ForwardX Robotics captures $15M in Series B

ForwardX Robotics, a Beijing-based autonomous robot platform, has landed $15 million in Series B funding, as the company continues to expand into the North American market.

Leading the round is China Merchants Capital as part of their SINO-BLR Industrial Investment Fund. The new round brings ForwardX’s total funding to more than $40 million, including a $15 million raise last year.

Founded in 2014, ForwardX is perhaps best known in North America for  “Ovis,” a whimsical, AI-powered suitcase that trails its owner around airports and hotels.

Ovis debuted with much fanfare at CES 2019, but although it is part of the company’s autonomous mobile robot (AMR)  technology, luggage is not currently a focus for the startup, which targets the business-to-business market, Chief Operating Officer Yaxin Guan told FreightWaves.  

Featuring computer vision technology and advanced fleet management capabilities, ForwardX’s automation platform serves customers in the logistics and manufacturing industries with flexible, efficient robotics solutions, the company said.

To date, Forward X has deployed its two AMR models, capable of lifting 200 and 500 kilograms respectively, to major e-commerce and third-party logistics firms, including the Chinese e-commerce giant A recent contract will deploy more than 100 robots to DHL warehouses in Asia, according to Guan.

Its customers are seeing doubled and tripled levels of productivity and operational cost savings of up to 50%, the company said.

Debuting several years ago, AMRs are starting to replace another kind of robotic warehouse solution known as  AGVs, or Automated Guided Vehicles. The latter have been around for decades, and although both AGVs and AMRs move items from place to place, AMRs are considered more efficient and capable of more complex production processes. 

ForwardX joins other warehouse robotics companies seeking to capitalize on this market, forecasted to generate over $10 billion by 2023, according to Interact Analysis.

California-based Fetch Robotics, for example, develops autonomous mobile robots that operate among humans in warehouses, factories and distribution centers. The company offers a “robot-as-a-service” model, which includes maintenance, upgrades and IT support for a monthly fee.

Guan said ForwardX established a North American team in early March, as the coronavirus established a foothold in the U.S.  The company has offices in Phoenix and San Diego but has yet to deploy its robots domestically.

It  will use the Series B+ funding to continue its international expansion, and increase production and commercial deployment, she said.

The pandemic has reinforced the company’s value proposition, Nicolas Chee, founder and CEO of ForwardX Robotics, said in a press release.

“We are seeing huge challenges for supply chain leaders across the logistics and manufacturing industries, from growing labor shortages and consumer expectations to a greater need for flexibility,” he said.

“With the fallout of COVID-19 already here, enterprises will be looking to future-proof their operations and we’re going to be there with them as they make the transition.”