Chowbotics, a startup that’s building robots to help with food prep, has raised $5 million from Techstars Ventures, Foundry Group, Galvanize Ventures, and the Geekdom Fund.
Founded out of San Jose, California in 2014, Chowbotics has hitherto been known as Casabots, but today it’s unveiling its new name alongside its fresh cash injection. The name change was a fairly recent decision — the new domain was only registered last month. Company founder Deepak Sekar says he chose to rebrand the company to “better reflect the nourishing and fun experience people will have when using the robots.”
The startup has also revealed that it raised a smaller $1.3 million seed round last year from Techstars Ventures, Central Texas Angel Network, Galvanize Ventures, Geekdom Fund, v1 VC, and a McDonald’s franchisee.
In a nutshell, Chowbotics’ robots can dispense and dish out food, negating the need for humans. The company’s first product is Sally the salad robot, which was demoed last year. Sally is capable of serving up measured quantities of more than 20 different ingredients — so if you want a chicken caesar salad without croutons, Sally has you sorted.
The technology can also be used for other types of cuisine, including Indian, Chinese, and Mexican, so we can expect Sally to sprout some siblings in the future.
“The use of robotics in food preparation is an exciting new area,” explained the Foundry Group’s Jason Mendelson. “We believe Chowbotics is the number one company in this emerging space and we are thrilled to invest in its growth.”
Techstars’ involvement, as you might expect, stems from Chowbotics’ participation in the Techstars Austin program last February. As a result of the investment, Techstars cofounder and CEO David Cohen will now join Chowbotics’ board of directors, alongside Foundry’s Mendelson. “We have been incredibly impressed with their progress,” added Cohen.
Chowbotics has at least one more notable person on board — Rich Page, who serves as the company’s executive chairman, was one of the first Apple Fellows in the 1980s and later joined Steve Jobs as VP of NeXT.
Chowbotics isn’t the only company working toward automating food prep. Zume Pizza is already operating a commercial kitchen in Silicon Valley, with two robots (Pepe and Giorgio) applying sauce to the dough while another (Marta) spreads it. Then Bruno, a robotic arm, places the pizza in the oven. Meanwhile, over in the U.K., Just Eat claimed a “world’s first” back in December when it used a ground drone to deliver a customer meal.
For some, Chowbotics’ technology could be interpreted as another step toward consigning humans to oblivion, but the company’s pitch is all about “solving several problems in food production,” including “compromised cleanliness and inefficiency.” In other words, Sally doesn’t have to worry about washing her hands, and hungry consumers won’t become frustrated by idle chit-chat.
However, millions of jobs could be lost to robots and automation by the end of the decade as part of a “fourth industrial revolution,” according to a World Economic Forum report from January. And the emergence of startups such as Chowbotics and Zume Pizza certainly lends credence to that claim.
That said, where efficiency can be improved, technology is normally not far behind. And the Foundry Group is a notable addition to Chowbotics’ investment team, with some big-name hardware clients already in its portfolio, including 3D printer company MakerBot, playful robotic toy maker Sphero, and Fitbit.
Sally’s first appearance in the wild is expected around April, and the initial target markets are office cafeterias, restaurants, and universities.
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