Count Tyson Foods and Johnsonville as among those bullish on the potential of incredibly nimble robots.
The two food companies have both invested in Soft Robotics, a tech provider that seeks to alleviate labor shortages in food processing environments. It raised $26 million in an initial Series C closing, led by Tyson Foods’ venture capital arm, Tyson Ventures.
Johnsonville’s similar arm, Johnsonville Ventures, was a new investor to the provider, but both companies are existing Soft Robotics customers.
Soft Robotics plans to use this latest round to expand commercial deployment of its mGripAI robotic picking solutions, which marry 3D vision and artificial intelligence with a patented soft grasping technology to supply robots with hand-eye coordination that it promises to be at the same level as humans.
For consumer goods companies, they’re meant to be a potential option for bulk-picking and prepared food operations, as well as in reducing food waste. Marel, a food processing company, was also a new investor.
Kevin Ladwig, managing director of Johnsonville Ventures, said in a statement that Soft Robotics’ pick-and-place systems are applicable to a number of primary and secondary processing operations.
“Applications that reduce repetitive motion and improve employee safety, in addition to enhancing productivity, are welcomed improvements for any operation,” he noted.
"At Tyson, we are continually exploring new areas in automation that can enhance safety and increase the productivity of our team members," added Rahul Ray, Tyson Ventures senior director. "Soft Robotics' revolutionary robotic 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."
Tyson is investing heavily in automation as part of a productivity plan expected to save $1 billion by the end of fiscal 2023 — a year earlier than initially planned, the company announced this week. Key goals of the program include leveraging automation to alleviate both difficult and repetitive jobs with high turnover, such as chicken deboning.
Amazon is testing out a new class of AI-powered, self-navigating robots in their fulfillment centers. The next-generation robots will be able to roam freely, helping associates transport oversized and bulky items around the harder-to-navigate parts of the facility.
The Heineken Company has taken this to the next level, embarking on a connected ecosystem for data providing easy access to the insights that are allowing the company to innovate with speed and agility.