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ABB buys tech company to give industrial robots eyes and brains

ABB (ABBN.S) has bought a company specialising in boosting the mobility of industrial robots – by using artificial intelligence and 3D vision to move around factories and warehouses.

The deal to buy Sevensense, a Swiss start-up, is the latest robotics investment by ABB and follows growing demand for industrial robots that can move and work independently.

Zurich-based Sevensense develops and makes sensor and AI systems that effectively give factory robots – which carry components to production lines – the eyes and brains to manoeuvre around plants.

“In the past, robots which supplied production lines usually followed fixed magnetic strips, They took a long time to install and weren’t very flexible,” Sami Atiya, ABB’s head of robotics and discrete automation told Reuters.

“Now we have robots which can go all over the factory, but with eyes and a brain.”

Each robot – which comes equipped with six cameras – can shift 2 tons of materials at speeds of 1.5 meters per second.

“Under the old system when you needed to change a production line of 100 meters, adding a new production cell for example, it was impossible to divert the robot,” Atiya added.

“Now we can do that easily,” he said.

The market for autonomous mobile robots (AMR) is expected to grow by around 20 per cent per year up to 2026, according to ABB estimates, expanding from $5.5 billion in 2023 to $9.5 billion by 2026.

This rate is faster than the one anticipated for conventional fixed robots, where ABB sees annual growth of 8 per cent.

The deal to buy Sevensense is the latest investment by ABB, which competes with Japan’s FANUC (6954.T) and Germany’s Kuka (KUKAF.PK) in industrial robots, and follows its expansion of its U.S factory last year and the purchase of ASTI Mobile Robotics in 2021.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

The company’s technology is now being integrated into ABB’s products, with customers including automaker Ford (F.N) which has bought 300 robots for its plant in Tennessee in the United States, as well as French tyre maker Michelin (MICP.PA).

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