Plus One Robotics, a San Antonio startup at the forefront of robotic vision and machine learning, is growing. Its software is paired with vision sensors and teaches robotic industrial arms to see. Using soft grips, they can pack and sort boxes.
The technology is geared towards taking advantage of the booming warehouse and shipping market. The industry is often starved for labor, and humans working with these robots can pick up the slack.
Plus One is more than doubling its footprint from 4,000 sq. ft. to more than 10,000 sq. ft.
It will grow in staff to 30 people, eclipsing the prediction co-founder and CEO Erik Nieves made to TPR last July to double the staff.
Nieves attributes Plus One’s growth to the continued growth of e-commerce sales: More warehouses and less labor equals more opportunity for technology.
"We were dragged there,” said Nieves. “The co-founders Paul [Hvass] and Shaun [Edwards] look at the org chart and how many slots they have to fill and sorting through candidates. Seems like we interview everyday here because we have work to be done."
In addition to more than doubling its staff, the company more than tripled its private investment from the year before, raising $8.3 million last September.
The positions will range from business development and software engineers to what they are calling “crew chiefs” -- people who will monitor the network of autonomous robotic arms as part of YonderOne, the company’s new program.
“Every once in a while a robot somewhere in America says, ‘Hey, I need help!’ ” and a crew chief would solve the problem so the robot can go back to being automated, Nieves said.
But each problem solved by a crew chief teaches the robot, and it essentially takes some of the machine-learning process out of the lab, tailoring it for individual clients’ needs.
YonderOne was rolled out in early April and is the key to their new strategy of getting more units deployed to customers faster, Nieves said.
“Absolutely, because you don’t have to engineer your way past all of the variability that is inherent in this market.”
Unlike in an assembly line where every movement can be choreographed, each box shipped and each tube sorted can be a little different.
The company considered moving closer to downtown and trying to take advantage of incentives that might exist for them, instead opting to stay at the Port. Plus One plans to move into the new facility this summer.
Jim Perschbach, Port San Antonio CEO, often talked about how the Port can marry their legacy industries like airplane maintenance to their future ambitions like cyber security. He sees Plus One doing something similar.
"We're very excited because what Plus One is doing in applying these new technologies to an existing platform — in this case robotics —is exactly what we see being a strength to not just our Port San Antonio campus, but a strength of San Antonio,” Perschbach said.