Food robotics company, Soft Robotics, announced that they have received $10 million in a Series B extension. The company says demand for their AI technology has soared during the COVID-19 pandemic. They hope to use this money to expand their commercial operations further and fuel the company’s SoftAI powered robotic solutions.
SoftAI is a patented technology that uses 3D vision, soft grasping, and artificial intelligence to give industrial robots the hand-eye coordination of humans. This will allow for the automation of bulk picking processes in the food supply chain.
The funding round was led by Material Impact, Scale Venture Partners, Calibrate Ventures and Tyson Ventures.
“Today’s industrial robots are unable to deal with product variability, or unstructured environments typically found across the labor-challenged food supply chain in areas such as agriculture, food processing, and logistics,” said Mark Chiappetta, COO at Soft Robotics, in a press release.
“With our revolutionary soft grasping, 3D perception, and AI technologies, Soft Robotics unlocks robotic automation by augmenting widely available industrial robots with true hand-eye coordination allowing them to perform tasks that traditionally could only be performed by human workers,” Chiappetta continued.
The technology’s rubber grippers mimic an octopus and allows the robotic arms to pick up delicate products along with odd-shaped foods.
This technology aims to improve safety and increase the production capabilities in Tyson Foods facilities to meet the high demands of providing consumers with quality, safe and nutritious protein products.
Tyson Foods has invested more than $500 million in new technology over the past three years to keep leading chicken, beef, and pork production.
“At Tyson Ventures, we are continually exploring new areas in automation that can enhance safety and increase the productivity of our team members,” said Rahul Ray, senior director of Tyson Ventures, in the same press release.
Tyson Foods has been using Soft Robotics for a while. “Soft Robotics’ best-in-class robotic technology, computer vision and AI platform have the potential to transform the food industry and will play a key role in any company’s automation journey,” said Ray.
Using AI in the food supply chain has increased in popularity due to the effects that COVID-19 has imposed on society. With the limitations of human workers and decreased production in factories, using machines to replace some more manual roles has become increasingly important.
COVID-19 outbreaks have affected the meat processing plants; they slowed down and created shortages that were apparent on various grocery store shelves throughout the first few months of the pandemic. Due to the high levels of the virus being spread within plants, human contact was minimized, and the food supply chain was greatly affected. Nevertheless, technology could have been one of the various ways to save the food supply chain.
Many see implementing technology in the workplace to be a threat. Still, Nader Mikhail, CEO and founder of Elementum, a cloud-native supply chain incident management platform, said, “You can adopt tech into an industry, and it doesn’t necessarily mean the downfall of the American worker. It only enhances our experiences as employees because it helps from every vantage point. The future of supply chain has to have tech disruption in order to survive.”
Soft Robotics has seen an increase in demand for its products and has delivered the most significant sales in the company’s history.
“The vulnerabilities of the food supply chain were illuminated by the pandemic, making it clear that automation has graduated from a nice-to-have to a must-have across all large-scale food production operations. Soft Robotics patented technologies are ready and being used today to enable automation in the processing and packaging of proteins, produce and bakery products. Demand for both our hardware and SoftAI software solutions are increasing at an unprecedented pace. This new capital will support Soft Robotics’ exponential growth thereby ensuring automation plays a major role in safeguarding the food supply against future disruptions,” said Jeff Beck, CEO at Soft Robotics.