Kroger's Robot Partner Just Made 2 Acquisitions
Kroger’s automated fulfillment center partner Ocado is acquiring a robotic arm designer and manufacturer and a piece-picking solution provider to bring even more automation to the world of online grocery.
Ocado revealed plans to acquire Kindred Systems and Haddington Dynamics for $262 million and $25 million, respectively. It said the deals would enhance its robotic manipulation capabilities and accelerate the commercial delivery of robotic picking for Ocado Smart Platform clients. Kroger has an agreement with Ocado to develop 20 highly automated grocery fulfillment centers throughout the U.S., the first of which could begin operation late next year.
"We consider the opportunities for robotic manipulation solutions to be significant, both for Ocado Smart Platform clients and across the fast-growing online retail and logistics sectors,” said Ocado CEO Tim Steiner. “Ocado has made meaningful progress in developing the machine learning, computer vision and engineering systems required for the robotic picking solutions that are currently in production at our Customer Fulfilment Centre in Erith (southeast of London). Given the market opportunity we want to accelerate the development of our systems, including improving their speed, accuracy, product range and economics.”
Kindred Systems is a robotic solutions company based in San Francisco and Toronto that designs, supplies and services piece-picking robots for e-commerce and order fulfilment. According to Ocado, Kindred Systems was one of the first companies to successfully use deep reinforcement learning (a form of artificial intelligence that improves the learning process of handling disparate items like those in grocery) to develop piece-picking robots with AI-powered vision and motion control. By year end Kindred Systems expects to have approximately 180 robots installed and operating.
Kindred Systems CEO Marin Tchakarov said the company has achieved very strong growth with retail e-commerce fulfilment customers the past three years, noting that, “the unique challenges presented in grocery fulfilment will bring an even richer learning environment, further expanding on both our technology and market solutions set.”
Haddington Dynamics is an earlier stage research and development company based in Las Vegas that specializes in the design and manufacture of low-cost, lightweight, highly dexterous, robotic arms. The company’s arm design and technology allows for low cost manufacturing via 3D printing and some of its clients include NASA and DuPont, according to Ocado.
"Our unique approach to highly dexterous robotic arms will provide meaningful benefits to delivering robotic manipulation in complex use cases like grocery,” said Todd Enerson, president of Haddington Dynamics.
The planned acquisition of Kindred Systems and Haddington Dynamics follows an announcement last month that Ocado acquired a minority state in robotics start-up Myrmex Inc.