April 4, 2017
By Hiawatha Bray, Boston Globe
Vecna Technologies Inc. specializes in making robots for medical applications. Now it’s moving into the shipping industry, in a big way. On Monday, the company unveiled a line of seven robots for use in warehouse settings, and a suite of software to manage them all.
The robots range from large machines that can move pallets of merchandise to small “conveyor” robots that carry individual items to human workers for packing and shipment. “The majority of robot companies out there today, they just have one tool,” said Daniel Theobald, founder and chief executive of the Cambridge company. “What Vecna is bringing to market is the full toolbox.”
The company has also made an “autonomy kit,” that lets warehouse operators convert manually operated equipment into robots, such as forklifts or floor sweepers. Factories that use golf carts to transport workers to their stations could automate the carts, Theobald said, eliminating the need for a human driver.
Vecna’s software will enable warehouse managers to easily program the robots for optimal performance. Theobald said that the system is designed to be interoperable with robots made by other manufacturers. “It’s not the robots at the end of the day that matter,” he said. “It’s the software.”
Founded in 1998, Vecna is best known for its QC Bot, a robot used in hospitals to deliver medications and other supplies. It also has a line of health care management software and experimental robots the company has built for the US military.
Theobald said Vecna has spent $52 million over the past two decades to develop its logistical robots for warehouses. During that time, the company has tested the machines at warehouses operated by major federal agencies, including the US Navy and Air Force, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The privately held company has previously relied on its own revenues and grants from the US Small Business Administration to fund operations, but is now soliciting funds from outside investors.
Read more about how robots for warehouses can optimize performance here.