Elon Musk puts spotlight on Israeli robotics startup

Elon Musk Photo: Reuters Joe Skipper

A tweet by Musk about SqUID, an automated warehouse picker developed by BionicHIVE, has generated huge interest.

"The robot future is coming" tweeted super-entrepreneur Elon Musk about a video clip showing warehouse logistics robot SqUID, developed by Israeli startup company BionicHIVE of Kibbutz Sha'ar HaNegev.

The clip shows the robot moving down an aisle, climbing shelves, picking parcels, and returning to the aisle, all completely autonomously. The clip has had some 1.9 million views, while Musk's comment has been retweeted some 1,900 times.

BionicHIVE was founded by four young people from the Eshkol Regional Council area in the south of Israel: Liran Raizer, Itamar Levy, Tomer Amit, and Olivier Haddad. The company has developed a robot that can adapt itself to existing logistics centers. The company's technology derives from know-how gained by the entrepreneurs in developing military robotic systems and simulators. In 2017, BionicHIVE won first place in a competition held by the technology incubator SouthUp.

The SqUID robot weighs in the tens of kilograms and moves at a few kilometers an hour. Musk's tweet has put the spotlight on a company that up to now has operated below the radar. "A tweet like that from someone of the caliber of Elon Musk is a genuine and sincere vote of confidence in our product and its capabilities, by one of the people leading global technological innovation, who sees the potential. It's really exciting," BionicHIVE CEO Ilan Reingold told "Globes". Reingold initially joined BionicHIVE as a director, after a career at Broadcom and Altair (now Sony Semiconductor, Sony's development center in Israel).

Reingold says that, following the tweet, the company received a tremendous response. "A huge amount of feedback, and enquiries from very strong players, among the biggest customers in the world, with whom we haven't yet managed to speak. Investors and other players in our ecosystem - distributors and integrators from all kinds of places - contacted us asking 'how can I be part of this and help you get into new places around the world'. It certainly has had an effect."

"We'll ride the tidal wave that is about to hit the market"

"The company began in 2016, and so far our finance has come from two investors," Reingold said. "One of them is a private investor, and the other is a fund that invests in logistics warehouses in the US, which found us in searching for technologies that could give added value to the tenants of those warehouses, and they decided to invest. We also received money from the Innovation Authority, and we are going to begin the process of an A funding round within about a month, with the aim of raising a substantial amount that will enable us to begin installation at customers."

Reingold mentioned that the company was carrying out several pilot projects. "The first pilot is with one of the largest food companies in the world," he said.

On the coronavirus pandemic, Reingold said, "The coronavirus boosted the whole online orders market, and basically doubled its growth rate. You look at all kinds of market research, and the quantity of packages moving from one place to another around the world was growing at 5-8% a year. The outlook for the next 5-7 years is 15% annual growth, whatever market research you look at. Even more interesting is that because the logistics automation market is a bit behind, it is expected to grow at more than 30% a year. That's a tidal wave that is about to sweep the market, and we'll ride on that, and that's amazing for a startup company."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on January 18, 2021

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Elon Musk Photo: Reuters Joe Skipper
Elon Musk Photo: Reuters Joe Skipper
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