Robot delivery company Refraction AI announced today that it has raised $4.2 million in new seed funding. The round was led by Pillar VC, with participation from eLab Ventures, Osage Venture Partners, Trucks Venture Capital, Alumni Ventures Group, Chad Laurans (founder of SimpliSafe), Invest Michigan, and others.
Based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Refraction’s take on delivery robots is between smaller rovers like those from Starship and larger autonomous vehicles like Nuro‘s. Refraction’s REV-1 robots have three wheels, are ruggedized for inclement weather, and are fast enough to travel in bike lanes.
Refraction debuted the REV-1 back in July of 2019, and started making limited lunch deliveries from Ann Arbor restaurants in December of that year. In June of 2020, right after the pandemic’s first big wave in the U.S., Refraction launched its grocery delivery service.
We’re still early into the new year, but 2021 is already been a pretty active year for delivery robots. A number of startups around the world like Ottonomy, Delivers AI and Bizero have come out of stealth. Last week Safeway announced it was piloting the use of Tortoise’s teleoperated robots for grocery delivery. And Kiwibot will be making making deliveries in Santa Monica, California as part of that city’s zero emission delivery zone.
Luke Schneider, CEO of Refraction, told me by phone last week that the company will use its new capital to start scaling up the business. Refraction currently has 25 robots in operation around Ann Arbor. Schneider said that Refraction will be adding to its fleet and doing more deliveries, and will expand either to different cities or into different retail sectors. He also said that the company will also hire more people to expand the team, and build up operations in Austin, Texas where Schneider is located (though manufacturing will remain in Michigan).