Ecommerce grew during the pandemic as locked down consumers ordered online, setting up a Polish robotics company for a success that could foster a Warsaw innovation hub

Kacper Nowicki worked in California during the dot-com boom and was at Google when it first joined the machine learning revolution. However, in 2016, he read a research paper about using deep neural networks to control robots and decided that real-world applications of this aspect of artificial intelligence could be the next big thing in technology.

He built a team to work on it, with Marek Cygan, who had won algorithmic and machine learning competitions, and Tristan d’Orgeval, an experienced startup executive. Together they founded Nomagic, a Warsaw-based robotics company.

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Kacper Nowicki, Mark Cygan, and Tristan d’Orgeval (left to right) are the founders of the Warsaw-based robotics company. ©Nomagic

Building AI software and integrating it with industrial robots does not come cheap, especially in the middle of a global pandemic. “You need significant R&D investment to be able to develop a product that is efficient and reliable enough to meet operational warehouse requirements,” says d’Orgeval, Nomagic’s chief operating officer.

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Nomagic’s software allows the robot to operate autonomously with little supervision and ‘learn’on how to handle a specific item, knowledge that is instantly transferred to all other robots in the warehouse. ©Nomagic

Polish robotics to replace picking

When George C. Devol, an inventor from Kentucky, created the first modern robot in 1954, industry didn’t buy it. Now, robotics is one of the fastest-growing industries globally. Most robots today are used to put things together and perform repetitive actions, or to do jobs too dangerous for humans. But their reach is expanding quickly.

Most human-hand tasks in modern warehouses involve “picking”. That is, collecting products from one box and putting them into another box. As tedious as it might seem, this has to be done by humans because most modern robots lack the simple ability to properly identify items in a container when hundreds of thousands of potentially different items are involved. Nomagic tackles this issue by providing AI-based software for standard robotic arms that allow these robots to handle a wide range of products.

Deep neural networks set Nomagic’s software apart. “It allows the robot to operate autonomously with little supervision and to accumulate knowledge on how to handle a specific item that is instantly transferred to all other robots in the warehouse,” says Philippe Hoett, Senior Equity Investment Officer at the European Investment Bank (EIB), which lent to Nomagic in November.

Nomagic robots can pick, inspect, analyse and place products, reproducing repetitive and tedious tasks traditionally performed by warehouse operators. “We combine our proprietary neural networks for autonomous actions, our cloud robotics platform for remote monitoring and control, and our hardware, which is well adapted to a large set of product and actions,” says Cygan, who is Nomagic’s chief technology officer. “This combination gives the project a powerful impact.”

Advantages of deep neural networks:

  • Best results with unstructured data like texts, pictures, and more
  • No need for labelling of data
  • Efficient at delivering high-quality results
  • Elimination of unnecessary direct costs
  • It is highly scalable due to its ability to process massive amounts of data

Guarantee for Polish robotics

Nomagic is the first European Investment Bank venture debt project in Poland under the Pan-European Guarantee Fund, a financing product designed by the EIB Group to shield small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from the impact of the COVID-19 crisis. SMEs such as Nomagic suffer a lack of financing options for growth investment— difficulties that have increased with the pandemic. “Quickly, we realised we needed help,” says Nowicki, Nomagic’s chief executive. “The EIB was able to support the R&D required to build an innovative product in Europe. It is a great addition to the private capital invested in Nomagic.”

The European Guarantee Fund aims to use up to €25 billion in guarantees provided by contributing EU member states to spur as much as €200 billion in financing by the end of 2021. The Guarantee Fund “allows the Bank to increase its risk-taking capacity and to lend to companies affected by Covid-19,” says Hoett, the investment officer.

With its loan from the guarantee fund, Nomagic can focus on research and development and scale up its project—without having to worry about the impact of the pandemic on its business. “We are very happy that with the EIB,” says Nowicki, “we can continue to fund our research and build this innovative technology in Europe.

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Nomagic is a pioneer for European technology and could spur digital cohesion in Poland. ©Nomagic

Polish robotics firm gets pandemic boost

The pandemic highlighted the need for more innovation and digitalisation in Europe in general—and brought new growth in the very market where Nomagic operates. “The pandemic has sped up consumer’s appetite for e-commerce and the market potential is huge,” says Fouad Bitar, a Senior Industry Advisor at the EIB. “This is a huge opportunity for warehouse automation companies like Nomagic.”

The increased interest in e-commerce provides new opportunities for the Polish company. “Quickly after the beginning of the pandemic, people switched to e-commerce, but getting people to work safely in the warehouses became more and more complicated,” says Nomagic’s d’Orgeval. “So, companies got interested in our product.” 

The project is also a pioneer for European technology. “We got used to getting technology from the United States and other countries outside the EU,” says Nowicki. “What we are doing is to build a product that does not exist and which will yield its benefits first in Europe.”

There’s regional potential, too. Nomagic could spur employment, highly specialised research and development jobs and digital cohesion in Poland. Nomagic already sponsors a robot-learning lab at the University of Warsaw and chief technology officer Cygan supports the robotics curriculum in the Master’s programme. “The growing expertise of Nomagic’s R&D team will strengthen the wider tech ecosystem in the region,” says Iwona Biernat, Investment Officer at the EIB. “The company’s presence will help Warsaw and Poland to promote their credentials as a European hub for tech companies and attract new investors in Central Europe.”