Warehouse workers who used to tire themselves out walking from one end of a sprawling building to the other have new tools to do their jobs more quickly and with a lot less shoe leather: robots.
Companies such as Fetch Robotics Inc. in San Jose are designing robots that work alongside people in warehouses, a growing industry as people shift spending from stores to websites like Amazon.com.
The rise of e-commerce and faster delivery times are pressuring logistics companies to get orders out the door as quickly as possible. Fetch's robots help make warehouses more efficient because people can focus on finding items on shelves and in bins and let robots carry them to areas where they are packed and shipped.
Amazon signaled the importance of the market in 2012 when it purchased warehouse-robot maker Kiva Systems for $775 million. That created a void for companies such as Fetch to fill and made investors eager to support them. Fetch has raised $23 million from backers led by Japanese telecommunications giant SoftBank Group Corp.
RK Group, which serves the semiconductor industry from a warehouse in Livermore, Calif., has been using three Fetch robots since August. Productivity is up about 30%, thanks to the robots, which has helped the company meet rising demand without hiring additional people.