It’s hardly news that the meal kit and e-grocery industry has virtually exploded within the last few years. With everyone wanting their groceries on their doorstep within the hour, the question often becomes – how fast can they get there?
While robots have conquered many aspects of the food industry, one problem remains: Robots squish things. While humans have no problem handling soft items – whether that be raspberries, sushi or eggs – robots are unable to handle these items without them breaking. This becomes a hurdle in the ever-growing industry of food robots – how do we successfully automate an industry, if certain aspects are still dependent on human involvement?
Enter thtRobotics – a Finnish-Norwegian startup revolutionizing the food packaging industry. Tht, in this case, stands for the human touch – a.k.a., the one thing missing from current state-of-the-art robots. A robot, capable of handling soft things in a human-like way, has the ability to truly disrupt the emerging food tech market.
“Enabling robots to achieve the adaptability of a human hand still remains a holy grail within robotics. Today, we have highly advanced robots in terms of motion capabilities, but when it comes to object manipulation, robots are still very constrained in what they can grip. This limits the application of robots in many industries – particularly, emerging food tech. With our unique adaptive gripping solution, we are hoping to empower robots to do things that were unimaginable before”, states Andrija Milojevic, CEO and founder of thtRobotics, and continues:
“While this technology certainly has applications well beyond food, we’re starting out in the meal packaging industry – a field that’s currently limited by the need for human workforce. With our one-of-a-kind solution, our hope is to automate these industries and constantly push the boundaries of what robots can do. The best technologies enable humans to do more, and at thtRobotics we are working on robots that will serve as extension of human capabilities – not as their replacement.”
While thtRobotics’ focus currently lies in the meal kit industry – where they’ve just sealed a proof-of-concept project deal with a major meal kit company – the technology certainly has potential beyond this. Combined with their AI-driven food item recognition solution the need for human inspection is minimized, and this could potentially have a big impact on the grocery industry as well – not only through efficiency, but also by reducing waste. With an automated, fast solution that recognizes and packs the correct groceries without the need for human inspection, the path from the farm or production to grocery store shelves could be heavily streamlined.
To enable expansion and research, thtRobotics just raised a €350k pre-seed round, led by Nordic deep tech VC Voima Ventures and supported by angel investors Kari Ollila and Per Lachenmeier, both with previous experience from the robotics industry. Voima Ventures specializes in deep tech with a planet-positive impact, and sees the need for innovation within the food industry.
“We see true potential in this company. Not only is the robot gripper one-of-a-kind, but combined with their AI-software, it delivers a complete package that has the potential to revolutionize the entire food industry. Automation of laborious tasks can improve efficiency and bring savings to a huge and growing market. In this case, the sky is truly the limit.”, says Pontus Stråhlman, Partner at Voima Ventures.