Kindred is Piloting New Robots with Major Retailers

Major global retailers are piloting new robots built to fulfill online orders.

Vancouver-based Kindred announced its production model robots called Kindred Sort are being used in retail distribution and e-commerce fulfillment centres.

Side-by-side with warehouse staff, the smart robotic arms can quickly and accurately sort products into customer orders with some remote human assistance.

The AI and robotics startup said the robots “alleviate the massive pressures” face by retailers that are experiencing continued sales growth while also struggling to fill warehouse jobs.

“Industrial robots, despite their accuracy and precision in the controlled environments of modern manufacturing facilities, do not adapt well to less controlled environments where the items could be randomly placed or come in a nearly infinite variety of sizes, shapes and weights,“ said George Babu, co-founder and head of product at Kindred.

The robotic arms are currently controlled remotely in Toronto at Kindred’s new piloting centre. Guided by an employee, the robot learns what items are being picked up, teaching itself with the eventually goal of operating without human control.

The production robots have already been put to work. For six weeks, they’ve been used at a Gap warehouse, Badu said in an interview with the Verge.

While the company has a larger mission focused on building human-like intelligence in machines, the Kindred Sort are their first commercial offering.

Kindred also announced it has raised $28 million in Series B funding, a round led by Tencent with participation from previous investors Eclipse Ventures and First Round Capital, bringing total financing to date to $44 million.

“Kindred Sort is only the beginning when it comes to showcasing the company’s unique approach to AI,” said Pierre Lamond, partner at Eclipse Ventures, in a release.

“Their technology is powering a new class of robots that learn to do far more than traditional industrial robots. These intelligent robots complement human workers to meet the greater efficiency, flexibility and output demands of modern ecommerce fulfillment centers.”

The new capital will go towards the continued research, development and deployment of Kindred’s robots as a service, said the company. Kindred’s scientists are uncovering how brains learn through a physical body and applying those learnings to create and teach the AI-powered robots.

“In the future, all machines will benefit from being able to understand and interact intelligently with the world around them, and Kindred is on the forefront of creating the building blocks for this future,” said Babu.

Kindred was co-founded by Geordie Rose and Suzanne Gildert in 2014, and currently has offices in Vancouver, San Francisco and Toronto.