Walmart’s had its ups and downs in the robotics world, looking for any advantage in a bid to stay competitive with Amazon’s online domination. In July, the mega-retailer inked a deal with Symbotic, further cementing its commitment to the Massachusetts-based automation firm. The new deal expanded a partnership first piloted in 2017 that’s set to bring robotics to 25 regional Walmart distribution centers.
The rollout, which will take “several years” to complete, joins partnerships with Albertsons and C&S Wholesale Grocers. Symbotic says its current implementation “touch[es] over 1,400 stores in 16 states and 8 Canadian provinces,” likely a reference to those locations directly impacted by distribution centers. The company’s autonomous robotic systems augment existing warehouse structures. Not surprisingly, the company is also leaning in heavily in the ways in which it can impact ongoing supply chain concerns.
Today, Symbotic announced plans to go public via SPAC, courtesy of a merger with SoftBank Investment Advisers’ SVF Investment Corp. 3. The deal gives the company a pro forma equity value of around $5.5 billion, while raising upwards of $725 million in gross proceeds, including $200 million from SoftBank. It also comes on the tail-end of what has been a very fruitful robotic investment year for SoftBank.
“Now is the time to take Symbotic to the next level,” CEO Rick Cohen said in a release. “SoftBank has tremendous experience investing in leading-edge artificial intelligence and robotics innovators, and our partnership with them will provide us with new insights, relationships and capital that will help us realize our full potential. Together, I’m confident Symbotic will be a powerful, long-term force in modernizing the supply chain to the benefit of all.”
If the deal closes in the first-half of 2022 as expected, Walmart will own 9% of the robotics/AI firm. It’s not quite the all-in acquisitions of companies like Kiva Systems that have formed the foundation of Amazon Robotics, but it’s clear now that Walmart has determined commitments to robotic fulfillment centers to be a necessary step toward its future.