As we close out the year, it’s natural to look back at the months we’ve just passed and assess what went well, what didn’t succeed, and where we should go from here. For Plus One Robotics, I like to say that 2021 was decidedly a year of two distinct halves.
The first half of 2021 was full of continued uncertainty on a global scale. We had great people on board, the right technologies in development, and clients who were excited about what we were doing. But things were moving slowly in the face of this new normal that COVID-19 had wrought on the population and the global economy. Many of our partners were in a wait-and-see position, which meant that business was quiet through those early months.
But then the second part of the year rolled around and the swell of momentum turned into a giant wave.
Did the pandemic fade? Not really. Did the supply chain issues resolve? Not even close. But the businesses that Plus One works with are those that can’t afford to sit and wait, regardless of the global situation. They needed to get things moving, to keep warehouses pumping to continue to fill the increasing demand for eCommerce. The robots definitely didn’t take a break.
In fact, in 2021, our robots installed in the field reached a pinnacle number—more than one million picks per day. The robots using our software kept working throughout the year, and more kept coming online as the months passed. The pick count is the heartbeat of our relationships with our clients, and this number continues to grow by leaps and bounds. I can’t wait to report the 2022 number next year.
Our team at Plus One grew too. At the beginning of the year, we had 42 full-time team members, and as we round out this year, we have more than 70 across three offices on two continents, and we continue to add more “Oners” as we grow.
Even as a supply chain automation company, we are certainly not immune from supply chain challenges of our own. Plus One hit a supply chain problem early, in 2019. We learned from that and qualified a second supplier of industrial PCs, upping our spend on inventory to prevent the same issue from happening again. It was fortuitous because it allowed us to be prepared for the current chip shortage. (As long as it doesn’t go on forever. No one is immune to that kind of disruption!)
More importantly, we are in a strong position to alleviate our customers’ supply chain challenges. The current lead time for conveyors is daunting—often 12 – 18 months. To meet surging consumer demand, warehouses need solutions now. Our Rapid Deployment System (RDS) fits the bill, is available immediately, and can be up and working within days.
Another exciting evolution for our business has been our partnership with Locus Robotics. Given the current shortage of conveyors, this was a timely agreement, because Automated Mobile Robots (AMRs) are filling the need in ways similar to our RDS. Every workflow in the warehouse is some combination of mobility plus manipulation, and our two companies are cut from the same cloth from a go-to-market perspective. Together, we can address client needs even better.
Our integrator relationships are critical for overall systems deploying efficiently, running smoothly, and being maintained. We have strengthened old relationships and built new ones throughout 2021 with Actemium, Attabotics, Calvary Robotics, MDCI Automation, Mission Design and Automation, Pearson, RōBEX, and Solution Net Systems. As we extend our reach beyond the Americas, we will continue to grow our integrator network at a global scale.
2022 is going to be tremendous. We opened our new facility in the Netherlands this year, and our expansion in Europe will be a significant part of our sales in 2022 and the future as we bring on more clients and our existing clients expand with us. Globally, we are looking past 2022 to Asia. Our latest funding round was led by McRock Capital and TransLink, an Asia-facing investor, so we are fortunate to have a lot of operational expertise to rely on in the region. With our headquarters in San Antonio, we are also excited to bring on not one but two Texan investors in our last funding round, Ironspring Ventures and Perot Jain.
2021 saw the first depalletization deployments from Plus One. 2022 will bring even more applications. Though we are most known for the induction and singulation work we do with parcel clients, 2022 will see an increase in other applications of our technology. As we move forward, expect to see Plus One’s fundamental philosophy manifested in significantly more industries. We always say “Robots work. People rule.” That idea of supervised autonomy—having a human in the loop to handle exceptions that AI alone can’t manage—has broad applications throughout all kinds of industries. Our software, Yonder, continues to be hardened in the crucible of the warehouse, but once it is fully mature, expect to see it supporting many different kinds of robots across many applications.
2021 was a tale of two halves, without a doubt. I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring for Plus One Robotics, and I couldn’t be more excited to lead this astounding team.
Erik Nieves is co-founder and CEO of Plus One Robotics, a software company developing 3D and AI-powered vision software for robots in logistics automation. Prior to Plus One, Erik was Technology Director for Yaskawa Motoman Robotics where he was responsible for the technology roadmap and emerging applications. Erik serves on the board of directors at Robotics Industries Association (RIA) and is a frequent speaker and contributor to public policy on robotics.