Inventory robots are now popular. Verity, a Swiss company, recently disclosed a $11 million fundraising. That came after a $20 million investment from rival drone startup B Garage, which itself came two days after Gather AI revealed it had bought rival Ware. Dexory announced $19 million on the same day for its back-of-house shelf-scanning robot.
Inventory work is terrible. A lot. It was usually the part of doing retail jobs that I most feared, excluding the occasional angry customer. Given that it essentially involves gathering and handling data at scale, automation seems like a good option.
This week, Simbe Robotics said that it has also acquired new money. A $26 million Series A fundraising round in late 2019 was followed by a $28 million Series B led by Eclipse, bringing the company’s total capital to $54 million. It comes after the announcement in March that BJ’s Wholesale Club is implementing Simbe’s Tally robots across all of its sites.
Simbe’s emphasis on front-of-store operations sets it apart from the aforementioned companies. Tally is made to keep a watch on the shelves and look for things that might have been replaced or stolen but went missing. It’s a career that typically entails long workdays and store closings (or nighttime shifts).
Additionally, it uses shelves that are often a little lower than those found in a warehouse and gives companies positive publicity by allowing branded robots to walk alongside customers down the aisles.
On the other hand, allowing a robot to roam the store can do the jobs more quickly and reduce the amount of time a shelf is empty. Naturally, the recent events have simply served to speed up those already-existing problems.
Non-essential business closures came first, followed by supply chain issues and a labor shortfall. Retailers’ interest in automating these kinds of tasks has undoubtedly grown over time.
According to a press release from Simbe co-founder and CEO Brad Bogolea, “elevating the retail experience for everyone — retailers, their associates, and customers — through AI and robotics is the foundation of Simbe’s mission.
This funding will enable us to share this vision and reimagined experience with more retail partners around the world.”
Simbe draws attention to the following figures from the previous year:
12 of the top 250 global retailers, including BJ’s Wholesale, Schnucks Markets, SpartanNash, Wakefern, Carrefour, and others, were serviced across the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East.
nearly 12 billion shelf pictures were processed.
Over 5 billion goods were examined for shelf presence and price correctness.
completed entirely autonomous data collecting tasks for over 1.7 million hours with the assistance of store employees and consumers.
In that last bullet item, the startup emphasizes the human element undoubtedly in an effort to head off concerns that automation will put humans out of work.
Diversifying one’s customer list is also usually a smart idea, even if acquisition is not the ultimate goal. When Walmart terminated a contract with the startup in late 2020, rival Bossa Nova Robotics received notoriety for being kneecapped.