Apprentice.io, a startup developing a conversational AI and augmented reality platform for pharmaceutical, biotech, and chemical companies, today announced it has raised $7.5 million. CEO and cofounder Angelo Stracquatanio says the capital will enable Apprentice to scale to accommodate customer growth attributable to the pandemic.

A shortage of lab workers is hastening the adoption of automation-driven “augmentation” technologies. (The number of laboratory training programs available to students decreased by nearly 25% between 1990 and 2018.) An American Society for Clinical Pathology study revealed that the increasing workload is compelling lab managers to hire recent graduates or candidates with bachelor’s degrees but no laboratory training. Automation and digital guidance tools like Apprentice’s can upskill young professionals while ensuring quality standards aren’t compromised.

Apprentice’s suite supports batch execution, with computer vision systems tailored to life sciences that understand how operators are interacting with equipment to provide real-time feedback. The platform allows managers to plan out batches and schedule campaigns for an entire year and to set parameters for batch runs so that every batch remains the same. Using AI and machine learning, Apprentice facilitates dynamic batch flows, data reporting, and data monitoring, and it integrates with existing enterprise systems to make batch record processes ostensibly faster.

Beyond batch execution, Apprentice can “augment” files like PDFs and records with captured data, linked resources, and more. It supports the creation of workflows that can be executed on devices like smart glasses to provide operators voice-guided, hands-free instructions, and it allows the recording of instructional media (e.g., audio, photos, videos, and digital readings) for proof of compliance and future reference material. On the training side of the equation, Operators can use Apprentice to learn in-suite and simulate procedures and to view instructions as they recreate workflows within teams that mimic actual interactions.

Apprentice.io

Apprentice maintains a log of steps within processes for posterity — and auditing. It accounts for materials and products as they’re used in one phase and in subsequent phases, and it helps ensure equipment is properly checked, cleaned, and cleared of unwanted items before runs. The platform organizes and captures data about how teams interact with equipment, instruments, raw materials, and consumables, and it tracks and monitors inventory throughout product lifecycles to minimize over-ordering and delivery delays.

Apprentice’s barcode scanner lets operators log and track items, materials, and batch information with timestamps, while a complementary telepresence feature allows managers to perform quick, second-part inspections for review and sign-off. The company’s Tandem tool provides a way for employees to troubleshoot during critical situations, either with headsets, videoconferencing, phone dial-in, screen-sharing, augmented reality overlays, live drawing, or a combination of those things. Participants need only send a link to an unlimited number of people via a calendar invite, message, or email to kick off a Tandem session. From there, hosts can query data using external enterprise tools like Microsoft Word and Outlook and flip on settings like live translation captions in over nine global languages.

Vendors can also tap into Tandem remotely to provide support. The program affords them information about the relationship between in-use devices and the environment in which they’re being used, including a device user’s location, equipment details, Wi-Fi signal strength, and more. Those vendors also gain access to augmented reality tools, including laser pointers, “arrow drops,” and high-definition screenshots with annotations that can be leveraged to visually guide someone through troubleshooting steps.

Apprentice.io

Above: The augmented reality guidance tool offered within Tandem.

Image Credit: Apprentice.io

New Jersey-based Apprentice, which claims Fortune 100 clients in life sciences based in the U.S., Asia, South America, and Europe, says site deployments have increased 6 times since March as a result of the pandemic. To meet this demand, the company has been shipping lab technicians rapid deployment kits preconfigured with its augmented reality and intelligent software solutions.

Insight Partners led this latest investment, which brings the startup’s total raised to nearly $20 million, following an $8 million round in September 2018.

Sign up for Funding Weekly to start your week with VB's top funding stories.