Innovations & Start-ups: Robots, Self-Driving Trucks, the Metaverse and More…

Martijn Graat
Martijn Graat

Trends and innovations in supply chain and logistics: that is what this blog is all bout. Therefore I periodically bring you an overview of the news on logistics start-ups and innovations below. Follow @LogisticsMatter on Twitter to stay updated with the latest news and the best background stories. The previous edition was Innovations & Start-ups: Space Freight, Drones, On-Demand Delivery, and More… This edition has more news about robot dogs guarding warehouses and robots building a dam, self-driving trucks, and news on several interesting start-ups. I also came across an interesting article on the metaverse and its impact on supply chains.


Worker shortages are pushing more companies towards automating processes and replacing workers with robots. Robot sales have reached record levels in Q1.

As labor shortages continue to hamper business operations, robot sales are soaring. According to data from the Association for Advancing Automation (A3), automation providers sold a record 11,595 robots in the first quarter of this year, at a total value of $646 million.

“Every industry, including agriculture, construction, retail and hospitality, is now looking at how they can take advantage of robotics to make their companies more successful,” said Alex Shikany, A3’s vice president of membership and business intelligence. “These companies recognize what we at A3 have long believed, that robots can not only take over the dull, dirty and dangerous jobs that are so hard to fill, but they can save and create jobs as automation helps them grow their business.”

The robots are marching in

GXO Logistics is testing guard robots to protect one of their facilities in Clayton, Indiana.

The DroneCore security platform is able to patrol the ground and air using DroneDog and DroneSentry robots. They provide data and onsite activity updates that can detect potential issues in real time and simultaneously report them to a security team.

“We launched the DroneDog and DroneSentry advanced security system at a customer’s facility that is more than 1 million square feet and requires a 24/7 security presence to safeguard our people and the products,” said Thomas Nelson, GXO senior director of security. “The combination of air and ground robotics gives us superb live video feed, including infrared vision for nighttime patrols, that we can operate, evaluate and respond to in real time.”

GXO Enhances Security With Ground, Air Robotics System

China is going to let robots build a complete damn in Qinghai Province.

Rather, a construction scheduling system evaluates a digital design model of the project section by section, calculating how much filling material is needed, then has a robot gather the material and transport it to its intended section. The robots do “intelligent paving and rolling” to finish a construction layer, then send feedback to the scheduling system. It’s 3D printing in that a very tall structure will go up layer by layer using an automated process, but mostly, it’s not 3D printing because there’s not a printer.

A 590-Foot-Tall Dam in China Will Be Built Entirely by Robots

Self-Driving Trucks

Two rivals are joining forces: Waymo and Uber Freight.

Waymo describes the team-up as a “deep integration” of each company’s products, including a jointly developed “product roadmap” to outline how autonomous trucks will get deployed on Uber’s network once they are commercial ready. Until then, Waymo says it will use Uber Freight with its own test fleet to better understand how driverless trucks will receive and accept delivery orders.

But the partnership goes beyond just beta testing each other’s technology. Waymo said it will reserve “billions of miles of its goods-only capacity for the Uber Freight network” in a capacity commitment meant to underscore the seriousness of this partnership.

Waymo is teaming up with Uber on autonomous trucking because time really heals all wounds

Embark and BYD pilot drayage operation.

Autonomous software developer Embark Trucks brought one of its Peterbilt 579 sleeper cabs equipped for a supervised run to the Phoenix suburb of Tolleson, Arizona. A 53-foot trailer with a half-load of HP Inc. printers arrived in near silence except a toot of its horn to announce its presence. The BYD 8TT electric truck emitted no exhaust because it runs on batteries. Embark and BYD North America conducted electric-to-autonomous transfers every few weeks from June to December 2021.

After 15 minutes or so of transferring the HP load, the blue Embark tractor exited the gate, manually traversing a few surface streets to reach Interstate 215 for access to Interstate 10 and the seven-hour run to Phoenix covering about 300 miles in autonomous mode.

Embark autonomous and BYD electric trucks demo the future

You will be able to grab a Cruise robotaxi in California.

Yesterday, Cruise received the first-ever Driverless Deployment Permit granted by the California Public Utilities Commission. This allows the company to charge fares for their driverless rides in San Francisco.

Last month, Waymo’s co-CEO Dmitri Dolgov, announced that the company was removing human safety drivers from its robotaxi operations in downtown Phoenix.

In China, Baidu and have been collecting fares in Beijing’s suburban district of Yizhuang since November 2021.

Cruise becomes the first paid driverless robotaxis in California

Supply Chain and Logistics Start-Ups

There is one article that I would like to highlight. It’s an interesting read by McKinsey & Company on start-up funding in logistics.

Certain types of logistics startups now seem to be attracting more funding than others. Analysis shows that various kinds of last-mile delivery businesses, visibility and intelligence providers, and road-freight marketplaces have received large inflows of funding.

Some logistics startups have scaled up and achieved profitability. Although profitability is not an immediate priority for startup investors, the businesses they invest in ultimately should show that it can be achieved sooner or later.

It seems likely that more startups could grow into mature disruptors in their respective sectors. Many are forging a global presence similar to that of traditional players. Major competition with existing incumbents that offer a global end-to-end product is very unlikely in the short term, however, young companies are becoming increasingly competitive in specific areas and regions.

Startup funding in logistics: Focused investment in a growing industry

More news on start-ups:

In Other News: The Metaverse, Automated Fulfilment Centers, Quick Commerce, and More…

A very interesting read on Venturebeat about the potential impact of the Metaverse on the supply chain.

One of the most straightforward ways the metaverse is likely to change manufacturing is by significantly accelerating the process of prototyping. Unlike real world prototypes that may require significant customization of manufacturing, prototypes in the metaverse could be built quickly by taking advantage of the rendering capability of virtual engines like Unity and functionality from rich simulations built off the logic of tools such as digital twins. This change in prototyping could lead to innovations in process and could result in new types of products, ultimately leading to more options for customers and shorter timelines from conception to creation.

How the metaverse could remake manufacturing

Walmart is opening four additional automated fulfilment centres to improve their same-day and next-day delivery.

The high-tech FCs feature automated, high-density storage systems that streamline a manual, twelve-step process into five robotics-driven steps: Unload, Receive, Pick, Pack and Ship. In the picking process, warehouse workers only have to wait for a tote to bring the ordered item instead of walking up to nine miles each day across multiple floors to find product.

Will automated fulfillment centers deliver big results for Walmart?

Billions have been invested in on-demand delivery companies. Good investment, or not?

There has been another growing trend: the demand for convenience. Primarily the younger generations are not used to waiting for things. Their demand is instant, and they expect delivery of what they want to be near immediate. The on-demand economy was born.

This quest for convenience has led to the rise of On-Demand Delivery start-ups like Getir, Gorillas, and Zapp. Large investors quickly jumped on this bandwagon, and the start-ups got millions of euros in funding, and valuations rose to over a billion for some.

The Rise of On-Demand Delivery and Quick Commerce

Other interesting news:

Photo by julien Tromeur on Unsplash

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