Soft Robotics Raises $20 Million for Logistics Expansion

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Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Soft Robotics has raised about $20 million in funding backed by Scale Venture Partners, Honeywell Ventures, Calibrate Ventures and Tefken Ventures together with existing investors including the robotics giant ABB Technology Ventures.

This is the second round of the funding by the company which follows the Series A round that closed during the end of 2015 after gathering $5 million.

The start-up supplies robotic grippers suitable for industrial needs including food processing and packaging, among others, where picking, packing and shipping e-commerce orders is kind of difficult and challenging even with an army of human workers.

However, this picking and packing the goods swiftly without causing any damage to them is the one challenge that robotic grippers experience in today’s market. The soft and air-filled grippers from Soft Robotics are specifically designed to deal with this particular issue and are now compliant and capable of picking a variety of objects with as much less of programming and other on-board vision systems making them a perfect fit for industrial use.

The grippers are made of light and flexible materials like paper, cloth, fibre and particles and are also lightweight making them ideal and affordable for various industrial sectors including food and apparel and for even handling baby wipes.

The technology used by Soft Robotics is a mix of automation and vision-guided software that allows the soft polymer grippers to shape themselves around the object like the tentacles of an octopus. The spongy fingers then lift the objects without the need to determine its weight or its centre of gravity. They can even handle soft and fragile foods like tomatoes without causing any damage.

The company is also rolling out a logistics and retail application dubbed as the SuperPick that combines AI and human guidance in order to teach the robots about how to pick different objects in a proper manner. If the robot fails at that, it will ask the remote operator for help thus speeding up the robot’s learning process.

Soft Robotics Chief Executive Carl Vause said: “It’s a pliable grasp,” “All the force distribution is done by the materials.” He further added that the grips will allow the robots to adapt better than those which use suction cups or other rigid metal grippers to pick up objects.