Soft Robotics Inc. designs, manufactures and markets robotic grippers and control systems that can manipulate items of various sizes, shapes, and weights.
Robotics has proven its value in manufacturing and industrial applications. Today, a new age in robotics is developing as new industries and markets look to leverage these benefits for their unique applications.
These opportunities are very different from the traditional lights-out, caged robot installations that are common in manufacturing. Robots will need to work next to and interact with humans on a regular basis, but unlike a welding fixture, humans are soft, curvy, and easily damaged.
Soft Robotics has developed a better interface with its soft, conformal, and adaptive grasping technology. The company’s novel pneumatic grippers are poised to disrupt the $40 billion industrial automation market.
Their technology allows robots to safely and adaptively interface with a wide range of objects from consumer packaged goods to fresh-cut produce. Soft Robotics does this in a way that brings new capabilities to this market, while reducing system complexity and overall systems cost.
Soft Robotics is bringing robotics to new markets such as food packaging, e-commerce order fulfillment, and collaborative applications. Today this technology is enabling companies to automate processes that previously were not accessible to robotic solutions.
Soft Robotics solves past problems for grippers
Unstructured environments are hostile to automation, given the unpredictable nature of the tasks to be performed and the wide size, shape, and weight ranges of the objects to be manipulated. This is best illustrated by the box-packing problem in e-commerce or in automated packaging of baked goods.
Traditional grasping solutions have three key limitations that Soft Robotics is addressing:
Adaptability: Automation of the packing and shipping of consumer packaged goods for e-commerce fulfillment requires a solution that can adapt to a variety of tasks with little or no changeover. The same is true of food products, which can be soft and irregularly shaped. Soft Robotics allows for a high level of adaptability to operate in these unstructured environments. The e-commerce market alone is expected to reach more $400 billion in 2017.
Complexity: In driving towards adaptability, traditional automation implementations have actually increased complexity. Adaptability has been engineered through the multiplicity of end effectors, tool changers, and costly vision systems. This approach has greatly increased the complexity and cost of deployment. Soft Robotics significantly lowers the complexity of the hardware and software necessary to automate these tasks. The company’s customers find their end effectors to be “plug and play,” allowing for rapid deployment.
Cost: Operating in unstructured environments presents inverse economies of scale. Costs escalate at a rate greater than the growth rate of the business. For this reason, existing robotics products may not be economically viable in certain markets. Soft Robotics is a disrupting the traditional cost structure. It has conducted rapid deployments and delivered short-term returns on investment in applications as diverse as industrial bakery and injection molding automation.
2018 has been a year of significant milestones for Soft Robotics. The company’s technology platform has experienced substantial customer validation and adoption, with over 80% year over year revenue growth and production installations running 24/7 for Fortune 500 companies and Dow 30 components, including Just Born Quality Confections (maker of Peeps).
The launch of Soft Robotics’ full stack solution for e-commerce and retail, SuperPick, at MODEX 2018, was a true first for the robotic automation industry. The power of SuperPick really comes down to Soft Robotics’ core technology. By replacing numerical computation with material science, Soft Robotics is able to simplify the machine learning problem of robotic grasping by two to three orders of magnitude.
That is why SuperPick can solve previously inaccessible automation challenges for e-commerce and retail companies with little to no human involvement. In a 2018 pilot with a Fortune 500 retailer, SuperPick demonstrated the ability to successfully pick a substantially greater number of the retail customer’s test items than previously piloted technologies.
SuperPick also boasts a pick rate of over 600 picks per robot per hour. In 2018, Soft Robotics also raised $20 million in an oversubscribed funding round from an impressive syndicate of investors that included ABB Technology Ventures, Honeywell Ventures, Scale Venture Partners, Calibrate Ventures, Tekfen Ventures, Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd., Material Impact, and Hyperplane Venture Capital.
The funding round comes at a pivotal time in Soft Robotics’ growth. Having proven the economic benefit and scalability of the technology, the company is today at a critical moment of accelerating its commercial penetration plans and new product roadmap. Investors like ABB and Honeywell, who recently acquired Intelligrated, are tremendous signals that Soft Robotics is a transformative technology for the factory of the future and the modern supply chain.
Finally, Soft Robotics has continued to receive tremendous recognition for its technology and the impact it has had on customers. The company was awarded the 2018 CES Innovation Award in the Robotics & Drones category, was named to the THRIVE AgTech Top 50: A ranking of the top agtech companies shaping the future of agriculture, and as a winner of the MASS TLC “Innovative Tech of the Year: Robotics” award.
- Carl Vause, CEO
- Mark Chiappetta, CTO
- Ryan Knopf, director of hardware development