With $25M in Tow, 6 River Systems Aims to Advance Warehouse Robotics

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reliably and quickly pick up and move a variety of items. Soft Robotics and RightHand Robotics—which on Tuesday announced a partnership with 6 River rival Vecna Robotics—are among the companies working on automated picking technologies. Dubois says he thinks it’ll be at least a decade before robots are capable of picking and placing any item “100 percent of the time.” That means it’ll be “robots working alongside humans” in picking operations for the foreseeable future, he adds.

When asked if jobs will be eliminated en masse if robotic picking and other automation technologies get good enough, Dubois sidesteps the question and points out that the current situation is a shortage of warehouse and logistics workers. “Today there are actually jobs going unfilled,” he says.

Dubois says warehouse robots can improve the productivity of human workers and expand the labor pool because the machines can fill in skills gaps for people. For example, robots can handle some tasks for people that have a disability that might otherwise keep them from operating equipment, he says. (He didn’t say how often people with disabilities have found work at warehouses with the help of robotic systems.)

But there are still technological improvements to be made. 6 River is investing in its software to boost Chuck’s ability to identify obstacles and make maneuvering decisions more quickly, among other enhancements, Dubois says. The company is also performing more analysis of warehouse data to identify steps that might improve operations, and developing tools aimed at improving customers’ existing warehouse management systems, he says.

“I think that the robot itself is just part of the overall solution,” Dubois says.

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