Seegrid announced today that it is acquiring Philadelphia-based Box Robotics. Box Robotics is a mobile robotics startup that is developing high-definition, 3D perception maps for use by autonomous mobile robots (AMR) to localize and navigate. Box Robotics consists of two employees, the founders: Tom Panzarella and John Spletzer. Tom and John are industry veterans who have a combined 35+ years of robotics experience.
The goal of the acquisition, according to Seegrid CEO, Jim Rock is to accelerate next-generation perception and add more human-like, situational awareness technology to Seegrid’s vision guided vehicles (VGVs). Tom and John will be joining Seegrid and leading their perception engineering team, effectively subsuming all of the Box Robotics technology and innovation into future Seegrid product releases.
“Seegrid and Box Robotics are perfectly aligned in our mission to bring full 3D situational awareness and predictability to our next-generation robots,” said Jim Rock. “Tom and John are visionary leaders and experienced computer vision and robotics developers who uniquely and deeply understand the issues facing material handling automation.” He added, "This acquisition will help accelerate next-generation perception and bring more human-like, situational awareness technology to Seegrid’s vision guided vehicles. Not only do we expect to double our revenue this year, but we also recently closed a $52 million growth equity financing round, bringing our total funding to more than $150 million. We have also expanded our team and plan to hire more than 100 employees this year to support our growing customer base. “
Looking more closely at the work done by Box Robotics prior to the acquisition, Box Robotics was focused on building more robust, 3D perception that would enable higher AMR speeds (with the appropriate safety constraints). From the Box Robotics website we found the following statement about 3D perception: (note they used the term “AGV”, however AGV is limiting in it’s application, thus it’s more appropriate to use the term autonomous mobile robot “AMR” here…)
"AGV speeds are constrained to 2 m/s. By comparison, human operated industrial trucks are driven at speeds in excess of 5 m/s and with much higher agility. The speed governor placed on AGVs is not mandated by a regulatory agency, but is due to the robot’s limited perception capabilities which gives rise to safety concerns. However, if AGV speeds could be safely increased, vehicle throughput would also increase. As a result, the vehicle fleet size required for a given facility would be smaller. A 50% increase in vehicle speed could decrease facility installation costs up to 21%, while doubling the vehicle speed could reduce costs up to 35%. With typical facility installations costing several million dollars, these represent compelling savings for vehicle OEMs.”
We expect that the acquisition of Box Robotics will enable Seegrid to productize the concepts of HD Perception into the Seegrid localization and navigation algorithms at some point in the next year.
Seegrid has the long-term vision of becoming the dominant AMR operating system, a market that is quickly becoming crowded with a number of viable and strong competitors. This competition is healthy for the AMR market as a whole as it is driving solutions up the maturity curve. Not every competitor in this space is going to survive, but this acquisition certainly helps Seegrid advance their core technology.
Box Robotics was known as an innovator in the ROS community and ROS is the most popular open source operating software solutions for AMR projects. Bringing the talent and ROS experience of Tom and John to Seegrid will help them make prudent decisions about the strategic future of the Seegrid software architecture.
Seegrid has built their solution around using vision, rather than LiDAR as the core perception technology. Box Robotics built their reputation around 3D LiDAR perception, so this acquisition appears to be a great way for Seegrid to shorten the engineering cycles necessary to develop and integrate 3D LiDAR into their solutions. The side effect may also be the capability to run Seegrid vehicles at faster speeds while maintaining the level of safety necessary to operate collaboratively around humans.