I spent last week in Boston, meeting with several of the area’s top automation startups. Soft Robotics — based in nearby Bedford, Massachusetts — is one of those names that comes up a lot. As the concept of soft robotics grippers have increasingly come into vogue, the company of the same name has been reaping much of that windfall.
Today, for instance, it announced a $26 million Series C, led by Tyson Ventures. The VC arm of Tyson Foods is a natural fit here. After all, food production has long been a big piece of Soft Robotics’ strategy. Its compliant grippers do a good job picking up fragile and inconsistently sized foodstuffs, from meat to produce — a longstanding challenge for more rigid systems.
“At Tyson, we are continually exploring new areas in automation that can enhance safety and increase the productivity of our team members,” Tyson Ventures’ Rahul Ray said in a release. “Soft Robotics’ revolutionary robotic technology, computer vision and AI platform have the potential to transform the food industry and will play a key role in any company’s automation journey.”
Marel and Johnsonville also joined the round as new investors, following a $23 million Series B with a $10 million extension raised in June of last year. At the time, Soft Robotics cited pandemic-fueled job loss as a major motivator in the funding round. Obviously the job situation hasn’t gotten much better — particularly in industries like meat packing — even as funding has largely slowed down across the board over the past year.
The firm says the new round of funding will go toward accelerating the deployment of its mGripAI system, which combines 3D vision with a soft gripping system. Soft Robotics says the perfect storm of pandemic-fueled issues has resulted in “the four largest sales quarters in the company’s eight-year history.”