Soft Robotics raises another $10M, citing pandemic-related demand

Add Soft Robotics to the long list of automation companies that have seen a boost in investment interest amid the pandemic. The New England-based firm announced this morning a $10 million raise that serves as an extension of the $23 million Series B it announced in January of last year.

The extension was led by Material Impact, Scale Venture Partners and Calibrate Ventures and featured existing investors Tekfen Ventures and industrial robotics giant ABB. The latest round brings the company’s total funding to around $58 million.

Founded in 2013, the company takes a novel approach to picking machines, with a soft, pneumatic-powered gripper that’s ideal for fragile food stuffs that might otherwise be damaged by rigid robotics. Food, of course, has been a prime target for interest in automation during the pandemic, due to labor shortages and fears of disease transmission.

“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,” Soft Robotics COO Mark Chiappetta said in a 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.”

The round also sees Tyson Food’s investment wing, Tyson Ventures joining the fold. Tyson, which produces poultry, beef and pork in massive volumes, is an existing customer.

“At Tyson Ventures, we are continually exploring new areas in automation that can enhance safety and increase the productivity of our team members,” Tyson Ventures’ Rahul Ray said in the release. “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.”