Retail robotics startup Telexistence raises $170M

Telexistence Inc., a startup developing artificial intelligence-powered robots for the retail sector, today announced that it has raised $170 million in funding.

One of the investors in the Series B round was SoftBank Group Corp. Last month, SoftBank signaled that it plans to step up the pace of its AI investments following a year of limited venture capital activity. The company scaled back its participation in startup funding rounds last year to address market headwinds.

Besides SoftBank, Telexistence’s latest raise also included the participation of several other backers. Among them were Airbus Ventures, Monoful Partners, KDDI Open Innovation and Globis Capital Partners. Overall, Telexistence has raised more than $190 million since launch. 

The investment comes about a year after Tokyo-based Telexistence won a contract to supply robots for FamilyMart Co. Ltd., one of Japan’s largest convenience store operators. At the center of the deal is the startup’s TX SCARA automated shelf stocking system. FamilyMart plans to deploy the robot at 300 of its retail locations.

In FamilyMart stores, the shelves that hold packaged goods are often embedded into the walls. Behind each shelf is a corridor accessible only to employees and a merchandise storage area. When a certain product runs out, employees enter the corridor, pick up new merchandise from the storage area and place it on the shelf.

Telexistence’s TX SCARA robot automates the task. It’s a mobile robot arm designed to operate in the employee-only corridor between a store shelf and the merchandise storage area. The TX SCARA can detect when a product is out of stock, pick up new merchandise from the storage area and place it on the relevant part of the shelf.

There are cases where a robot’s AI algorithms may struggle to process a certain item due to technical limitations. When such a situation emerges, a Telexistence employee can log into the TX SCARA using a virtual reality headset and manually steer the robot arm. The company says this approach reduces the amount of effort required on retailers’ part to troubleshoot errors.

Telexistence will use its newly raised capital to expand its international workforce. Additionally, the company will partner with SoftBank to expand its market presence in North America.

Telexistence is the latest in a series of robotics startups to have raised funding over the past three months. In June, U.K.-based Dexory Ltd. raised $19 million for its autonomous inventory tracking system. Earlier, Covariant reeled in $75 million from investors to build robot arms for logistics warehouses. 

Image: Telexistence

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