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Basil Street's Robot Reborn, Autostore & Ocado Make Nice
Simbe, Botinkit, Rice, ForwardX Robotics raise fresh cash
The fundraising environment for food automation tech is looking a lot rosier, as the past few days have seen a number of players raise impressive rounds across the globe. But before we share the deets on that, there’s a robotic lawsuit getting settled, and new life for a familiar pizza machine!
Ocado & Autostore Settle Suit
Ocado, the online grocer and robotics company, and AutoStore, its Norwegian competitor, have settled a three-year intellectual property dispute. As part of the agreement, AutoStore will pay Ocado £200 million, with the reason for the payment not disclosed. AutoStore had claimed in 2020 that Ocado infringed its intellectual property rights, seeking to block Ocado from importing British-made robots to the US. The settlement ensures all patent litigation claims filed by the companies will be withdrawn, allowing both businesses to continue using and marketing their existing products. While Ocado is known for its UK online retail business, it is also selling its robotic warehouses to traditional supermarkets, predicting its international ecommerce business to generate significant revenue by 2030.
Basil Street Pizza Reborn as DiGiorno?
When robotic pizza vendor Basil Street folded last year, it put its assets up for auction. Now eagle-eyed observers think they’ve found where that tech landed: Nestle-owned DiGiorno. While the food brand goes so far as to say they had to “co-create” the machine, everything about it appears identical to Basil Street’s technology, other than the branding. Prices will start around $9, in the midpoint of what a Basil Street pie used to cost, and about two bucks more than what a frozen DiGiorno retails for.
Simbe Raises $28M
Simbe Robotics has raised an additional $28 million in a Series B funding round, following a $26 million Series A in 2019. The investment comes on the heels of the announcement that BJ’s Wholesale Club is deploying Simbe’s Tally robots across all its locations. Unlike other robotics companies focusing on warehouse operations, Simbe's Tally robot is designed for front-of-store activities such as inventory management, detecting missing items on shelves, a task typically requiring human labor and store closures. Tally robots perform these tasks more dynamically, reducing shelf-empty times, and provide good PR by visibly cruising around stores.
In the past year, Simbe serviced 12 of the top 250 global retailers, processed over 12 billion shelf photos, analyzed over 5 billion products for availability and price accuracy, and completed over 1.7 million hours of fully autonomous data capture operations. The funding round was led by Eclipse.
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Botinkit Cooks Up a Fresh $13M
Botinkit, a Shenzhen-based robotics company, has raised $13 million in a Series A funding round to automate and standardize cooking for chain restaurants. The funding will be used for the company's expansion into the Middle East and Europe next year. The startup was co-founded in 2021 by Shirley Chen, who leveraged her experience in the food industry and her co-founders' expertise in chemistry and electrical and electronic engineering. The company's cooking robots have been introduced to markets including Japan and the U.S.
Botinkit's robots specialize in stir-frying and stewing and have an additional arm for adding ingredients; a deep-frying model is in the works. The company claims its robots help reduce ingredient loss by 30% and energy use by 40% compared to commercial gas stoves. Its robots have been deployed in food stalls inside Walmart’s locations in China and Delibowl in Singapore. Backers include angel investors from drone leader DJI.
ForwardX Robotics Lands $61M
ForwardX Robotics, a heavyweight in vision-based autonomous mobile robot (AMR) technology, has successfully raised $30 million in its latest funding round, bringing its series C total to $61 million. Since its founding in 2016, the company has raised approximately $140 million. Specializing in assisted picking and material handling solutions, it has deployed over 3,000 robots across four continents. ForwardX Robotics has been involved in more than 150 commercial projects, transforming warehousing and manufacturing operations globally. It has partnerships with renowned companies such as L’Oreal, IKEA, SF DHL, UNIQLO, Walmart, Orbis, Mitsubishi, JD Logistics, Chery, and BYD.
Rice Robotics Hauls in $7M
Rice Robotics, a company based in Hong Kong that develops delivery, security, and disinfection robots, has raised $7 million in pre-Series A funding. The funding has been partially utilized to establish a new 13,000-square-foot production facility in Tsuen Wan's industrial area, Hong Kong. This facility, operational since the first quarter of 2023, has increased the company's annual production capacity fourfold.
The company has a strong presence in Japan, including a partnership with Softbank, delivering 7-Eleven products to Softbank employees at their Tokyo HQ. In addition, it has worked with Japan Post Group for last-mile deliveries in a residential area in the Chiba prefecture, and with Toyota Motor Corporation, providing service robots in their virtual showroom in Tokyo.