This week in robotics: Amazon’s iRobot deal hits an EU snag as new funding keeps hot drone summer rolling

This week brought in good news for the robotics space in the form of new investment for nascent companies, but two established players within the space hit a snag. Amazon’s potential $1.7 billion acquisition of iRobot, which had previously been approved by the U.K.’s antitrust regulators, is now getting an extensive review by the European Union.

Our resident robotics expert Brian Heater has some additional analysis on the deal, and a commemoration of the late industry legend Joanne Pransky, in the latest edition of his Actuator newsletter. Subscribe to get those updates every Thursday right here.

And for the rest of the past week’s robotics news, keep on scrolling.

Verity’s $11M keeps hot drone summer soaring

The Swiss startup Verity announced a new round of funding, on top of its $32 million Series B from back in March. Its deal with Ikea, which had put 100 of its drones in 16 warehouses in Europe, has attracted a ton of industry attention, and this particular round will go toward scaling to meet the need for scale to address the growing opportunity for supply chain automation.

Wildfire detection automation nets additional $17M

Pano AI has been developing cameras capable of automatically detecting wildfires, most recently catching and sending early warnings about the Kutch Road Fire 14 minutes ahead of the first 911 call.

And with wildfires an increasing concern worldwide in the face of rising temperatures, Pano AI announced a $17 million extension to its $20 million Series A.

Simbe’s funding increases to $54M following BJ Wholesale deal

While Verity’s drones focus on warehouses, Simbe’s focused on the stores themselves, with its robots roaming through stores to monitor inventory within a customer’s reach. The company just announced a fresh round of funding with a $28 million Series B that follows its $26 million Series A from late 2019, fresh off the heels of its deal placing its Tally robots in all BJ Wholesale Club locations.

Bedrock’s ocean-mapping ambitions discover $25M in funding

Any construction project requires surveying, inspection and monitoring, and the same holds true for the increasing volume of underwater projects spurred by the demand for offshore wind. Bedrock’s autonomous underwater vehicles aim to conduct that work instead of costly crewed survey ships, and they just announced $25.5 million in new funding to expand its mission. Interestingly, their new focus is less on the hardware itself, and more on proving the commercial viability of selling the data they collect through their autonomous explorers.

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This week in robotics: Amazon’s iRobot deal hits an EU snag as new funding keeps hot drone summer rolling by Alyssa Stringer originally published on TechCrunch

Simbe’s inventory robots score $28 million in funding

Inventory robots are having a moment. Two days back, Swiss firm Verity announced an $11 million raise. That followed a $20 million round from fellow drone inventory startup B Garage, which, in turn, arrived two days after Gather AI announced it had acquired competitor Ware. That same day, Dexory announced $19 million for its back-of-house shelf-scanning robot.

Doing inventory sucks. A lot. Aside from dealing with the occasional irate customer, it was always my most dreaded aspect of working retail gigs. Seeing as how it effectively amounts to collecting and managing data at scale, it’s a pretty prime candidate for automation.

Simbe Robotics this week announced that it has also received fresh funding. The $28 million Series B led by Eclipse follows a $26 million Series A in late 2019 and brings its total funding to $54 million. It follows March’s news that BJ’s Wholesale Club is rolling out Simbe’s Tally robotics to all of its locations.

Simbe differs from the above-mentioned firms in its focus on front-of-store operations. Tally is designed to keep an eye on shelves, monitoring for missing items that may have been replaced or stolen. It’s a job that traditionally involves hours of human labor and store shutdowns (or overnight shifts). It’s also one for shelves that are generally a bit lower than what one encounters in a warehouse, and allows retailers some good PR by letting branded robots cruise up and down the aisles with customers.

Letting a robot cruise around the store, on the other hand, accomplishes the tasks more dynamically and can limit the amount of time a shelf remains bare. Those existing issues have, naturally, only been accelerated by the events of the last few years. First there were closures for non-essential businesses, then supply chain concerns and labor shortages. Retailers have no doubt only grown increasingly interested in automating these sorts of tasks.

“Elevating the retail experience for everyone — retailers, their associates, and customers — through AI and robotics is the foundation of Simbe’s mission,” Simbe co-founder and CEO Brad Bogolea says in a release, “and this funding will enable us to share this vision and reimagined experience with more retail partners around the world.”

Simbe highlights the following metrics from the past year:

  • Serviced 12 of the top 250 global retailers in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, including BJ’s Wholesale, Schnucks Markets, SpartanNash, Wakefern, Carrefour and more
  • Processed over 12 billion shelf photos
  • Analyzed over 5 billion products for on-shelf availability and price accuracy
  • Completed over 1.7 million hours of fully autonomous data capture operations alongside store associates and customers

The startup is highlighting the human element in that last bullet point no doubt in a bid to get ahead of critiques around automating people out of jobs.

Unless acquisition is the end goal, diversifying one’s customer list is always a good idea, as well. Competitor Bossa Nova Robotics was famously kneecapped when Walmart ended a contract with the startup in late 2020.

Simbe’s inventory robots score $28 million in funding by Brian Heater originally published on TechCrunch

Simbe’s robots will be deployed across midwestern grocery chain, Schnucks

St. Louis-based grocery chain Schnucks (one of those “With a name like Smucker’s, it has to be good” situations, one imagines) announced this week that it will be deploying technology from Simbe Robotics across its 111 U.S. locations.

The deal comes a year and a half into a global pandemic that has substantially increased interest in automation, particularly around essential businesses — a qualifier that certainly applies to grocery stores.

Simbe’s mobile robots provide inventory scanning, offering a constantly updating picture of what’s on the store shelves and what needs to be restocked. Anyone who’s ever worked retail can almost certainly tell you that doing inventory is one of the biggest headaches in the industry, often requiring hours-long shutdowns or overnight marathons to complete.

The “multi-year” chain-wide rollout comes four years after Schnucks first began piloting the tech. Over the years, the partnership has gradually expanded. Simbe says its shelf-scanning Tally robot is capable of reducing out of stock items by 20-30% and can detect 14 times more missing inventory than traditional human scanning.

Schnuck Markets deploys Tally robot by Simbe Robotics to its stores – bringing shelf insights for better shopping experience. Photographed on Friday, Aug. 13, 2021, in Des Peres, Mo. Image Credits: Simbe

“By deploying Tally to all stores, we are fully operationalizing these insights into our supply chain and expanding our ability to leverage real-time data to make revenue impacting decisions,” Schnucks VP Dave Steck said in a release. “Tally has become an integral component of our stores, streamlining operations and ultimately creating a better store experience for our customers and teammates.”

A number of companies are working to automate the world of inventory scanning, including Brain Corp and Bossa Nova, though the latter was dealt a massive setback when Walmart ended a large contract at the end of 2020.