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Ocado buys two robotics companies for $287m

03 November, 2020

The British online supermarket and technology group Ocado is buying two North American robotics companies – Kindred Systems and Haddington Dynamics – for a total of $287m to enhance its robotic manipulation capabilities and to accelerate the delivery of robotic picking technologies to its Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) customers. Ocado has also acquired a minority stake in materials-handling robotics start-up called Myrmex, which has operations in the US and Greece.

Ocado is paying $262m for Kindred Systems, based in San Francisco an Toronto, which designs and supplies piece-picking robots for e-commerce and order fulfilment duties. Founded in 2014, Kindred was one of the first companies to use deep reinforcement learning (a form of artificial intelligence that improves the learning process for handling disparate items, such as grocery products) to develop piece-picking robots with AI-powered vision and motion control. Kindred also provides remote assistance and engineering services to ensure that its robots operate at high pick rates with limited downtime.

Kindred has around 90 employees, about half of whom are engineers. The company expects to have around 180 robots installed and operating by the end of this year, and to generate revenues of more than $35m in 2021.

Kindred sells its robotic picking systems to customers mainly within the general merchandise and logistics sectors – a fast-growing new segment for Ocado Solutions. Its customers include the US clothing chains Gap and American Eagle. Ocado plans to expand Kindred Systems’ customer base and robot deployment, both in the US and globally. In 2019, Kindred Systems generated revenues of $1.7m and recorded a net loss of $16.2m.

Ocado is paying $25m for Haddington Dynamics, an r&d company based in Las Vegas that specialises in designing and manufacturing lightweight robotic arms that can be produced at a relatively low cost using 3D printing. Its customers include Nasa and DuPont.

Kindred Systems specialises in piece-picking robots for e-commerce and order fulfilment

“Our unique approach to highly dextrous robotic arms will provide meaningful benefits to delivering robotic manipulation in complex use cases like grocery,” predicts Haddington Dynamics’ president, Todd Enerson.

Myrmex, the start-up in which Ocado has taken a minority stake, has a portfolio that includes autonomous mobile robots and smart asset-handling systems. Myrmex focuses mainly on “the last mile” of delivery with systems that can deliver click-and-collect orders “a few seconds” after a customer arrives at a pick-up point. Click-and-collect services have been booming as a result of the Covid pandemic.

When combined with Ocado’s expertise and technologies for robotic manipulation, Kindred Systems and Haddington Dynamics are expected to speed up the commercialisation of robotic picking and other automation tasks for OSP customers. “We want to accelerate the development of our systems, including improving their speed, accuracy, product range and economics,” says Ocado CEO, Tim Steiner.

He adds that Kindred Systems and Haddington Dynamics “have the capabilities to allow us to accelerate delivery, innovate more, and grow faster. I am also excited by the opportunity to enter new markets for robotic solutions outside of grocery.”

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