Automated warehouses are an accelerating technological trend in commercial real estate (CRE). Driven largely by the pandemic, warehouses have been in high demand for the fulfillment, materials handling, logistics, and supply-chain industries. And Nimble Robotics just raised a $50 million Series A to speed up the trend even further.
What Nimble is up to
DNS Capital and GSR Ventures led Nimble's $50 million Series A, with Accel and Reinvent Capital also participating. Founder Simon Kalouche, a former Stanford Ph.D. student, designed the system utilizing deep imitation learning, a robotics research concept aimed at mapping and improving via imitation.
When building Nimble, Kalouche emphasized deploying robots as quickly as possible, as opposed to perfecting the system and delaying until it was completely autonomous. Kalouche told TechCrunch, "Instead of letting it sit in a lab for five years and creating this robotic application before it's finally ready to deploy to the real world, we deployed it today." He went on to add that the system is about 90% to 95% autonomous, but it was an intentional tradeoff to deploy the robots quickly, or "nimbly," you could say.
Kalouche went on to discuss the company's traction: "Right now, we have heaps of robots deployed, and we're growing really quickly. These are robots that are in production and picking tens of thousands of real orders every single day for each of our customers." Nimbly plans for continued quick growth, with the financing round essentially doubling the company's headcount this year.
Warehousing and industrial real estate
According to an estimate by industrial REIT (real estate investment trust) leader Prologis (NYSE: PLD), e-commerce companies require 1.2 million square feet of distribution space for every $1 billion in sales. The pandemic accelerated e-commerce, and while the pace of that growth isn't sustainable, all signs point to continued growth in online sales.
There will be demand for a significant amount of warehousing space in the coming years. The U.S. alone could add as much as 1 billion additional feet of warehouse space in the next four years, which would be comparable to replicating Prologis' entire global footprint in just a few years' time.
Not the only news on the tech financing front in warehousing
Nimble Robotics isn't the only tech company tackling the warehousing real estate vertical. Berkshire Grey, another warehouse automation company, went public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) earlier this year.
Although not a robotics company, FLEXE is another firm to keep an eye on. FLEXE raised $80 million over the last several months to build out its on-demand warehouse space platform, "warehousing-as-a-service." Instead of getting tied into long-term leases, retailers can use FLEXE's marketplace to find warehousing space when they need it.
The Millionacres bottom line
Nimble's automated warehouses are helping fulfillment centers, retailers, and e-commerce companies operate more efficiently and at a lower cost. All signs point toward the trend continuing, so if you don't have warehouses in your portfolio yet, they may be worth a look.