Dexai Robotics, an artificial intelligence and robotics company focused on commercial kitchen automation, says it has raised $5.5 million in an oversubscribed seed round, led by Hyperplane Venture Capital.
New investors Rho Capital, Harlem Capital, Contour Venture Partners, and NextView Ventures also participated in this financing round. Vivjan Myrto, a managing partner at Hyperplane, joined Dexai’s board of directors.
The company will use the funding to expand its engineering, sales, and product teams, allowing it to serve new cuisines and fuel its growth in the foodservice space.
Dexai was born out of a research collaboration in artificial intelligence for robotics among researchers at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, MIT, and Harvard.
This work, led by David Johnson, Dexai’s CEO and co-founder, resulted in breakthrough software innovations that enabled robots to control, for the first time, deformable materials such as ice cream, sushi-grade tuna, pico de gallo, and so on.
At the same time, Anthony Tayoun, Dexai’s CFO and co-founder, was pursuing an MBA at Harvard Business School, when he was struck by the huge labor gap in the restaurant industry.
Tayoun says: “Each restaurant operator I spoke with complained that their most difficult challenge is finding, training, and retaining staff.
“We founded Dexai to address the 150,000-person labor shortage in the restaurant industry, so that restaurants can focus on hospitality and, by robots handling repetitive tasks, workforce satisfaction.”
Alfred is the only robot that works in existing kitchens, and prepares meals from different cuisines faster, safer, and more affordably.
US consumers’ demand for food prepared outside the home continues to surpass that for food at home, growing at double the rate in the last decade, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service.
Michael Kaufman, a Dexai adviser and a past chair of the National Restaurant Association’s board, says: “The restaurant industry faces an acute labor shortage with operators identifying recruiting and retaining employees as their top challenge.
“There appear to be no signs of that abating. Alfred is an impressive and thoughtfully designed solution for restaurant operators to consider.”
Johnson says: “Alfred can be dropped into existing kitchens because its artificial intelligence software recognizes its surroundings and adapts to the task at hand.
“Because Alfred uses standard utensils, it can make ice cream sundaes for one customer, quinoa bowls for another, and poke for a third. We’re teaching robots how to ‘see’ and identify different objects and foodstuff, and prepare the delicious recipes that people already know and enjoy.”
Peter Wurman, Dexai advisor and co-founder of Kiva Systems, says: “Dexai is leveraging the commoditization of robotics hardware and the advancements in machine learning tools, particularly in vision and path planning, to solve real business problems.
“A lot of necessary pieces are coming together to make it possible for affordable robots to perform activities in these semi-structured environments.”
Myrto says: “The Dexai team identified a huge need in the food industry, resulting from shifting eating habits where people eat much more away from the home, and the rise of delivery, evidenced by the rapid growth of ghost kitchens and food ordering platforms.
“As a firm committed to investing in machine intelligence applications, we are excited to have Dexai bring intelligent robots to an everyday activity that we all enjoy: food.”