During the pandemic, robots are the literal breadwinners.
As Samir Menon, founder and CEO of robotics startup Dexterity, Fortune said, "the corona virus took us a bit on a wild ride." Dexterity, a roughly two-and-a-half-year-old startup that raised $ 56.2 million from investors like Kleiner Perkins and Lightspeed Venture Partners, specializes in software that manufactures industrial robots, such as mechanical grippers and machines, the pick-and-and Place items that are more capable.
Customers who relied on Dexterity technology during the pandemic include Bimbo Bakeries, which produces some well-known baked goods through brands like Sara Lee, Oroweat and Boboli. Because Dexterity works with Bimbo Bakeries, the startup has been categorized as an “essential business” because the food supply chain has to continue undisturbed.
In an online demonstration from Redwood City, Calif.'s headquarters last week, Menon Fortune showed an example of how robots equipped with the company's technology prepare prepackaged bread for delivery to places like grocery stores.
For the demonstration, two robots with mechanical arms crossed down a railing that ran between two sets of blue boxes, each loaded with different breads. The robots had to coordinate with each other so that they would not collide while moving bread from one set of boxes to another – a common task that was used to make it easier to ship bread.
Skill shows how his software helps robots to pick and place loaves of bread.
Using computer vision technology, a robot could detect when an empty crate on the right side was missing enough loaves of bread and trigger its mechanical arm to pick up a loaf of bread from a crate on the left. The robotic arms can find out how much pressure is required to exert on a particular object. This is helpful so they don't smash a spongy material like bread when they grab it. The software also helps the robot decide to carefully lower the bread and other items into a box instead of carelessly dropping it into a container that Menon calls a kind of Achilles heel for some pick and place machines.
Although Dexterity software helps robots map their surroundings so they can autonomously maneuver around a facility, Menon says the robots are usually attached to a railing so people can be sure the machines aren't suddenly going anywhere they shouldn't.
"It is important that they feel comfortable," Menon said of people who work next to the robots.
Menon said that Bimbo Bakeries is currently using Dexterity's technology in some unspecified facilities on the "east and west coast" of the United States. He declined to comment on the number of robots equipped with Dexterity software at Bimbo Bakeries' facilities.
Dexterity is a young company and continues to develop its technology for customers. During a demonstration for Fortune, a robotic arm installed with the startup's software dropped a glass measuring cup on a table instead of carefully setting it down, and although the cup didn't break, it was definitely a no-no. Before this particular demonstration, Menon noted that translucent objects such as glass containers are a "curse of any computer vision" technology.
As long as the pandemic continues, companies with large supply chains like Bimbo Bakeries will likely continue to turn to robotics-focused companies to do their deliveries without too many problems.
"We are grateful that we are actually sending bread," said Menon.