Business

Storage robot start-up ForwardX raises $ 31 million on first series C deal

ForwardX robotics, a Beijing-headquartered company that makes autonomous mobile robots (AMR), said Tuesday it had closed the first tranche of its Series C funding to expand globally.

The startup is rallying for the remainder of its Series C round at a time when investors are vying for warehouse and manufacturing robotics manufacturers in China, the company’s chief operating officer Yaxin Guan told TechCrunch in an interview.

The new investment increased ForwardX’s total increase to approximately $ 100 million since Nicolas Chee, a former vice president of Oracle, founded the company in 2016. The startup declined to disclose its post-money rating or how much it plans to rake in for the entire Series C.

The C1 round was led by Taikang Life Insurance, a Chinese insurer, with the participation of Qualcomm Ventures and Starlight Capital, an early-stage Chinese investment firm focused on industrial modernization.

In 2014, Qualcomm announced that it has allocated $ 150 million to fund Chinese startups that advance mobile technologies for the internet, e-commerce, semiconductors, health and education.

With the chip maker on board, ForwardX can “work with a 5G technology leader to further advance the use of 5G in its smart warehouse and manufacturing projects,” the company said, although the startup is currently using chips from another major vendor.

With the new cash injection, the Chinese startup plans to accelerate its R&D schedule, increase its deployment capabilities in “key markets” such as the US and expand sales to new markets.

Most of its revenue comes from China right now, with e-commerce powerhouse JD.com and logistics giant SF Supply Chain China, which has a partnership with DHL, two of its main customers. So far, the robot maker has sourced more than 5 million picks for JD.com’s warehouses, according to Guan.

Like a couple of others Chinese robotics startups, ForwardX is making a steady foray into overseas markets. It has already opened an office in Tokyo, is on track to open a US office, and plans to enter Europe next year.

That means it comes after its American counterparts like Locus Robotics and 6 River Systems. To be competitive, the company claimed that its solution required less up-front investment than its competitors due to “competitive hardware costs and the need for fewer robots per person in its solutions”. Its robots can each transport up to 1,200 kilograms of goods.

In addition to selling AMR solutions, ForwardX is also promoting a fleet management system that can determine how robots move around a warehouse, similar to algorithms used by ride-hailing platforms to optimize driver productivity.

With the help of the lidar and deep learning-enabled robots, workers can spend more time picking than walking around, and new employees no longer have to remember where everything is in the warehouse, Guan said.

Chinese technology companies are increasingly being monitored by regulatory authorities abroad. From a “business perspective”, Guan does not see how US-China tensions could hamper the company’s US expansion.

“There are even fewer people available in the US, so robots are what logistics customers in the US need,” she said.

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