Soft Robotics Raises $26M As Staffing Shortage Continues

I spent last week in Boston, meeting some of the best automation startups in the area. Soft Robotics – based in nearby Bedford, Massachusetts – is one of those names that comes up often. As the concept of soft robotic grippers increasingly comes into vogue, the eponymous company is reaping a large portion of these windfalls.

Today, for example it announced $26 million Series C led by Tyson Ventures. Tyson Foods’ VC division is a natural fit here. After all, food production has long been a big part of Soft Robotics’ strategy. Its compatible grippers do a good job of picking up fragile and varying-sized foods, from meat to produce—a longtime challenge for more rigid systems.

“At Tyson, we are constantly exploring new areas in automation that can improve the safety and productivity of our team members,” Tyson Ventures’ Rahul Ray said in a release. “Soft Robotics’ revolutionary robotics 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, after a $23 million Series B with a $10 million expansion raised last June. At the time, Soft Robotics cited pandemic-induced job losses as a major motivator in the funding round. Apparently, the jobs situation hasn’t improved much — especially in industries like meat processing — even though funding has largely slowed over the past year.

The firm says the new round of funding will be aimed at accelerating deployment of its mGripAI system, which combines 3D vision with a soft grip system. Soft Robotics says a perfect storm of pandemic-fueled problems has led to “the four biggest quarters of sales in the company’s eight-year history.”

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