32 million in additional funding led by Tiger Global and Bow Capital, with participation from Ahren and logistics firm Pitney Bowes. Pitney Bowes is a strategic investor in Ambi, recently inking a $23 million deal with the company to install Ambi hardware in Pitney Bowes’ US fulfillment centers.

The new capital came in the form of a SAFE, or simple equity futures contract, which gives investors the right to buy shares in the company at a future date, allowing Ambi to delay negotiations over valuation and investment terms. CEO Jim Liefer says he will focus on ongoing deployments and installations of Ambi’s technology, expanding the company’s product portfolio and growing the engineering, customer support and operations teams.

“This additional round of funding happened very quickly, stemming from a ‘normal’ upgrade of the company for our existing investors and partners,” Liefer told TechCrunch in an email interview. “This has sparked interest in further driving the production and implementation of our current and future categories of AI-powered package sorting systems… Our team has more than doubled this year alone, and we will continue to add engineering talent and customer success to other areas to kept pace with customer demand for our robotic solutions in their operations.”

Ambio’s co-founders — including Ken Goldberg, chair of UC Berkeley’s industrial engineering and operations research department — discovered clever techniques for training robots in simulation years ago and transferring those learnings to the real world. After a breakthrough in a system called Dex-Net, Goldberg and former PhD student Jeff Mahler launched the company in 2019, along with other UC Berkeley scientists and engineers.

Dex-Net, short for Dexterity Network, is an AI system that trains on thousands of images of 3D object models. Using deep learning, the system examines data and uses algorithms to learn the best way to capture objects.

An array of Amba’s autonomous robotic arms for sorting items arranged on the warehouse floor. Image authors: Ambient robotics

Ambi’s robotics platform is based on this to automate processes mainly in logistics and services. The company claims its products, which include robotic arms and the software to power them, can “learn” to pick and pack millions of unique items while adapting to different packaging (eg, boxes and envelopes) in real time.

Using “end effectors” as suction cups, Ambi machines sort, scan, insert, place and pack items organized into mail bags on distribution center floors alongside workers. Software running in the background analyzes data on throughput, item dimensions and weight, usage and more, and identifies “pick-up points” on items in crowded environments such as conveyor belts, bags and boxes.

Users pay up front for the Ambi robotic units and then pay a monthly subscription fee to use the software.

“The team at Ambi Robotics is bringing a new way of thinking about traditional problems,” said Liefer. “With advanced technology that can solve a wide range of real-world problems, the team [has] decided to use their expertise to move the growing e-commerce industry towards a sustainable supply chain so that the effort of sorting orders does not fall on the shoulders of our most valuable asset – people.”

Liefer says Ambi’s current focus is on implementing the latest generation of its robotic technology, the AmbiSort A-Series v3, which has a “soft touch” end effector that can handle both rigid and deformable objects. Ambi claims that warehouse workers can work together with three to four of these systems to increase the average throughput per employee to more than 1,200 sorted items per hour.

Ambi competes with Covariant, Nomagic, Soft Robotics, Pickle, Hai Robotics, XYZ Robotics and RightHand, among others, in a robotics-friendly investment climate. According to Crunchbase, more than $17 billion was invested in VC-backed robotics startups in 2021 — nearly triple the investment in 2020. In April, Amazon announced it would create a new $1 billion fund to support companies working in the consumer space. services, logistics and supply chain sectors. And in May, Walmart expanded its partnership with robotics startup Symbotic to install the latter’s machines in all Walmart distribution centers across the US.

In 2019, the global warehouse automation market was worth around $15 billion, according to Statista. That number is expected to double over the next four years, with supply chain executives in an Accenture survey citing automation as one of their top three investment priorities – edging out workers’ concerns about technology.

Leifer says Ambi in turn began generating revenue through commercial deployments in October 2020, installing systems before the peak holiday shopping season. The company is currently in the process of installing 80 parcel sorting systems, while supporting more than 80 full stack sorting systems in 15 sorting centers.

Gregg Zegras, executive vice president and president of global e-commerce at Pitney Bowes, added in an emailed statement: “Ambi Robotics is an important part of an innovation strategy that helps Pitney Bowes improve customer service for our customers and effectively expand our global e-commerce business . In Ambi Robotics, we see the same commitment to customer-led innovation that has helped Pitney Bowes grow and conquer the market for more than 100 years. We look forward to continuing to work together to drive innovation in our global e-commerce hubs.”

Berkeley-based Ambi, which recently moved into new headquarters, has raised $67 million to date and has more than 50 employees.

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