Pensa Systems this week announced raising $5 million in additional funding to accelerate deployment of its retail visibility inventory system, which uses advanced computer vision and indoor drones for inventory scanning. The company is demonstrating the system at this week’s National Retail Federation 2019 event in New York.
The additional funding brings a total of $7.2 million that the company has raised – in May 2018, the company raised $2.2 million in seed funding. The new round was led by Signia Venture Partners, with participation from new investor Commerce Ventures, as well as existing investors ZX Ventures, ATX Seed Ventures, Capital Factory, Revtech Ventures, and others, Pensa said. Ed Cluss, a partner at Signia Venture Partners, will join the Pensa board of directors. The company said it will use the new funds “to fuel adoption of Pensa’s retail inventory visibility system and accelerate store trials with large retailers and CPG brands in North America and abroad.”
The system delivers a “broadly scalable system that automatically and systematically tracks in-store inventory, using advanced computer vision, patent-pending artificial intelligence and autonomous drones to see and understand what is on store shelves,” Pensa said in a statement. This approach gives retailers the ability to minimize out-of-stock items, increase revenue, and optimize their product planning.
“Pensa is doing breakthrough work with AI and drones, bringing data to bear on a significant and costly problem for retail – the lack of consistent on-shelf inventory visibility,” said Cluss. “We were impressed by the team’s prior accomplishments, and by the traction the company has already achieved with major retailers and consumer brand manufacturers.”
At NRF 2019, Pensa is demonstrating the system with a mocked-up retail store at Intel’s booth (#3437), using Intel in-store edge servers and Intel architecture to power the analytics. The autonomous drones can rapidly scan and sense shelf conditions in the “beer section” of the mock store, reaching conclusions and making predictions about stockouts and other conditions for sale. Anheuser-Busch InBev (AB InBev), a customer and strategic investor through its ZX Ventures unit, partnered with Pensa on the demonstration, based on its real-world pilot program.
Pilot success in Montreal
In that program, AB InBev deployed the system in a heavily trafficked store of retail partner IGA Extra Beck in Montreal, Canada. “With less than 90 minutes of setup time, Pensa’s drone-based system collected hourly and daily data on out-of-stocks and real share-of shelf within the beer section,” Pensa said. Over a two-week period, the system scanned dry shelves and coolers with multiple product types, including cans, bottles, and packs, capturing almost 16 million SKU images during 200 flights, with accuracy reaching 98% for out-of-stock detection.
“Retail out-of-stocks represent a significant challenge for CPG companies and their retail partners, as they can lead to millions of dollars in lost sales,” said Andrew Green, global director of Innovation at AB InBev. “We are very enthusiastic about Pensa’s novel approach to retail inventory visibility, and look forward to testing it in further commercial environments.”
Pensa said the indoor drone method can provide better visibility than other approaches, which include employee spot checks, fixed cameras, and even ground-based robots.
“Retailers and brand manufacturers have tried all combinations of robots, cameras, and smart shelving, but these solutions are too expensive, inaccurate, and brittle,” said Richard Schwartz, president and CEO of Pensa Systems. “Pensa addresses this problem differently. By combining AI smarts in the cloud with inexpensive drones for remote data collection, we have created a scalable solution that can break the logjam.”
The company’s advisory board also includes several of the leading authorities in the retail inventory, robotics, and AI/machine learning space. This includes Tom Gruen, a pioneer in out-of-stock, and category management analytics, and Mick Mountz, founder and CEO of Kiva Systems, which was acquired by Amazon in 2015.