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Industrial Ingenuity Unveiled – Cool, Innovative Technologies You’ve Probably Never Heard About

This series aims to shed light on lesser known, yet groundbreaking technological advancements in the industrial sector. In each interview, we delve into a specific company’s contributions to reshaping the industrial landscape.

Today we’re sitting down with Ralf Gulde, CEO of German startup Sereact GmbH in Stuttgart, Germany

Co-founders Ralf Gulde (left) and Marc Tuscher (right)

Ralf let’s begin with your background. After school, you pursued engineering, but you returned to university, where you met Marc Tuscher, co-founder of Sereact. Could you tell us more about your journey and how it led you both to found Sereact?

Sure! After my initial foray into engineering and working with automation companies, I realized the immense potential of AI and robotics and decided to go back to university to delve into these topics. That is how I met Marc. Marc and I delved into research specifically addressing challenges in unstructured areas like logistics centers. We realized quickly that there was a pressing need for advanced technological solutions, particularly due to shifts in demographics that led to labor shortages in logistics and warehousing. After hearing the same pain points of labor shortages, and receiving positive feedback from potential customers, we decided to transition from academia to entrepreneurship, laying the foundation for Sereact.           

When did you officially establish Sereact as a company?

We officially founded Sereact at the beginning of 2021, after several years of AI Robotics research together with Marc Tuscher at the renowned University of Stuttgart.

I understand that you’ve recently secured funding from venture capitalists. Could you elaborate on this and explain why you chose these specific investors?

Yes, we’re proud to have partnered with Point 9 and Air Street Capital, both renowned European investors with a strong track record in supporting software-as-a-service companies. Their focus on C-founders and their proven patience in nurturing deep tech startups aligns perfectly with our vision. Air Street’s expertise in AI has been particularly valuable in addressing the challenges ahead.

Let’s delve into the problem you’re addressing. You mentioned the difficulty companies face in finding and retaining personnel, especially in logistics. Can you elaborate on the challenges you see in the marketplace and the solutions Sereact is developing?

The challenge we consistently hear about from our customers is their struggle to find and keep efficient warehouse workers. As the demographic landscape changes, the pool of available workers is shrinking rapidly. This is a big problem, and according to an Amazon study it costs up to $10,000 to replace a “churned” warehouse worker. That labor shortage, coupled with the fact that the logistics and e-commerce sectors are experiencing double-digit growth rates in some cases, creates an urgency for reliable and highly automated processes for companies to remain productive, especially during peak seasons. Imagine ordering something on Amazon – without a reliable, highly automated logistics process, you cannot expect to receive your Amazon order the following day.

The actual solution we are creating is around the task of picking and packing. Typically, an item would be delivered to a stationary (human) worker who would then deposit it into a designated box to fulfill the order which is later delivered to the customer.  As you can imagine, this is a very repetitive task, making it challenging to retain workers. Our primary objective is to fully automate this process, encompassing both item selection and packing procedures.

Could you shed light on how AI is revolutionizing the field of warehouse automation, particularly in picking and packing?

Absolutely. In the past, programming robots to “teach them” how to handle, pick, and pack every item individually and correctly was necessary. However, with the integration of AI, this individualized “training” process is no longer required. Our advanced AI solution calculates strategies for picking any type of item, regardless of shape or size, ensuring productivity from day one. This makes a huge difference.

How have advancements in technology, particularly in vision and computing power, enabled an AI-driven environment in the last decade?

AI technology has undergone a significant transformation with the evolution of computing devices like GPUs and improved AI algorithms. These developments enable computers, particularly robots, to process high-dimensional data like vision data in real-time which is a true game-changer. This capability allows robots to « see » their environment and determine the best way to handle items, making automation far more efficient.

ChatGPT is a big topic right now and has already found its way into most households. Can you please explain if – and how – you are leveraging large language models like ChatGPT to enhance your technology further? Is that technology impacting your solutions?

Large language models like ChatGPT are proving to be invaluable. They’re capable of answering questions, reasoning, and solving complex problems. We’re harnessing these models to enhance our picking technology, especially in scenarios involving delicate or complex items. This technology is instrumental in fields like return handling and automation in general.

How is the market reacting to your technology now that it’s ready for deployment, and are you seeing interest from e-commerce and logistics companies?

Over the past three years, we’ve observed a significant shift in perception regarding AI technology. While most companies were hesitant to use it before, they are now increasingly implementing AI solutions in their warehouses, and we no longer need to focus most of our efforts on convincing them of AI’s capabilities. So yes, we are absolutely seeing an increased adoption of AI in the market, as it continues to prove its effectiveness in solving critical challenges.

Could you share any early success stories or notable cases where Sereact’s technology has made a significant impact?

Certainly. One of our key success stories is our collaboration with one of the largest truck manufacturers in the world: Daimler Truck.

We’re automating their complex kit assembly process, which has been a challenging task, and after trying various other solutions, we are fortunate to be the only company able to deliver a solution that can handle their very complex SKU and item portfolio, requiring minimal human intervention.

Another example is our partnership with Material Bank, a prominent 3PL company in the United States which has led to the augmentation of their automated storage and retrieval system with automated picking, further demonstrating the capabilities of our technology.

Wow! That is impressive, especially for such a young startup company!  Looking ahead, what are your expectations for Sereact in the coming years, and what is your long-term vision for the company?

Our vision is clear: to develop the best AI robotic software for object manipulation. And while we’re focusing on warehouse applications right now, our long-term goal is to expand our AI solutions into other domains, such as Agro-Tech and even domestic robots. We believe manipulation technology is key to solving significant societal challenges as well.

What do you see as the biggest challenges, both in working with clients and in your internal R&D efforts?

For our company, the challenge lies in scaling our market roll-out and delivering a world-class product globally. On the R&D front, the rapid pace of AI advancement poses a constant challenge. Maintaining our technological edge requires a relentless focus on cutting-edge AI technology.

Regarding competition, do you perceive many competitors in your space, or do you believe Sereact is uniquely positioned to be the preferred solution provider?

Our market is competitive, and we certainly respect our competitors. To distinguish ourselves in the market, we emphasize superior technological innovation, and we can offer competitive pricing. We believe we hold a strong position, but maintaining that competitive edge will require relentless, ongoing efforts and innovation.

Considering Europe’s strong position in technology adoption and industry 4.0, along with your company’s technological prowess, do you anticipate a positive reception in the European and US markets?

Indeed, we are well-positioned here in Germany and in Europe and anticipate a warm reception in both the European and the US markets. Given the increasing demand and need for AI and automation, particularly in e-commerce and logistics, we anticipate contributing greatly to these markets!

Thank you for sharing your insights! You have set a new standard with your technology in a short period of time, and we wish you continued success at Sereact!

About Sereact:

Sereact’s AI software for autonomous robotics fully automates pick-and-place processes, making them more efficient, reliable, and crisis-resistant. Our goal is to optimize your supply chain with minimal integration effort to increase productivity in your warehouse from the first pick while significantly reducing costs.

Sereact’s AI software enables machines to perceive their environment and develop solution strategies independently, thus qualifying them to become autonomously acting skilled workers.

About Altix Consulting:

Altix is the middle-market international industrial champions’ management consulting partner, providing business strategy, technology and innovation, and operational excellence support, in the world of advanced manufacturing and international supply chain.