Simbe Robotics, which makes the autonomous Tally inventory robot for retailers, announced today that it has raised a $26 million Series A round of funding led by Venrock with participation from Future Shape, Valo Ventures, and Activant Capital. Additionally, Simbe also announced today that it is expanding its existing partnership with SoftBank Robotics America to include inventory financing to scale the manufacturing of an additional 1,000 Tally robots over the next two years.
Tally is an autonomous robot that roams store aisles using computer vision and RFID to scan shelves to check on inventory. It’s part of a suite of services from Simbe that provides analytics about purchases and insights about re-stocking management. Simbe provides the hardware for free and charges a monthly subscription for the software and analytics. So far, Tally has been put to work in trials at Giant Eagle and Schnuck’s grocery store chains.
Tally is just one of the robots coming to a grocer near you. Earlier this year, Walmart announced it would expand Bossa Nova’s shelf-scanning robots to 300 locations, and Ahold Delhaize ordered 500 “Marty” floor roaming robots from Badger Technologies.
While retailers may like the fact that robots are faster and more precise than humans (and the fact that they don’t take breaks or call in sick), there are still a lot of kinks that need to be worked out with robots. As we’ve written before, robots can make their human co-workers enjoy their jobs less, and shoppers don’t know how to interact with a cold, silent, sentinel (even if they have googley eyes).
Additionally, how long will robots be necessary for things like inventory management? Walmart debuted its IRL store earlier this summer which features banks of cameras installed and computer vision to keep a real-time eye on what’s in stock.
However, retrofitting a store with the cameras, software and sensors needed to keep track of inventory in that way is expensive and will take a long time. So until then, robots like Tally will probably find a place among the produce at plenty of retailers.