Robot Gripper startup Soft Robotics raises $23M Series B to accelerate growth and drive international expansion
Soft Robotics, a robotic automation startup for the factory of the future, has raised $23M Series B financing to accelerate growth and drive international expansion in core packaging and manufacturing markets. The round was co-led by Calibrate Ventures and Material Impact and includes additional existing investors Honeywell, Hyperplane, Scale, Tekfen Ventures, and Yamaha. With this round Soft Robotics also adds FANUC Corp., the world’s largest industrial robot manufacturer, as a new investor.
Founded in 2013 by Carmichael Roberts and George Whitesides, the Boston, MA-based Soft Robotics is powered by advanced material science and AI, Soft Robotics’ gripping solutions adapt to today’s ever-changing manufacturing supply chain without the cost and complexity of traditional robotic systems. Since its inception, its technology platform has experienced substantial customer validation and adoption, with production installations running 24/7 for global customers in food & beverage, advanced manufacturing and e-commerce, and more.
Soft Robotics previously announced a strategic partnership with FANUC to integrate Soft Robotics’ mGrip adaptable gripper system with any FANUC robot through the deployment of a new controller. The combined product was introduced at IREX in Tokyo, Japan in December 2019.
Addressing the most challenging applications from primary and secondary food packaging to unstructured bin picking, Soft Robotics’ proprietary grasping technology, machine vision, and software solutions enable automation solutions for large and meaningful industries such as food and beverage, consumer goods and cosmetics manufacturing, e-commerce supply chains, and more.
“This new funding will allow us to power the next phase of our growth strategy and continue to provide solutions to our customers’ greatest challenges,” said Carl Vause, CEO of Soft Robotics. “Variability is the kryptonite of the robotics industry. By offering a system that is able to grasp and manipulate items that vary in size, shape, and weight, we are able to solve the problem of high variability in both products and processes.”
In addition to bringing proven solutions in food packaging and consumer goods manufacturing, Soft Robotics is working with e-commerce, logistics, and retail customers to address the high cost of online returns logistics. With the technology’s unique ability to handle the most unstructured and delicate items, Soft Robotics can now help automate reverse logistics: one of the costliest links in the online supply chain owing to high variation and high-value items such as apparel.
Post-holiday product returns are shining a light on the challenge of reverse logistics. According to a recent report, fifteen-thirty percent of all online orders are returned. In addition, processing a return requires twenty percent more space and two times the labor as sending out a package. UPS alone recently processed nearly two million returns on a single day. According to some sources, holiday returns could add up to as much as $90 to $95 billion worth of merchandise this year.
“Creating or accelerating a direct-to-customer channel is a strong cross-sector trend that has moved beyond markets such as food packaging and consumer goods manufacturing and more. At the order management level, it also means establishing highly dynamic ‘reverse supply chains.’ However, the general labor scarcity for use-cases related to order management is a critical roadblock. In that context, the role of nimble gripper solutions adaptable to both the inbound and outbound workflows become of strategic importance,” according to Remy Glaisner, Research Director WW Robotics at IDC. “The challenges of customer product – consumer but not only – returns are front and center throughout the year, and demand high variability for high value items such as in the apparel industry.”