Pepper Break, Meat Wrapping & Berry Picking – TechCrunch



We are fresh about our big event in Pittsburgh, and I’ll have more thoughts on that for you next week, once we’ve gone through all the interviews, posted profiles, and all that fun stuff. t I admit I am putting that back in part as well because there is just a ton of investment news to get through in the meantime. While I want to note that the Pittsburgh Robotics Network hosted their own big event on the same day as ours – honestly, there’s just a ton of activity in the city this week, including visits from some national politicians.

According to the PRN press release,

The alliance brings together leaders from top robotics companies, research institutes and universities in the Pittsburgh area including Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), Argo AI, Aurora, University of Pittsburgh, Kaarta, RE2 Robotics , Neya Systems, Carnegie Robotics, HEBI Robotics, Near Earth Autonomy, BirdBrain Technologies, Omnicell and Advanced Construction Robotics. The Richard King Mellon Foundation commemorated this milestone in membership with a grant of $ 125,000 to support the continued growth of the PRN.

I suggested the other week that there would be a slight increase in funding announcements, and we’ve certainly seen that come to fruition. Once upon a time, we had this thing called the summer doldrums. It may be the pandemic, but once the slow season doesn’t really apply here anymore. VCs are still very bullish on robotics and continue to pump money across the category.

Before we begin, though, a little dark note to say goodbye to Pepper – for now, at least. A representative from SoftBank Robotics confirmed to TechCrunch that the company will pause production of an affable robotic welcome. Reuters was the first to report a “entrenchment” in SoftBank robotics, including the cut of 330 jobs in France. The company noted in a press release: “Since 2012, SoftBank Robotics Group, a subsidiary of SoftBank, has invested in humanoid robotics and intends to advance the business of Pepper & NAO robots.

Source: Aldebaran Robotics licensed under CC-BY-3.0

As a reminder, the acquisition in 2021 by the investment giant of the French robotics startup Aldebaran Robotics gave birth to both SoftBank Robotics and Pepper. The latter evolved from Nao, a research robot that was adopted on a fairly large scale in this world. To this day, you will still see the bot in universities and research institutes around the world.

Pepper was an attempt to bring some of this underlying technology to a larger commercial audience. The robot was made life-size and designed to hold a tablet and accommodate people. And, honestly, it was a bit like that. Technology looking for a problem, as the saying goes – sophisticated robotics that can greet you in an Applebee or offer you information at the airport.

This is precisely why Pepper didn’t work – and how many issues last year played into it – is something better preserved for deeper diving, but I’ve always been skeptical of its real usefulness. of the robot. You’d be hard pressed to find a convincing argument that it required advanced robotics. Of course, a much more convincing argument can be made that specializing in building search bots is, at best, a lead product.

Image credits: CMR Surgical

That said, there is still much to be excited about on the robotics investment front. And while SoftBank Robotics may be on the decline, the company’s investment arm seems very bullish on robotics that goes beyond just maintaining signage. Vision Fund 2 led a massive $ 600 million Series D for CMR Surgical. The UK-based surgical robotics company is now a three times the unicorn, with a valuation of $ 3 billion for its keyhole surgery technology.

What I find most appealing about this category is its promise to effectively level the playing field for highly specialized procedures. This accessibility could prove to be enormous for developing countries and other markets where high quality health care is more difficult to find.

Image credits: Soft robotics

Soft Robotics (like SoftBank Robotics, but with less “bank”), meanwhile, specifically cited pandemic demand in the $ 10 million extension of its $ 23 million Series B. during much of the pandemic (as a non-meat eater myself, I’ll be avoiding some of my more personal thoughts on the matter). Soft Robotics has long been one of the most compelling startups in robotic picking, thanks to its pneumatic grippers capable of moving easily damaged food.

Image credits: Traptic

Speaking of moving fragile foods, this morning we exclusively reported that Traptic, a 2019 Startup Battlefield finalist, has started the commercial rollout of its strawberry picking robot. This follows a previously unannounced $ 5 million Series A, bringing its full funding to $ 8.4 million to date. Like so many other industries, fieldwork suffered a massive manpower shortage during the pandemic.

Image credits: To toggle

Botrista is also announcing a Series A this week, for its robotic drink mixing kiosk. The company has raised $ 10 million to continue rolling out its system, which is capable of mixing up to eight ingredients in about 20 seconds. Toggle’s Series A, meanwhile, grossed $ 8 million for the New York-based construction robotics company.

Image credits: TechCrunch

Never a dull moment. Here is the pleasure of writing a great overview Wednesday for Thursday. Sometimes big news comes in the morning (to anyone running robotics startups, if you could refrain from giving big news on Thursdays that would help me a lot. Thanks in advance), like the intention to Zebra to acquire Fetch for $ 290 million. I have more thoughts on this and will share a few later, but in the meantime a quote from Fetch CEO Melonee Wise,

The Fetch team is excited to join Zebra and accelerate the adoption of flexible automation through AMRs and our cloud-based robotics platform. Together, we have the right team with the right technology to deliver end-to-end solutions that solve real customer problems. By helping customers dynamically optimize and holistically orchestrate their fulfillment, distribution and manufacturing operations, together we help their ability to stay ahead of growing demand, minimize delivery times and meet the reduction in labor pools.

* The picking of berries not to be confused with the picking… quite another thing. We encourage you, Biz.


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