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Amazon backs Israeli autonomous robot maker BionicHIVE for warehouse solution

Company developed robotic fleet, powered by AI-based algorithmic engine, to sort, select, put away packages

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

BionicHIVE’s SqUID warehouse robot helps sort and manage packages. (Courtesy)
BionicHIVE’s SqUID warehouse robot helps sort and manage packages. (Courtesy)

E-commerce giant Amazon has invested in Israeli robotics company BionicHIVE, the developer of an automated warehouse solution based on a fleet of synchronized autonomous robots, the companies announced Thursday.

BionicHIVE makes the SqUID, a robotic device powered by an AI-based algorithmic engine that can sort, select, and put away packages, navigate warehouse floors using in-built cameras and sensors, and move between people and objects. The company says the SqUID robots are deployed in a “wide range of supply chain facilities utilizing existing shelving racks and boxes.”

A video of the robots in action caught the eye last year of business magnate Elon Musk, of SpaceX, Tesla and other companies and interests, who tweeted that “the robot future is coming.”

Based in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, BionicHIVE has been bootstrapped since 2014 when it was founded by entrepreneurs Liran Raizer, Tomer Amit, and Ilan Reingold. Israeli investment company OurCrowd invested in the company’s seed round.

Although the amount was not disclosed Thursday, Amazon’s investment marks the company’s first global backer.

The multinational tech, commerce, streaming, and cloud computing company made the investment through the newly launched Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund, a $1 billion fund announced Thursday that is set to “spur supply chain, fulfillment, and logistics innovation and further improve the customer and employee experience.”

Amazon said the fund will invest in companies that advance solutions that increase delivery speed and improve working conditions for warehouse and logistics employees. Amazon is believed to have over 2,000 facilities worldwide, including fulfillment, processing, and delivery centers, with over 300 more such facilities in the works.

Israeli company BionicHIVE developed an autonomous fleet of robots for an automated warehouse solution. (Courtesy)

According to Geekwire, Amazon employs over a million people across the US and over 1.5 million globally. The company’s employment conditions for warehouse workers have come under increased scrutiny and criticism.

Alongside the investment in BionicHIVE, the new fund also invested in four other robotics companies, all based in the US. None of the investment amounts were disclosed.

“The purpose of the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund is to support emerging technologies through direct investments, designed to spur invention and solve for the world’s toughest challenges across customer fulfillment operations, logistics, and supply chain solutions,” said Katherine Chen, head of the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund, in the Amazon announcement.

“Amazon has recognized BionicHIVE for its differentiated solution capable of optimizing safety around repeated tasks, at any height, in the supply chain workplace, and this is the kind of technology that’s pulling innovation forward,” added Chen.

Illustrative: Amazon packages move along a conveyor at an Amazon warehouse facility in Goodyear, Arizona, on December 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

BionicHIVE co-founder Reingold told The Times of Israel via email: “As an Israeli, it’s a big deal to be one of the very few companies that Amazon has invested in here and the first in the fulfillment arena. In general, it’s a tremendous validation of our unique approach and a big step forward towards expanding and scaling internationally.”

Reingold said the company will use the funding to grow its teams and operations, establish a US presence and expand its customer base.

Amazon first established an R&D center in Israel in 2014, later expanding it to include several offices and operations for Prime Air, a drone delivery service under development, Alexa Shopping, Amazon’s voice shopping division, and Amazon Lab126, a research and development, and computer hardware company owned by Amazon.

The multinational is also gearing up to open data centers in Israel in 2023, through Amazon Wevb Services (AWS), having won a NIS 4 billion tender, alongside Google, to build and provide cloud-based regional data centers and services to the nation.

The cloud project, called the Nimbus, is one of Israel’s biggest information technology projects. It will enable government ministries and other public entities to transfer servers and services into the cloud provided by the two tech firms. Until the data centers are built locally, cloud services are being provided by Google and Amazon AWS data centers in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Germany. All of that data will then be transferred to the ones set up in Israel.

Amazon acquired Israeli microelectronics company Annapurna Labs in 2015, absorbing the company into its AWS operations. The Annapurna Labs team, headquartered in Haifa, develops high-performance hardware and software for AWS.

In 2019, Amazon acquired two Israeli companies, Ramat Gan-based E8 Storage, a developer of software that provides flash storage installations for enterprises and data centers, and disaster recovery startup CloudEndure, both now with AWS.

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