Pickle, a startup that grew out of a lab at MIT and created a robotic arm that can unload up to 1,800 boxes an hour from a trailer at a loading dock, has raised $5.75 million to date and picked up 3PL and parcel shipping clients who have a need for speed.
The arm, called Dill, works in conjunction with warehouse associates, who step in to pick up any dropped packages and handle irregular items. The idea behind Dill is that removing the logjam at the loading dock has downstream benefits in terms of throughput in the entire warehouse operation.
Dill can handle the 1,800 items per hour via induction to a sorter from the trailer, or 1,000 an hour directly to a putwall, the company said.
Another configuration of Dill is used on the outbound side to sort boxes going onto trucks for delivery. That version went into production in November at a number of sites, while the unloading version was showcased at an enterprise pilot site, which helped drive the most recent funding round.
The company’s seed round was led by Hyperplane along with Third Kind Venture Capital, Box Group and Version One Ventures, among others.
Andrew Meyer, one of three cofounders at Pickle, said his team of engineers realized the problem they were solving for went beyond computer vision in terms of the artificial intelligence needed.
“In order to unload a trailer at more than 1,600 picks an hour, Dill needs to know which ones to pick, where on the package it can pick, and how quickly to move it around and not drop it,” Meyer said. “There are lots of decisions to make. If want to palletize boxes, where do you put them down? All these problems are not vision problems; they don’t get solved until you’re done with vision. It’s enabled us to build a robot that’s fast and deals with a complex environment.”
Meyer said the trailer unloading robotic arm version of Dill will go into full production in 2022, and the company will begin taking orders in June.
Comparing Dill to Boston Dynamics’ recently announced Stretch, a mobile robot with a picking arm, Meyer said he was very impressed with the demo he saw but added Dill “handles a much messier pile at greater speed.”