SoftBank-backed Bear Robotics raises $81 million for waitering robot rollout

FILE PHOTO: SoftBank's robotics arm displays a food service robot Servi, developed by California-based Bear Robotics to Japan as restaurants grapple with labour shortages and seek to ensure social distancing during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Tokyo, Japan, September 28, 2020. REUTERS/Akira Tomoshige

By Sam Nussey

TOKYO (Reuters) - SoftBank Group Corp-backed food service robot startup Bear Robotics has raised $81 million in a Series B funding round with investors that include Cleveland Avenue, a venture capital firm founded by a former McDonalds chief executive.

Other investors include South Korean private equity firm IMM and telco KT Corp, the startup's co-founder and chief operating officer Juan Higueros told Reuters, declining to disclose the firm's latest valuation.

Bear Robotics has shipped more than 5,000 of its Servi food service robots, which carry food and drink between kitchen and tables on layers of trays, and partnered with industry players such as Denny's, Chili's and Pepsi.

The California-based startup aims to expand beyond its home market and Japan and South Korea, where it has partnered with SoftBank and KT respectively, into Europe and Southeast Asia amid industry labour shortages.

SoftBank led the startup's Series A round and has shifted to reselling robots from third parties and formed a joint venture with household goods maker Iris Ohyama in Japan.

Bear Robotics charges a $999 monthly fee for Servi in the U.S., which gives the robot a running cost of around $2.75 per hour, Higueros said.

The startup plans to roll out two new robots this year, one that can detect air quality on the move and another that can carry deliveries from the lobby to upper floors of a building via the elevator.

Bear Robotics makes its products in South Korea, with the company relying on its head of manufacturing, who previously worked for Taiwan's Foxconn, to help navigate the "tough to manage" supply chain pressures, Higueros said.

(Reporting by Sam Nussey; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

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