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Sewickley-based IAM Robotics grabs $500K investment from Silicon Valley firm

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017, 4:35 p.m.
Adam, a Swift robot from IAM Robotics, at work in the warehouse of Rochester Drug Cooperative in Rochester, New York. IAM Robotics is a Sewickley-based robotics startup. (Photo from Rochester Drug Cooperative)
Adam, a Swift robot from IAM Robotics, at work in the warehouse of Rochester Drug Cooperative in Rochester, New York. IAM Robotics is a Sewickley-based robotics startup. (Photo from Rochester Drug Cooperative)

Adam works the night shift.

He puts in a steady eight hours a night.

He doesn't take bathroom or lunch breaks. He doesn't ask for time off, doesn't get sick and never has to leave early.

He pulls everything from toothpaste and inhalers to boxes of Band-Aids and little bottles of mouthwash from shelves inside the Rochester Drug Cooperative's warehouse in Rochester, N.Y., and packs the items into boxes bound for pharmacies across the northeast, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.

And he's about as fast as the humans working alongside him.

"Simple for people, very hard for robots," said Tom Galluzzo, founder and CEO of IAM Robotics , the 5-year-old Carnegie Mellon University spinout company that made Adam and other warehouse robots.

Sewickley-based IAM announced last month that it had landed a $500,000 investment from NewGen Capital, a Silicon Valley-based early-stage investor. Galluzzo said the money will allow IAM to put more robots in more warehouses like Rochester Drug Cooperative.

"The solution is approaching a point where it is market-ready," Galluzzo said.

And the market might be ready for IAM's Swift robots. Low unemployment and the growing need for workers in warehouses to serve e-commerce and other companies has the industry facing a labor shortage. Galluzzo said the country's unemployed population right now won't be enough to fill the need.

Gary Ritzmann, a project manager at Rochester Drug Cooperative working with Adam, agrees. The night shift at the warehouse has a 40 percent turnover rate, and it has been hard to find steady workers, Ritzmann said. Rochester Drug Cooperative hasn't laid off anyone on its second shift because of Adam.

"It really helps us smooth out our labor, the ups and downs or our warehouse staff taking vacation, taking sick days, leaving early," Ritzmann said. "All those things that happen because it is a time slot that no one really wants to work."

Galluzzo encourages companies to name their robots because it "helps people associate working with the machine as a coworker," he said. Adam has been working at Rochester Drug Cooperative for about a year. The company named the robot after Adam in the Bible. The warehouse will be getting a second robot soon, Ritzmann said.

Adam at work inside the Rochester Drug Cooperative warehouse

Before an IAM robot goes to work on a warehouse floor, items that the robot will work with are scanned using Flash, a device that records an item's height, width, weight and takes high-resolution images. That information is then loaded into Swift, the robot. Swift moves up and down aisles and uses cameras, sensors and algorithms to find specific products.

Ritzmann wouldn't say how much the company paid for Adam but said that it will take two years for Rochester Drug Cooperative to see a full return on its investment.

"It can't pick as fast as a human can, only because we don't want to change our shelving layout," Ritzmann said, adding that if the company were to change the layout of its warehouse, Adam could outpace humans. "That you don't have to change your infrastructure to get a result out of it, that was one of the big selling points to IAM Robotics."

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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