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Drones and AI Make for Smarter Stock Taking and $5M Investment


Drones and AI Make for Smarter Stock Taking and $5M Investment

Drones will now come to the rescue of the updating inventory and stock in stores. Serial entrepreneur and CEO and founder of Pensa Systems, an Austin startup Richard Schwartz believes airborne drones with brace cages that resemble giant wiffle balls can easily and very efficiently perform this task. Pensa is developing a retail inventory system that taps computer vision algorithms to “understand” what’s on store shelves.

Pensa announced that it has secured fresh capital it will put toward client acquisition at the New York Retail Federation’s annual conference in New York. Signia Venture Partners led the $5 million investment in Pensa, with participation from Commerce Ventures, apart from existing investors ZX Ventures, ATX Seed Ventures, Capital Factory, and RevTech Ventures. This follows the Austin startup’s $2.2 million seed funding round in 2018, bringing its total raised to $7.2 million.

Pensa has already trialed its platform with Anheuser-Busch InBev — a strategic investor — along with several other brands and retailers in multiple countries. During the pilot with AB InBev, Pensa’s drones collected hourly and daily inventory data in a brick-and-mortar store — IGA Extra Beck — in Montreal, Canada. Over a two-week period, they scanned dry shelves and coolers containing cans, bottles, and packs and managed to detect when an item was out of stock 98 percent of the time.

“Any solution that can help us maintain store integrity and ensure we don’t have out-of-stocks provides the competitive advantage we need,” said IGA Extra Beck owner Todd Beck, adding, “the immediate feedback we can get from the Pensa system can offer tremendous value to our business.”

Schwartz says, “Advanced artificial intelligence can borrow the best of how people perceive shelf conditions and automate it at scale to continuously read out what is on a shelf at any point in time.”

Pensa’s inventory management system, unlike ground robots offered by  Bossa Nova, Keonn Technologies, and Simbe Robotics are equipped with cameras that scan store shelves for stock. With the aid of wirelessly connected Intel edge servers and self-learning algorithms that get better at recognizing products over time, the spherical drones scan and automatically sense shelf conditions with “high accuracy” as they fly between aisles.

Schwartz highlights the advantage drones have in terms of scalability. They’re cheaper than some of the robotics products Pensa’s competitors currently provide, not only because they’re subsidized by a data-as-a-subscription model but also because they’re less complex to operate, particularly in stores with unusual and highly compact layouts.

Schwartz describes Pensa’s drones as “very small and light and don’t look like drones in terms of the military with exposed blades.” The machines are quieter than typical store ambient noise, he adds, “When it’s 10 to 15 feet away, it fades into the background.”

Updating inventory regularly becomes even more important in this “click it and pick it” and e-commerce delivery services era. Pensa drones seem to have a huge potential market to take care of in the near future.

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Cite this article as: Vidi Nene, "Drones and AI Make for Smarter Stock Taking and $5M Investment," in, January 15, 2019,

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