Amazon this morning announced that it had set up a $1 billion industrial innovation fund to invest in supply chain, fulfillment and logistics.
A leader in the move to use robotics and automation in its warehouses since its acquisition of Kiva a decade ago, Amazon’s new fund represents a move to go even further into using technology to improve logistics as consumers demand ever faster deliveries and the supply-chain crisis has moved front and center.
“We see an opportunity to look beyond our own experience and empower companies that are developing emerging technologies in customer fulfillment operations, logistics and the supply chain,” Alex Ceballos Encarnacion, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide corporate development, wrote in a blog post. He noted that whether the investments were purely that or they led the portfolio companies to work with Amazon, “we’re excited to help advance these technologies as online shopping becomes even more important to people who are looking for more convenience and time savings.”
The fund intends to focus on companies that incrementally increase delivery speed and improve the experience of warehouse and logistics workers. Ceballos said that Amazon was committed to using its scale to invest in “companies that will ignite innovation in emerging technologies.”
The fund’s first round of investments is focused on wearable technologies and robotics. The first wave of companies include Greenville, South Carolina-based Modjoul, which makes wearable safety technology; Santa Clara, California-based Vimaan, which uses computer vision and artificial intelligence to improve inventory management; Corvallis, Oregon-based Agility Robotics, which is developing a bipedal walking robot to address the mobility limitations of traditional robots; Israel-based BionicHive, which is developing an autonomous robotic solution to adapt to existing shelving racks and boxes in warehouses; and San Francisco-based Mantis Robotics, which is developing a tactile robotic arm that uses sensor technology to cohesively work alongside people.
Amazon did not disclose how much it had invested in each of these companies, but noted that the investment sizes would vary and be based on the opportunity and stage of growth of each company. It also did not disclose the number of companies it expected to invest in over time.
The move comes as industrial innovation, once a backwater for investment, has become an increasingly hot area with dozens of new companies springing up to improve warehousing and logistics, as well as introduce technologies on the factory floor.