Sarcos raises $40M for industrial ‘wearable robots’

Sarcos wearable robots

  • The industrial robotics company Sarcos Robotics has raised $40 million to commercialize a wearable robot aimed at boosting worker safety and productivity.
  • The full-body robot gives new meaning to ‘active wear,’ can lift up to 200 pounds

Technologists love the natural world. Earlier this week, FreightWaves reported on a route optimization platform that takes as its template the foraging behavior of honeybees.

Now comes news that a robotics company that takes its cues from the exoskeletons of insects has raised $40 million in a Series C round to accelerate a wearable robot aimed at enhancing worker safety and productivity.

Sarcos Robotics, headquartered in Salt Lake City, makes robots that augment humans’ physical capabilities.

The business was founded in 1983 and for the past 20 years has been working on its flagship product, the Sarcos Guardian XO. The full-body, battery-powered “wearable robot” can lift up to 200 pounds, according to the company, boosting worker productivity while reducing the risk of injury when lifting and manipulating heavy items. 

In an email to FreightWaves, Kristi Martindale, Sarcos chief customer officer and executive vice president of product strategy, explained how the wearable tech operates in tandem with its human wearer.

The weight of the suit, as well as its payload, she explained, is transferred through the suit’s structure to the ground, offloading 100% of the weight the worker is bearing, as well as the weight of the suit itself. 

The operator can perform hours of physically demanding work in the suit, according to Martindale, lifting and manipulating heavy items repeatedly, “without causing strain or injury to his or her body.”

Taking a cue from arthropod friends

The technology design borrows from the world of arthropods, with exoskeletons that not only serve as external armor, but also increase leverage as the muscles pull from the inside instead of the outside of an internal skeleton.

Martindale said the Guardian XO was created to address the high cost of occupational injuries, particularly resulting from back strain, as well as worker shortages.

Useful in any environment where heavy lifting and manipulation is required, the XO can enhance warehouse and manufacturing operations, according to Martindale, such as loading heavy fixtures, loading and unloading trucks, palletizing heavy goods and performing kitting, subassembly and sequencing. 

To test those applications, Delta entered into a partnership with Sarcos last winter, when the XO made its debut during CES 2020.

The idea was to see how the robot could assist with freight handling, moving components for Delta Cargo maintenance and repair operations, or lifting heavy machinery and parts for ground support equipment. 

But the Delta pilot, as well as other industry collaborations, is now on hold as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Martindale said.

The warehouse robotics space is booming, fueled by AI technology maturation and the e-commerce boom, and, more recently, the rush for contactless technologies tied to the coronavirus pandemic. Unlike the new generation of autonomous mobile robots, Sarcos’ robotic systems are designed for environments where automation isn’t feasible, Martindale said.

Sarcos combines “human intelligence, instinct and judgment with the strength, endurance and precision of machines,” she said.

Depending on the task, the XO allows the operator to do the work of four to 10 workers.

Sarcos’ latest fundraising round, announced this week, was led by Rotor Capital. The company has raised a total of $96.1 million in venture-backed investments, according to Crunchbase. 

The company will use the $40 million to begin production of the Guardian XO, which should be commercially available in 2021, according to Martindale.

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