COVID helps Canadian logistics robot firm Attabotics raise $50 million

(The 18th August story is refiled to add missing letter to last name of Chris Feuell on second reference in paragraph 6)

FILE PHOTO: The interior structure of an automated warehousing system by Canadian warehouse robotics company Attabotics, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, is pictured in this handout photo suppled by Attabotics August 17, 2020. Attabotics/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) - Canadian warehouse robotics company Attabotics on Tuesday said it raised $50 million in a funding round led by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan Board, following a surge in interest for automation in the retail sector due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“Consumer behavior has shifted dramatically through COVID. It’s accelerated so much the demand for e-commerce,” said Scott Gravelle, Attabotics’ founder and chief executive and technology officer. “The numbers we’re seeing now, it’s what we were predicting five years from now.”

Robots that pick orders in warehouses have been attracting investment interest globally. UK online supermarket Ocado Group Plc OCDO.L raised a billion pounds in June.

Attabotics’ robots and systems are inspired by ant colonies, said Gravelle. The robots travel up and down elevators to retrieve goods from bins surrounding the shafts and can also travel horizontally across the grid.

Chris Feuell, a Honeywell International Inc HON.N marketing executive for the firm's warehousing technology business said many of its customers were losing 25%-30% of their regular labor pool due to the pandemic, and looking for solutions.

Feuell estimated the market for warehousing hardware, software and services was $25 billion last year and could grow 6% to 7% this year, with e-commerce expected to grow 20%.

Honeywell, which serves the top 200 retailers, including Inc AMZN.O, is an investor in Attabotics.

While Attabotics’ business model has been to supply retailers like Nordstrom in the United States with its automated system through pilot programs, Gravelle said the next step was to move toward providing a fulfillment platform for retailers that don’t have the scale to do it on their own.

Attabotics declined to provide its valuation.

Reporting By Jane Lanhee Lee; editing by Richard Pullin