Soft Robotics has raised $20 million to expand the use of its “air actuated soft elastomeric end effectors.” Put another way--the company just raised a bunch of money for its rubbery robot parts that can gently handle delicate items such as eggs and fruit without crushing them.
Robots, as we’ve written before, are great for manual, repetitive tasks, but traditional systems like suction cups or metal grippers have never been great at handling irregularly shaped or soft items. To accomplish that, Soft Robotics uses material science to mimic an octopus (see the TED video below for a full explainer), and the result is an attachment of rubbery-tipped appendages that can be added to existing industrial systems and used to pick, manipulate and sort all manner of items.
According to the company’s product page, Soft Robotics offers three different configurations of its attachment, each meant to handle different types of food ranging from apples to pastries to hamburger patties.
Using robots for picking, sorting and otherwise handling of food would mean faster, more consistent results that could happen twenty-four hours a day. Soft Robotics SuperPick bin-picking system, for example, can execute more than 600 picks in an hour.
According to The Wall Street Journal, Soft Robotics is going to use the new money to push further into the food and beverage sector. It’s not hard to instantly see where this technology could be beneficial throughout the food stack.
In agriculture, Soft Robotics’ grippers could be used for picking fruits without smushing them. In the produce supply chain, a soft touch would come in handy for gentle sorting and shipping. And restaurants like Zume and CaliBurger could most likely find use for a robot that could handle dough and tomatoes (and keep up with the other robots already in use there).
Soft Robotics has more than 100 customers and told the Journal that it had revenues of “less than $10 million” last year (though that was an 80 percent jump over the previous year). This is the second round of funding for the Cambridge, MA company, which had previously raised $5 million. This latest infusion was led by Hyperlane Venture Capital and includes Scale Venture Partners as well as the VC group at Honywell International.
With this new money, Soft Robotics will undoubtedly make their grippers even more robust, but it will be hard to top this video of them in use packing donuts.