Vecna Logistics Robotics Become Generally Available

In the News
April 03, 2017

Vecna Technologies Inc., which has been quietly developing mobile and telepresence systems, today announced its new logistics robotics division.

“Until now, we’ve really been in R&D, pilot mode,” said Daniel Theobald, chief innovation officer at Vecna. “Over the past 20 years, we’ve invested $52 million in developing an end-to-end material handling solution. We’re making our platform generally available for the first time.”

Business Takeaways:

  • After developing and testing mobile robots for about 20 years, Vecna Technologies has announced general availability of its “end-to-end solution” for the logistics industry.
  • Vecna’s hardware and software are designed to be interoperable with customer systems, and its task manager is intended to optimize operations across devices, tasks, and staffers.
  • Although the supply chain automation market is heating up, the challenge for robotics providers remains demonstrating business value and convincing people that robots aren’t coming for their jobs

The market gets ready

After such a long time supporting hospitals, the U.S. military, and NASA, why enter the supply chain and logistics robotics market now?

“We’ve been monitoring the market, waiting for the right moment,” Theobald told Robotics Business Review. “Up until now, there has been a lot of pushing to convince people of robots, which often failed to meet expectations. There was a lot of skepticism.”

“Several years ago, when we were developing the VGo telepresence robot, people said, ‘Don’t call it a robot; that’s a bad word,'” he recalled. “They didn’t want to invest, so we called it a ‘telepresence device.'”

Cambridge, Mass.-based Vecna, which is a 2017 RBR50 company, acquired VGo last year.

“Now, the dynamics have changed,” said Theobald. “The market is now saying, ‘We must invest in automation … we realize we could be left behind.’ There’s a great appetite for autonomy.”

“Just in the past few months, we’ve seen a shift in attitude,” he said. “Many major corporations are now hiring chief autonomy officers. They want to know how to deploy autonomy to keep customer-focused work.”

“This allowed us to invest in the technology comparable to the level of the market,” Theobald said.

Four differences for Vecna logistics robotics

According to Theobald, Vecna‘s autonomy offerings have four differentiators in the logistics robotics market.

“It’s about more than just the robot. Companies focus too much on the robot, not the overall solution,” he said. “Our first key differentiator is our installation approach. Our first step is simulating operations using historical data — flow, seasonal changes — then creating a vast number of scenarios using different technologies and automating different pieces.”

“We’ve measured throughputs to show some big-name companies that the return on investment [ROI] is realistic,” Theobald added.

“Our second differentiator is that we have the broadest range of platforms,” he asserted. “We offer robots that can lift pallets, pull carts weighing thousands of kilos, plus small lightweight robots that can move individual totes. Vecna also makes robots that can lift carts like Kiva [from Amazon Robotics], pull trailers, and provide telepresence.”

“We can seamlessly integrate our robots with third-party systems, or customers can use our autonomy kit to automate existing equipment such as tugs,” Theobald said. “There’s currently a lack of interoperability standards — you can’t build a car with a hammer. You need a whole set of tools for manufacturing, order fulfillment, logistics.”

“Our task manager system is differentiator No. 3,” he explained. “It’s a centralized ‘brain’ that knows what robots there are, their features, and what other equipment is in use.”

“The AI-enabled brain also understands personnel and what tasks they can perform,” Theobald continued. “It can effectively deploy them in an optimized way, allowing them to get more done with fewer total resources and cost.”

“This allows you to have a more agile enterprise to deal with unexpected things, like adjusting products or equipment failures,” he added. “This is a level of agility not on the market.”

“The final differentiator is a very robust remote assistance and deployment network,” said Theobald. “Once a robot runs into a problem, it can generally be identified, addressed, and resolved very quickly without having to shut down operations or send someone out to the floor to solve the problem. This is in stark contrast to...

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