XPO Logistics Inc. will buy 5,000 warehouse robots from a Singapore startup backed by billionaire Peter Thiel as part of a deal that makes XPO the only logistics provider to use the technology in North America, the U.K. and eight other European countries.
The GreyOrange Pte. robots—flattish, rectangular units that move about the floor much like an extra-large Roomba vacuum cleaner—can roll under storage racks weighing as much as 3,500 pounds (1,600 kilograms), lift them and carry them to warehouse workers who pull off items to be shipped. Butler, as the robot is called, helps workers minimize walk time and manual errors, said XPO, the logistics company founded by billionaire Bradley Jacobs.
XPO, which provides trucking and warehouse services, has been investing heavily in automation to keep apace with explosive growth from e-commerce customers. With the help of acquisitions, Jacobs has driven up sales to more than $15 billion last year from $175 million when he purchased the company in 2011.
“We’ve developed our logistics technology to integrate the latest intelligent automation and adapt it at lightning speed,” Jacobs said in a statement Wednesday. “This allows us to dramatically improve efficiency, fulfillment time and costs.”
XPO rose 2.1 percent to $112.35 at 9:48 a.m. in New York. The Greenwich, Connecticut-based company had risen 20 percent this year through Tuesday.
GreyOrange, in business since 2011, raised $140 million in September in a round of funding led by Mithril Capital Management, which was co-founded by Thiel and Ajay Royan. The sale will help the startup expand in the U.S., where it just established a headquarters in Atlanta and is building a manufacturing site that will be completed next year.