Harvest Automation has made its name in plants–picking them up and setting them down, more specifically. Now, it plans to bring its plant-moving robots’ skills to other industries, according to COO Charles Grinnell.
Next week at the RoboBusiness conference Harvest Automation will reveal a robot tailored to industries like manufacturing and e-commerce, where businesses also need to regularly move small items, Grinnell said in an interview.
Imagine an Amazon warehouse, for example, where humans are currently tasked with gathering item after item to prepare them for shipment. Robots are well-suited to take over that kind of task, and Amazon is already ramping up its own army of warehouse robots. For companies that don’t have the resources to commission custom robots, Harvest Automation could be an option.
Harvest Automation has been making robots since 2007, when it decided to tackle an agricultural robot because of the labor issues facing the field.
“It requires armies of manual laborers,” Grinnell said. “Most of them are immigrant laborers because it’s a seasonal business. It really traditionally has been the lowest rung on the labor ladder for foreign born workers that come to this country.”
Its co-founders invented the Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, and wanted to apply a similar strategy by building a relatively inexpensive machine that excelled at one task.
“It picks up plants, it moves it over here and it puts it down,” Grinnell said. “A lot of robots have been developed over the past couple decades and very few have become commercial successes. Part of the issue there is people tend to think, ‘Oh we’re going to develop this general purpose robot that’s going to do everything. Developing robots is very challenging. It becomes very complex really quickly, and expensive.”
Harvest Automation has raised $30.6 million to date in venture funding. Around 100 of its robots are out in the field doing work for 20 customers.