With two warehouses in Devens, Quiet Logistics Inc. is — as the name implies — not typically a headline-grabbing business. The warehouse manager ships about $1 billion in goods per year for brands like Bonobos, Ministry of Supply, and M. Gemi, but the privately held company is one of many warehousing firms that support the $330 billion-and-growing US e-commerce industry.
But Quiet has something to say these days. After years of brainstorming, tinkering, and building, the company has made a new warehouse robot, and it has created a new company, Locus Robotics Corp., to sell the logistics industry on a new tool to help its human workers.
Locus and other companies aim to fill the void left by Kiva Systems Inc., since the North Reading robot maker was bought by Amazon for $775 million in 2012. Although Amazon still supports the robots Kiva sold to other warehouse operations, logistics companies have long been planning for a future without Kiva. Now, Locus is offering its own fleet of collaborative “Locus Bots” that are meant to be easy to direct and safe enough to schlep goods across the same floor space that people are working in.
Locus Bots currently roam the floors at one of Quiet Logistics’s warehouses, according to Al Dekin, Locus’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, and they’re trimming down the time employees spend carrying goods from shelves to shipping areas. The bots have wheels and a platform to hold a storage bin, or tote. They can use cameras to navigate around obstacles and people, and workers can give them directions using a simple iPad interface, Dekin said.
The bots have been rolling around the Quiet warehouse for a couple of months, but at certain steps in the shipping process, Dekin said, the machines have substantially increased the speed that products are moving through its system.
“People are still very good at doing a lot of things that are required in the warehouse,” said Dekin. “This is all about taking out unproductive time.”
The company will have several competitors, including at least one in the Boston area. Symbotic LLC of Wilmington develops autonomous robots, and the California startup Fetch Robotics Inc. is working on a robotic duo that can pick items off warehouse shelves and carry them.
Locus is backed by $6 million in capital from the same investors who backed Quiet, and Dekin said it had more than 20 employees and is in the process of hiring a completely separate staff.