A locally founded robotics company just got international recognition for market success.
On Tuesday, local robotics company Seegrid — which has offices based near the Pittsburgh International Airport — shared that it received the top ranking for all mobile robots and in worldwide market share for automated tow tractors in the 2021 Mobile Robots report from Interact Analysis, a market research company for industrial automation.
The news puts Seegrid’s autonomous mobile robots at a competitive edge over not just local companies working the same sector, but in the larger market of firms vying for attention from manufacturing and distribution corporations looking to automate warehouse operations.
Founded in 2003 by Hans Moravec, who was previously a part of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, Seegrid is one of the older homegrown robotics companies in Pittsburgh. The firm specializes in autonomous mobile robots, including a lift, pallet truck and tow tractor, that specialize in automating warehouse needs. And those needs are increasing with the popularity of big box stores and online retail demand, with companies like Amazon notoriously employing vast numbers of warehouse workers to meet the needs of the company’s fast-shipping guarantees. Recent supply chain pressures, too, will undoubtedly lead to more companies looking for ways to optimize or automate problems in the manufacturing and distribution pathways.
“I think what this shows is the market and commercial success that we’ve had — not just the technical success — and I think that’s an important inflection point for robotics companies,” Seegrid VP of Product Jeff Christensen told Technical.ly. He added that the ranking will also help Seegrid appeal to the often risk-averse larger companies that have experienced shipping delays since the onset of the pandemic. “This is mission critical production work for automotive manufacturers and ecommerce distribution and all of those things, so it’s a great testament to, you know, the hard work that we’ve put in here and to the traction that we’ve been able to get.”
Christensen only expects that demand for warehouse automation to increase, and thus sees this ranking as not just a win for Seegrid in the local robotics economy, but as one in the global landscape as well. Still, he acknowledges that news like this continues to drive home the message that Pittsburgh is more than simply a place to find robotics expertise, but a capital of it, as put forth this summer by the Pittsburgh Robotics Network (of which Seegrid is a member).
While he acknowledged the recent excitement around IPOs and other exits from local tech and autonomous vehicle companies, Christensen agreed with some sentiments Technical.ly has heard from the community that Pittsburgh’s true robotics sector is due for its own big success. Despite being around for almost two decades, he said that this ranking is a strong sign Seegrid’s technical prowess will continue to translate to a more business-minded one as well.
“Robotics companies have a long gestation period, just because of the complexity of it,” Christensen said. “It’s very common to take many years to get all of the hardware and the software and the use cases, and all of those things, to get them working even closely well enough that a customer might be interested in it.” So the fact that Seegrid is now beyond that point, and standing out on an international scale, is significant for both the company and the strength of the industry in Pittsburgh, he said.
Though this ranking doesn’t come with any new funding or partnership announcements from the company, Seegrid is growing, and hiring locally for several roles. With over 350 employees already, Seegrid is one of the larger locally based firms here, and its growth will contribute to even more economic success for the tech industry.
Christensen, for his part, looks forward to it. A CMU grad himself, “I’m a big fan of this town and I love to see the growth of the robotics sector,” he said. “And I’m really excited about what it means for the city.”
Sophie Burkholder is a 2021-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.