Tyson Foods joined ABB Technology Ventures, Tekfen Ventures and three other venture capital firms to invest a combined $10 million into Soft Robotics, to further the tech company’s work in artificial intelligence applications used in meat processing.
Soft Robotics said the capital will fund the launch of SoftAI powered robotic solutions. The application layers 3D vision and artificial intelligence on top of Soft Robotics patented industrial robots to provide the hand-eye coordination of human beings. This will allow for the automation of bulk picking processes in the food supply chain.
“Today’s industrial robots are unable to deal with product variability or unstructured environments typically found across the labor-challenged food supply chain in areas such as agriculture, food processing, and logistics,” said Mark Chiappetta, chief operating officer of Soft Robotics. “With our revolutionary soft grasping, 3D perception, and AI technologies, Soft Robotics unlocks robotic automation by augmenting widely available industrial robots with true hand-eye coordination allowing them to perform tasks that traditionally could only be performed by human workers.”
Companies like Tyson Foods and ABB – which acquired Baldor Electric in Fort Smith and operates manufacturing plants there – are betting on the adoption of robotic automation to help improve safety and increase production in their facilities to meet the demand for high quality, safe and nutritious protein products. Tyson Foods is a leading producer of chicken, beef, and pork, and has invested about $500 million in new technology and automation in the last three years. The company is an existing user of Soft Robotics.
“At Tyson Ventures, we are continually exploring new areas in automation that can enhance safety and increase the productivity of our team members,” said Rahul Ray, senior director of Tyson Ventures. “Soft Robotics’ best-in-class 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.”
With workforce challenges across the industry, Tyson said the company remains committed to applying technology and robotics where it can to help fill the gaps in high-turnover and hard-to-fill positions.
Jeff Beck, CEO of Soft Robotics, said the global pandemic turned up the pressure to automate to alleviate workforce challenges and increase operational and food safety practices.
“The vulnerabilities of the food supply chain were illuminated by the pandemic making it clear that automation has graduated from a nice-to-have to a must-have across all large-scale food production operations,” Beck said.