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As $1B industrial innovation fund evolves, Amazon targets AI, driverless cars, and Asia.

Amazon has invested an unknown percentage of its $1 billion industrial innovation fund in almost a dozen U.S. and Israeli logistics, supply chain, and customer fulfillment firms for nearly two years. In an exclusive interview with Eltrys, the fund’s new director, Franziska Bossart, said Amazon is inching toward regional expansion and generative AI, which complement the purpose.

The Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund, launched in April 2022, continues to find and invest in startups that can help the e-commerce giant deliver goods faster and improve customer, warehouse, and logistics employee experiences. Amazon has invested in AI and robotics to improve its operations, including robotic arms for repetitive chores and automated cars for transporting heavier things. The fund is aimed at expanding on these efforts. Five firms researching robots and wearable technologies to improve fulfillment center safety received their initial 2022 financing.

The fund invested $110 million in businesses in its first year. Since spring 2023, investments in Veo Robotics, Flymingo, CoreTigo, RightBot, and Instock have accelerated. The firm recently invested in an unidentified generative AI business, Bossart said, adding that its technology might influence robotics.

“The fund has momentum, especially at the end of the year,” she said.

The geographical and thematic breadth are expanding. Bossart told Eltrys that she sees promise in Europe and Asia and wants the portfolio, which is mostly early-stage businesses, to shift “a little bit” toward later-stage firms. The business also blogged on the fund’s progress on Wednesday.

Bossart is also focusing on AI, bipedal/humanoid robots, and businesses with autonomous vehicle technologies to improve middle- and last-mile delivery.

Amazon has long been interested in and is using AI. Bossart thinks generative AI might improve robotics and automation. Robotics uses machine learning, a type of AI that learns from data. Bossart seeks businesses employing generative AI, which employs trained models to generate fresh data for perception, manipulation, and control for better automation. Generative AI helps integrate robots and automation to improve its capabilities.

She noted that startups can benefit. She noted, “A lot of these startups’ biggest challenge is to get access to large datasets,” required to train AI. “Amazon has one of the largest datasets.”

Amazon, which relies on automation and robots to reach delivery objectives, has long been interested in robotics. Humanoid robot developers are of interest, Bossart said, citing the fund’s investment in Corvallis, Oregon-based Agility Robotics, renowned for Digit.

Amazon began testing Agility’s Digit robot at its BFI1 R&D site outside Seattle in October 2023. Amazon’s partnership with Agility remains, but Bossart said he still wants to invest in additional Agility firms.

“Mobile manipulation holds a great deal of promise,” Bossart said, adding that the business is interested in how bipedal robots might interact with people to improve safety. The business has proof that robots minimize injuries. Amazon found 15% and 18% reduced recordable and lost-time incident rates at Amazon Robotics facilities in 2022 than at its non-robotics sites.

Bossart also believes middle- and last-mile solutions can speed up package delivery. While Bossart said investing in autonomous car businesses is on the list, that’s not all. Bossart seeks companies developing supply chain technologies for all points. She mentioned minor automation solutions that speed up package unloading.

While Amazon is continuously looking for businesses with technologies that may be utilized in its ecosystem, Bossart stressed that the fund’s investments aren’t commercialized.

“We’re experimental at heart,” Bossart remarked.

Amazon invests in other ways outside the Industrial Innovation Fund. Amazon has always sought out and supported startups building mission-critical technology, products, and services. Amazon sometimes buys the firm.

Amazon created a $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund in 2020 to invest in sustainable technology and services to target net-zero carbon operations by 2040. Amazon’s climate fund has invested in over a dozen firms, including CarbonCure, CMC Machinery, Pachama, Redwood Materials, Resilient Power, Rivian, TurnTide Technologies, BETA Technologies, Ion Energy, ZeroAvia, and Infinium.

Eltrys Team
Author: Eltrys Team

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