Inventory robots are having a moment. Two days back, Swiss firm Verity announced an $11 million raise. That followed a $20 million round from fellow drone inventory startup B Garage, which, in turn, arrived two days after Gather AI announced it had acquired competitor Ware. That same day, Dexory announced $19 million for its back-of-house shelf-scanning robot.
Doing inventory sucks. A lot. Aside from dealing with the occasional irate customer, it was always my most dreaded aspect of working retail gigs. Seeing as how it effectively amounts to collecting and managing data at scale, it’s a pretty prime candidate for automation.
Simbe Robotics this week announced that it has also received fresh funding. The $28 million Series B led by Eclipse follows a $26 million Series A in late 2019 and brings its total funding to $54 million. It follows March’s news that BJ’s Wholesale Club is rolling out Simbe’s Tally robotics to all of its locations.
Simbe differs from the above-mentioned firms in its focus on front-of-store operations. Tally is designed to keep an eye on shelves, monitoring for missing items that may have been replaced or stolen. It’s a job that traditionally involves hours of human labor and store shutdowns (or overnight shifts). It’s also one for shelves that are generally a bit lower than what one encounters in a warehouse, and allows retailers some good PR by letting branded robots cruise up and down the aisles with customers.
Letting a robot cruise around the store, on the other hand, accomplishes the tasks more dynamically and can limit the amount of time a shelf remains bare. Those existing issues have, naturally, only been accelerated by the events of the last few years. First there were closures for non-essential businesses, then supply chain concerns and labor shortages. Retailers have no doubt only grown increasingly interested in automating these sorts of tasks.
“Elevating the retail experience for everyone — retailers, their associates, and customers — through AI and robotics is the foundation of Simbe’s mission,” Simbe co-founder and CEO Brad Bogolea says in a release, “and this funding will enable us to share this vision and reimagined experience with more retail partners around the world.”
Simbe highlights the following metrics from the past year:
- Serviced 12 of the top 250 global retailers in the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, including BJ’s Wholesale, Schnucks Markets, SpartanNash, Wakefern, Carrefour and more
- Processed over 12 billion shelf photos
- Analyzed over 5 billion products for on-shelf availability and price accuracy
- Completed over 1.7 million hours of fully autonomous data capture operations alongside store associates and customers
The startup is highlighting the human element in that last bullet point no doubt in a bid to get ahead of critiques around automating people out of jobs.
Unless acquisition is the end goal, diversifying one’s customer list is always a good idea, as well. Competitor Bossa Nova Robotics was famously kneecapped when Walmart ended a contract with the startup in late 2020.