Bear Robotics, maker of the Penny restaurant server robot, announced today that it has raised a $32 million Series A round of funding. The round was led by Softbank with participation from LINE Ventures Corp., Lotte Group, Vela Partners, DSC, and Smilegate. Bear had previously raised $2 million from South Korea’s Woowa Bros.
Penny is an autonomous robot built to shuttle food from restaurant kitchens to tables, and carry back empty dishes. The company released the latest version of Penny last year, which we described at the time:
Penny 2.0 is more cylindrical in shape, and can sport up to three tiers of carrying surface. Not only can Penny carry more, a new swappable tray system means it can be configured to carry any combination of food, drinks or bus tub.
Bear Robotics founder John Ha got the idea for Penny after running his own restaurant and seeing the hard work that went into being a server. It’s a lot of walking and carrying for a job that doesn’t pay all that well. Ha’s aim is to let robots do the monotonous back and forth associated with food service so employees and owners can do more customer service.
Penny has yet to go into mass production or full scale deployment. The robot was being used at Ha’s restaurant for a time and at a South Korean Pizza Hut, but there hasn’t been any word on expansion from that pilot.
But Penny isn’t the only serverbot in town. At CES this month, China’s PuduTech showed off its BellaBot, which in addition to carrying dishes, also sported an LED feline face. If customers pet Bella, the cat purrs, though it also gets annoyed if customers keep it from its work.
Bear’s fundraise comes at a time when food robots are having a bit of a tough time. Zume, which used robots to help make pizzas, shuttered its pizza delivery service. Creator, the robot-centric hamburger joint, was left stranded by Softbank, which was going to invest. Cafe X shut down three of its San Francisco locations. And Miso Robotics lost both its CEO and COO last year, and instead of venture funding, is turning to equity crowdfunding to raise more capital.
With its new, bulked up warchest, Bear is better prepared to weather any automation storm, but now it has to deliver a whole bunch of meals.