With $5M in fresh funding, Pensa is bringing autonomous inventory drones to a store near you

by Kelly O'Halloran
January 15, 2019
pensa systems drones
photo provided by pensa systems

After raising $2.2 million in funding last May, Pensa Systems stayed tight-lipped about the technology behind its AI-powered inventory system.

But after securing another $5 million this past weekend, Pensa announced that its plan to tally wares in stores around the country is to deploy drones whose rotors are shielded by spherical cages.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Pensa’s autonomous drones rely on advanced AI technology that can scan, read and interpret store shelf inventory in real time with impressive accuracy. In doing so, they help consumer packaged goods retailers prevent stock outages, improve product planning and increase profitability.

Pensa marries a small, low-cost drone with powerful, patent-pending AI.”

 

“Pensa marries a small, low-cost drone with powerful, patent-pending AI in the cloud to process the input and learn just like a person would,” said Richard Schwartz, president and CEO of Pensa Systems. “We call this combination an ‘autonomous perception system.’ That’s what allows us to collect data faster, more frequently, with greater accuracy — 98 percent or higher — and at a lower cost per location than any other approach, whether manual or automated.”

The drone’s rotors are wrapped in four wiry balls, protecting the fragile parts from store patrons and unexpected obstacles — and vice versa. The design allows for the entire unit to “see” every item on the shelf from multiple angles and perspectives. As it’s scanning, Pensa’s AI kicks in to determine what’s on the shelf and to identify missing, misplaced or mis-faced items.

“Many of the alternate approaches to automation are simply looking for ‘gaps’ or ‘holes,’ wain the shelf and then depend on other assumed-to-be-accurate plans for what should be on the shelf,” said Schwartz.

Pensa unveiled its solution at NRF 2019’s “Big Show,” an international conference on the future of retail held in New York City on Sunday  — the same day it announced the funding.

Signia Venture Partners led the $5 million investment which included participation from Commerce Ventures and existing investors ZX Ventures, ATX Seed Ventures, Capital Factory, Revtech Ventures and others. As part of the deal, Ed Cluss, a partner at Signia Venture Partners, will join Pensa’s board.

Pensa plans to use the new capital to accelerate market adoption and onboard more stores for trial cases that would join a list of existing trial users that includes Anheuser-Busch InBev. The team will also be hiring in Austin in engineering, sales and additional roles.

Before Sunday’s live demo, Pensa had led extensive live store trials for about 18 months.

“We wanted to ensure the drone is perceived as safe and friendly, as well as it is quiet and inconspicuous when doing its work,” said Schwartz. “The ‘balls’ are part of those overall design aims. We actually found that when the drone is flying in the store, most shoppers are oblivious to it – and on the rare occasions it’s noticed, shoppers are almost universally curious and want to learn more.”  

Pensa, named after the Latin word for “thinking,” pensare, launched from Austin in 2016.

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