This company makes warehouse robots named Pickpal and the Butler to help retailers compete with Amazon

  • GreyOrange raised $140 million in a series C round of venture funding led by Peter Thiel's Mithril Capital.
  • Blume Ventures, Mitsubishi, Flipkart and Project Verte also invested in GreyOrange.
  • Despite Amazon's dominance in the the U.S., retailers see potential to grow online as shoppers shift more orders to digital.

While Amazon's dominance in the U.S. can make this hard to believe, e-commerce sales are still just 10 percent of retail sales overall in the U.S., according to estimates from research firm eMarketer. Now, traditional retailers and direct-to-consumer outlets are in pursuit of growth through e-commerce.

Enter GreyOrange, which makes robots and AI software to help retailers compete with Amazon, especially on variety and speed of delivery.

The company's robots, dubbed the Butler and PickPal, are a self-driving cart and a robotic arm that can help warehouse operators automate some of their employees' most physically challenging tasks. The robots assist in repetitive sorting, picking items off shelves and carting heavy loads around a warehouse.

The robots draw frequent comparisons to warehouse robots made by Amazon Robotics. However, GreyOrange co-founder Samay Kohli says his company's systems are distinct in that they can go to work right out of the box and can learn from their surroundings and activity in warehouses. The robots can also share data with one another.

GreyOrange's clients are mostly retailers with both physical and online stores, as well as apparel makers, third-party logistics providers and consumer electronics companies, according to co-founders Samay Kohli and Akash Gupta.

GreyOrange Butler Robot
GreyOrange
GreyOrange Butler Robot

Warehouse managers can glean suggestions from GreyOrange's software about how to optimize everything within a facility, including how they may want to reallocate people and reorganize products ahead of a big holiday shopping season or sale, for example.

On Thursday, the company announced that Peter Thiel's Mithril Capital and Flipkart founder Binny Bansal are among investors pouring $140 million into the company.

Mithril Capital co-founder Ajay Royan, who is now a board member at GreyOrange, told CNBC: "This is like the Ikea of robots in my mind. These come out of a box. They go to work for you to make your warehouse efficient and connect you to other partners or nodes inside your company."

As GreyOrange begins to work in more factory environments, the investor said eventually, he expects GreyOrange robots will be able to take items from a production line, load them into waiting trucks and transmit data to a distribution center to prepare a space to stack the items when they arrive.

"It's not just about robots moving things around. It's about being able to look ahead and plan ahead in very different ways," said GreyOrange's Samay Kohli.

With 500 employees currently, GreyOrange is headquartered in Singapore, with offices in India, Japan, Germany and the U.S. Its newest offices were set up in Atlanta and Boston this summer, the back yards of Coca Cola and Amazon Robotics, respectively.

While Kohli claims that the real competition for his company are warehouses that are satisfied with manual labor, a number of tech start-ups and robotics firms are aiming to bring flexible automation to warehouses. Potential competition ranges from start-ups like Fetch Robotics and 6 River Systems, to larger established players like SwissLog.