Amazon has brought in new leadership to oversee a $1 billion technologies fund to establish more effective supply chain and distribution operations.
Amazon has announced that Franziska Bossart has joined the company to lead the fund as director. She has more than 20 years of experience working in corporate venture capital and digital transformation, Amazon pointed out. Her past investment projects have focused on industrial automation, robotics and climate tech for companies based in North America, Europe, and Asia.
In a blog post, Bossart said the fund’s broad vision is to help accelerate automation and supply chain innovation, which continues to be an important priority for Amazon as it works to deliver for customers and improve the work environment for employees. The immediate goal for this year, she said, is to further establish the fund as a venture investor of choice for innovative startups of all sizes within the robotics, fulfillment and logistics space. Planned investments for 2024 will occur in transportation, including autonomous vehicles and last-mile technologies. Overall, the company wants to support more promising startups as they scale to solve Amazon’s most relevant industrial challenges, she noted.
In addressing trends, Bossart maintained that artificial intelligence and machine learning have aided in developing more robust data processing technologies to make decisions and learn from experience.
I believe in 2024, we’ll see more widespread use of these intelligent systems. The groundwork for this technology has been in development for decades, but now we’re seeing many pieces coming together to further drive innovation. Advances in perception, AI, manipulation and control are helping us automate a broader range of tasks.
Progress in computer vision systems has also been remarkable. Take for instance the headway being made by one of our fund portfolio companies, Vimaan, which has developed AI solutions to accurately view warehouse inventory. Their technology can help capture the dimensions and weight of freight within seconds, reducing operating costs and speeding up how quickly we can deliver goods.
New approaches with hardware hold a great deal of promise as well. I believe there will be meaningful progress with bi-pedal robots in 2024, and we’re interested in further exploring this space. Last October, we announced with Agility Robotics a new pilot to test their Digit robot in our operations, and we’re looking forward to learn more about how we can use a mobile manipulation system within our operations.
In terms of on-the-job contribution, Bossart said that collaborative technology that has people working alongside a system has great potential for industrial application as it can streamline operations and processes while improving safety. Fulfillment technologies developed within Amazon have created a safer workplace that reduces repetitive motions and the need to walk long distances or move heavy objects, she said. As such, employees can focus on new tasks where they can deliver more value for Amazon customers.
Bossart stated that Amazon has data showing “that recordable incident rates and lost-time incident rates were 15% and 18% lower, respectively, at Amazon Robotics sites than they were at its non-robotics sites in 2022. We are always looking for ways to further advance our safety objectives and are keen to find other like-minded companies working in this space. Modjoul, which was one of our first investments, has created an entire suite of technology that supports workplace safety and risk reduction powered by data analysis.”
In the future, Bossart said technology will play an ever-increasing role in fulfillment centers and through the distribution network, including in middle and last-mile delivery, getting products to customers faster.
“Take Amazon’s Sequoia system as an example,” she said. “By integrating multiple robot systems to containerize our inventory, Sequoia will allow us to identify and store inventory we receive at our fulfillment centers up to 75% faster than we can today.”
Automation technologies can effectively execute repetitive and predictable tasks and free up employees to take on new responsibilities.
“We see this path continuing, allowing us to offer training to our employees in new career paths that will enable them to work with more cutting-edge technologies,” Bossart said. “Since Amazon introduced robots into its operations, we’ve created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and over 700 categories of new skilled roles within Amazon that didn’t exist within the company beforehand.