The push behind the massive influx of warehouse robotics funding is largely driven by one entity: Amazon. There are other factors driving the industry, of course, including the pandemic, labor shortages and supply chain constraints, but Amazon is forever looming in the corner, forcing companies to adopt creative and innovative ways to remain competitive. Not even a force of nature like Walmart is immune.
While Amazon has a head start in this department, dating back to its 2012 purchase of Kiva Systems, Walmart has been working aggressively on automation in recent years — though its own track record has been a bit spotty, most notably in the case of Bossa Nova, which has gone quiet since the company abandoned its shelf-scanning systems.
Massachusetts-based Symbotic has had considerably better luck. Late last year, the company announced its intentions to go public via SPAC, in large part based on momentum from an ongoing deal with Walmart that brought its warehouse robotics to 25 of the mega-retailer’s distribution/fulfillment centers. Today, the pair announced an expansion of the deal that will install Symbotic systems into all of Walmart’s distribution centers in the U.S. — that’s 42 in all.
While Walmart clearly has faith in the systems, it’s not an overnight deal. Symbotic says the retrofitting rollout will take more than 8 years to complete. It’s safe to say both the retail and robotics landscapes are on track to look extremely different in just under a decade.
“The need for accuracy and speed in the supply chain has never been more visible, and we’re confident that now is the time to move even faster by scaling Symbotic’s technology to our entire regional distribution center network,” Walmart SVP says in a release. “Using high-speed robotics and intelligent software to organize and optimize inventory, the Symbotic System helps us get products to our customers quickly and seamlessly by revolutionizing how we receive and distribute products to stores.”
Symbotic’s system is multifaceted, similar in that respect to companies like Berkshire Grey. It includes a combination of Kiva-like mobile robots for moving inventory around and robotic arms that can pick, place and de-palletize, using a variety of different attachments.
Per Symbotic, the SPAC — which was initially projected for some time in H1 — is still on pace. Though given the state of the market, holding off a bit on going public might be advisable. Walmart, meanwhile, has been striking partnerships with a number of different robotics firms, including GreyOrange, which is outfitting the company’s Canadian subsidiary.