US apparel giant Gap is one of a number of major apparel brands piloting machines with human-like intelligence in their warehouses though San Francisco-based robotics and artificial intelligence start-up Kindred.

The production model robots, called Kindred Sort, are said to have been operating in a pilot programme at a Gap warehouse in Tennessee, with plans to expand the fleet of robots to help the retailer's full fulfilment network down the line.

The technology was developed for use in retail distribution and e-commerce fulfilment centres to quickly and accurately sort an endless variety of products into orders, side by side with warehouse staff. The robots are designed to help retailers increase productivity and expand capacity to serve more customers faster, enabling top line revenue growth.

Gap is understood to have been testing the robot for a few months and is now "processing real orders" by helping humans separate items like jeans and t-shirts for delivery.

The pilots are a bit win for three-year-old Kindred, which recently secured US$28m in funding led by Chinese media and web giant, Tencent, bringing the total amount raised to $44m. Previous investors Eclipse Ventures and First Round Capital participated in the new round.

Kindred says the additional capital will go towards the continued research, development and deployment of its robots as a service, as well as to advance the company's broader mission to build human-like intelligence in machines.

"Kindred Sort is only the beginning when it comes to showcasing the company's unique approach to AI," says Pierre Lamond, partner at Eclipse Ventures. "Their technology is powering a new class of robots that learn to do far more than traditional industrial robots. These intelligent robots complement human workers to meet the greater efficiency, flexibility and output demands of modern e-commerce fulfilment centres."

With Kindred Sort, the company is aiming to alleviate the massive pressures facing the retail and fulfilment industry, which includes significant online sales growth, labour shortages, and a lack of advancement in technology.

"Industrial robots, despite their accuracy and precision in the controlled environments of modern manufacturing facilities, do not adapt well to less controlled environments where the items could be randomly placed or come in a nearly infinite variety of sizes, shapes and weights," adds George Babu, co-founder and head of product at Kindred. "Kindred Sort leverages our advancements in applying artificial intelligence (AI) to physical world systems and our unique approach to delivering intelligence to robots that can help solve the capacity issues facing modern fulfilment centres."

The new pilot programme and investment highlights the growing trend of companies like Amazon and Target using robots for inventory and tracking purposes. In 2012, Amazon invested $775m in buying robot maker Kiva Systems, which some analysts believe was a turning point for companies outside of the automotive and industrial sectors in adopting robots.