Amazon on Thursday announced a new $1 billion venture fund that the tech giant will use to back companies of all stages developing customer fulfillment, logistics, and supply chain technologies.
The first batch of companies to land funding from the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund include startups building wearable technology to enhance safety in fulfillment centers, and robotics designed to work alongside people.
“With our scale, Amazon is committed to investing in companies that will ignite innovation in emerging technologies that can help improve employee experiences and safety while seamlessly coexisting with workforces across the supply chain, logistics, and other industries,” Alex Ceballos Encarnacion, Amazon’s vice president of worldwide corporate development, said in a statement.
As part of his first-ever annual shareholders letter published last week, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy addressed employee treatment and warehouse worker safety. Jassy said the company is “passionate about further improving safety in our fulfillment network, with a focus on reducing strains, sprains, falls, and repetitive stress injuries.”
Amazon, which hired more than 300,000 people last year, has been under the microscope for warehouse worker safety and treatment. A recent study found that its workers suffered serious injuries at twice the rate of rival companies last year, CNBC reported, with overall injuries increasing from 2020 to 2021.
“We’ve researched and created a list of what we believe are the top 100 employee experience pain points and are systematically solving them,” Jassy wrote in the letter.
Amazon is also facing union-organizing at multiple warehouses. Earlier this month in New York City a group of the company’s U.S. warehouse workers voted to form a union for the first time in the company’s history.
The new industrial fund does not have a specific number of companies it expects to back. Amazon has similar venture arms to invest in other companies, including the Amazon Alexa Fund and the Amazon Climate Pledge Fund.
Here are the first companies receiving cash from the Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund, with descriptions from Amazon:
- Modjoul: Founded in 2016 and based in Greenville, S.C., Modjoul is developing wearable safety technology that enables real-time, personalized alerts and recommendations aimed at reducing injuries, most notably musculoskeletal issues.
- Vimaan: Founded in 2017 and based in Santa Clara, Calif.,, Vimaan is developing computer vision and artificial intelligence solutions engineered to improve inventory management.
- Agility Robotics: Founded in 2015 and based in Corvallis, Ore., Agility Robotics is developing a bi-pedal walking robot, Digit, that addresses the mobility limitations of traditional robots so that machines can assist people wherever they are.
- BionicHIVE: Founded in 2014 and based in Israel, BionicHIVE is developing an autonomous robotic solution that can adapt to existing shelving racks and boxes in warehouses and is capable of floor to ceiling functionality.
- Mantis Robotics: Founded in 2020 and based in San Francisco, Mantis Robotics is developing a tactile robotic arm that uses sensor technology to cohesively work alongside people.