Solving Supplychain Woes With Robot-Enabled Humans

The Pandemic has propelled e-commerce to stratospheric heights with sales skyrocketing over 30% in 2020, and close to 40% in 2021. Globally, online shopping jumped to nearly $30 trillion led by Alibaba and Amazon. This consumer behavior shift has accelerated the adoption of warehouse automation technologies with packaging systems estimated to climb to $69 billion by 2025. At the center of this revolution are unmanned systems. Robots excel at dull repetitive tasks (like moving pallets), however, humans still exceed their mechanical counterparts in delicate creative tasks that require high levels of tactile dexterity. This paradox has led many roboticists to take a dramatically different approach to use mechatronics to streamline productivity. In place of traditional robots to augment labor, these innovators outfit workers with cyborg appendages to increase employee productivity. The best example of this approach is German Bionic with its CrayX exoskeleton.

Rather than replacing employees with robots, customers of German Bionic elevate their current workforce to new strengths and purposes. Speaking with German Bionic’s CEO and founder, Armin Schmidt, he elaborated on his philosophy of “injecting power” into humans via the exoskeletons. This struck at the heart of the competitive advantage, unlike passive systems like SuitX and HeroWear, the CrayX uses batteries to provide back and upper limb support. Also, the German Bionic systems are packed with artificial intelligence and analytics that track usage and adjust to worker behaviors to improve performance. Now with the fifth generation, it has taken its platform to the next step with walking assistance, longer battery life, and indoor/outdoor environmental casing (fully weatherproof). This product launch comes on the heels of its North American expansion with an office in Boston and USA customers.

The new Cray’s deep learning functionality monitors movement and especially fatigue to optimize performance and inject power into humans when they need it most. “Fatigue is one of the major risk factors for the human when you work for a long time when you get some accident it hurts you. It recognizes your behavior, your movements, and what you lift.” He further explained that they push updates, via the Cloud, based upon dynamic feedback and usage from the field to the user, gamifying their work. “This is the first time the user understands what they lifted during the day,” boasts Schmidt. He further elaborated that with an example, say they “lifted 5 elephants,” worth of goods, seeing that accomplishment makes the worker become more motivated to exceed his goals the next day, similar to monitoring one’s steps on the Apple watch. Schmidt succinctly presents, “We don’t want to create the iron man, but supercharge the human on its weak points. We want to inject power to make the human more healthy.” Schmidt shared German Bionics’ future plans, hinting that the lower limbs are on the first part of a larger product story, as Schmidt is looking to expand to new verticals with new augmentative extremities. Today, they are working with DHL, BMW, Ikea, and close to 100 other customers worldwide with the most units active in the field.

From connected humans to connected cars, artificial intelligence offers the most significant game-changing opportunity of harnessing physical assets on the ground. The topic of automating analog workflow is the impetus for ff Venture Capital’s Drone & Robotics Summit on September 20th in New York City. Already, the ffVC portfolio is revolutionizing farming, logistics, infrastructure, and food deliveries. As governments and startups work to collaborate in redefining the human-machine relationship in our jobs, factories, and homes, the Summit aims to bridge the gaps between inventors, investors, and policymakers. To date, our fund has a roster of keynotes and panels from leading think tanks, academic labs, accelerators, banks, corporate research centers, and startup innovators. If you are interested in attending or speaking at the show, fill in the form today.

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Oliver Mitchell

Oliver Mitchell is a partner at ff Venture Capital. His area of focus is drones, robotics, and applied AI. Oliver is also an adjunct professor at YU.