Soft Robotics raises $20 million to expand operations

Massachusetts-based Soft Robotics announced this week that it’s raised $20 million in funding, courtesy of Scale Venture Partners, Calibrate Ventures, Honeywell Ventures and Tekfen Ventures, along with existing investors like robotics giant, ABB. The round follows a $5 million Series A the company closed back in late-2015.

The investment interest is pretty clear on this one. Picking and placing is the de rigueur industrial robotics challenge at the moment, and the company’s soft, air-filled hands offer a novel approach to the issue. The rubbery materials that comprise the company’s robotic grippers make them much more compliant and therefore more capable of picking up a variety of objects with minimal pre-programming and on-board vision systems.

Thus far, Soft has primarily found a spot for itself in the food industry, serving factories with delicate products like produce and pizza dough. It’s also been adopted by Just Born Quality Confections, the people who bring you Peeps.

According to the company, the new round will help push Soft even further into the food and beverage categories, along with a larger presence in retail and logistics. The involvement of Honeywell and Yamaha’s investment wings could also signal interest from those companies’ own warehouses. With the right air pressure applied, the system should be strong enough to pick up more solid objects. 

Warehouse fulfillment has become increasingly strained in recent years, due to expectations from companies like Amazon, opening a space for robotics companies to address fast-paced but repetitive jobs like moving product onto and off of conveyor belts. Late last month, Soft showed off a low-cost, AI-driven warehouse system designed to retrieve products from bins to sort and fulfill retail orders with little oversight from its human counterparts.