Retailers are starting to embrace in-store technology to try to keep pace with e-commerce. And two marquee names in retail robotics are teaming up to help retailers tackle some in-store challenges.
Simbe Robotics, creator of the Tally shelf-scanning robot, has partnered with Softbank Robotics America to expand deployments of Tally. Softbank will initially help expand Tally in Europe, Japan and North America. If all goes well, it will then help Simbe commercialize Tally more broadly.
Retail is a major focus for both companies. Currently it’s the only focus for San Francisco-based Simbe, while it’s a popular application for Softbank’s Pepper humanoid robot. The companies, however, automate different tasks. Simbe focuses on auditing shelves, while Pepper engages customers, answers questions, and gives directions.
Simbe CEO Brad Bogolea said the two companies were often selling to the same type of clients. This partnership creates a better sales offering of complementary solutions for clients. Bogolea wouldn’t disclose what Softbank receives from a financial standpoint, but partnerships like this typically pay out on a case-by-case basis.
The companies will explore connecting Pepper and Tally so they can share information and collaborate. For example, Tally could tell Pepper that an item is out of stock. Pepper could then share this with appropriate customers.
“What’s unique about SoftBank is they have the most experience in the world when it comes to deploying robots in environments people frequent on a regular basis, such as retail stores,” said Bogolea.
Keeping up with the competition
The Softbank partnership will help solidify Tally’s position among other shelf-scanning robots. Other similar robots include Fetch Robotics’ FetchSurveyor and Kentucky-based startup Badger Technologies, a division of Jabil and a speaker at the Robotics Summit and Showcase.
But Simbe’s main competitor is Bossa Nova Robotics, which recently began testing its shelf-scanning robots and analytic services in 50 Walmart stores across the US. Walmart is the world’s largest retailer, so that could prove to be a lucrative partnership for Bossa Nova. The Silicon Valley-based company raised a $17.5 million Series B funding round in November 2017, bringing its total amount of funding to $41.7 million.
So expanding internationally is an important step for Simbe. The Asian market could be a boon for Simbe. According to Bogolea, Asian retail growth is projected to grow up to 20 percent in 2018, which is more than US growth projections. Simbe has dipped its toes into Europe, too, but its primary focus prior to the Softbank deal was on the US.
Having deployed more than 20,000 robots worldwide, SoftBank has strong infrastructure in place to deploy Tally globally.
“Partnering with industry leader SoftBank Robotics gives us access to robotics deployment expertise and networks that will accelerate our global expansion,” said Bogolea. “SBR’s scale and scope of deployments is unmatched in the robotics industry, and we look forward to building a mutually beneficial relationship.”
Simbe connected with Softbank’s chief strategy officer Steve Carlin through its investor network. Carlin has experience in the retail world and understands the value robots can bring to retail operations.
“What the Simbe team has accomplished is nothing short of remarkable,” said Carlin. “Their focus on delivering value to their clients through executional excellence is what makes them a leader in the retail operation and robotics space. We are thrilled to be able to help them broaden their reach in the global marketplace.”