bossa nova robots retail

San Francisco-based robotics firm Bossa Nova said Thursday that it has raised $29 million in its latest funding round, adding another mile marker for the advent of robo retail.

“The global retail industry is at a critical inflection point,” said Bruce McWilliams, Bossa Nova’s president and chief executive officer. “Today’s retail powerhouses require accurate, real-time product information to create a seamless omnichannel shopping experience expected by all customers. Bossa Nova’s technology gives retailers a data-rich and dynamic foundation to transform their store operations.”

The round, led by Cota Capital, brings the company’s total amount raised to $70 million and puts new investors on deck, including China Walden Ventures and LG Electronics, the South Korean technology giant.

The investor line-up is not entirely surprising. And tech-forward Asian markets have already embraced the notion of retail robots, and not just for logistics or warehouse applications.

JD.com chief executive Richard Liu told retail executives at the annual World Retail Congress in Madrid this spring that he expects robots will eventually replace human retail workers: “Sooner or later, our entire industry will be operated by AI [artificial intelligence] and robots, not humans.” JD.com, China’s second-largest e-commerce operation, deeply invests in new-era technologies like robotics, automation and drones.

Groceries count as low-hanging fruit for all those mechanized arms and one of America’s largest retail chains seems to have gotten the memo. One of Bossa Nova’s notable partners is big-box behemoth Walmart, for which it supplies robots for 50 stores across California, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania and Arkansas.

Bossa Nova’s existing army of machines — which are spatially aware and able to travel up to 0.4 miles per hour — scans store shelves three times each day to check on-shelf stock levels. It’s not exactly the same as Amazon Go’s cashierless premise, but think of it as a variation on the theme of tech-driven automation for brick and mortars.

The incoming cash will allow Bossa Nova to partner with manufacturing firm Flex for the creation of more bots, focus on international expansion and software development and deployments.

Grocery’s shelf-friendly and consistently packaged commodity products work well for robotic applications. What’s less obvious is how to apply those bits and circuits to in-store goods like apparel, accessories and other items.

Spain’s Zara puts them to work on in-store fulfillment or pick-ups of online orders. Westfield Malls experimented last year with Pepper, a 4-foot humanoid robot supplied by Japan’s SoftBank Robotics.

In two Westfield Malls in California, Pepper greeted visitors, offered shopping information and even got down with a little dance. Since then, SoftBank has been exploring robots capable of recommending apparel.