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Covariant, a Berkeley, Calif.-based startup developing “universal AI” for robotic manipulation, raised $80 million in Series C funding. This brings the company’s total funding to $147 million just two years after its public launch. Covariant raised a $40 million Series B round in May 2020.
The Series C round was led by returning investor, Index Ventures, with additional participation of Amplify Partners and Radical Ventures. Covariant also added investors Temasek and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. Covariant said the funding will be used for research and development and to grow its team, which currently stands around 80 people.
Covariant was founded in 2017 by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, and OpenAI. It has been developing the Covariant Brain, which it described as a “universal AI that enables robots to see, reason, and act autonomously in the real world.” The company is focusing on giving robots the ability to manipulate objects they have not seen before and to operate in new environments. Interestingly, OpenAI recently abandoned robotics research.
In the last year, the Covariant Brain has been deployed across a variety of industries that require pick and place applications, including fashion, health and beauty, industrial supply, pharmaceutical, grocery, parcel and general merchandise. The technology has been deployed in Asia, Europe and North America, and customers include Obeta, Knapp, ABB and Bastian.
“As of today, the Covariant Brain is powering a wide range of industrial robots to manage order picking, putwall, sorter induction – all for companies in various industries with drastically different types of products to manipulate,” said Covariant CEO Peter Chen. “The breadth of use demonstrates the Covariant Brain can help robots of different types to manipulate new objects they’ve never seen before in environments where they’ve never operated.”
Peter Abbeel, Covariant’s president, chief scientist and co-founder, said autonomous order picking has long been seen as the holy grail for warehouse automation in the robotics world.
“It’s a very hard problem, but thanks to our team’s fundamental advances in research and engineering, we’ve achieved production-grade autonomy for a range of industries over the past year,” he said. “We are at a point where modern AI is opening up a whole new generation of robotic applications. Warehouses and distribution centers are where this transition is happening first, but I also see it as a sign of things to come elsewhere, for example, in the manufacturing, agriculture, and food industries.”
Covariant also added several executives to its management team. They include Raghavendra Prabhu as head of engineering and research, Ally Lynch as head of marketing, and Sam Cauthen as head of people.