Robots are best for jobs that are any combination of the three Ds: dull, dirty or dangerous. Inspecting industrial food and beverage tanks seems like all of those wrapped into one, which helps explain why Invert Robotics just closed an $8.8 million funding round, the company announced today.
Based in Christchurch, New Zealand, Invert Robotics builds wall-crawling robots that can inspect the insides of confined or difficult-to-reach spaces like storage tanks at food and beverage processing facilities. The robot itself looks like a Spinal Tap Stonehenge-sized military tank and uses proprietary suction cups with a friction-reducing coating to climb up just about any wall, including non-magnetic ones.
Once inside, the operator can use the on-board camera can inspect the inside of the tanks for cracks, bad seals or improper cleaning. These types of inspections are important because cracks in tanks can capture bacteria, thus contaminating anything held inside a tank. Additionally, spotting such defects inside tanks early can help prevent industrial accidents like tank failures that result in spills.
By using wall-crawling robots, Invert says it can perform inspections better and more freely than a human can. First, tank inspections typically require a scaffolding be built or rope harnesses used by a person inside the tank. Invert’s robot just sticks to the wall of the tank, and because it is so small, it can navigate into smaller spaces than a human would typically fit. Additionally, the robot is more hygeinic, as a person rummaging around inside a tank could introduce some kind of bacteria or pathogen that could contaminate future contents. Invert says all this translates into faster inspections and less downtime for the tanks, which is important for a processing facility.
This funding round was lead by Finestere Ventures, and brings the total amount raised by invert to $15.9 million. Invert currently has more than 50 customers worldwide and this new money will go towards opening up a U.S. office and hiring up from 40 to 65 employees. The new cash will also go towards research and development to turn Invert’s robot into more of a platform with added functionality like ultrasound to detect wall thickness and Eddy currents for surface and sub-surface inspection.
With today’s announcement, that little wall crawling robot just brought in another d: dollars.