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Robotic espresso barista maker led by ex-AWS engineer raises $8.3M to open extra retail places

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(Artly Photo)

A Seattle coffee company is aiming to change the way lattes and espressos are made.

No, it’s not Starbucks. It’s Artly, a 2-year-old startup that just raised $8.3 million to fuel growth of its robotic baristas.

Artly has developed an AI-powered machine that it claims makes a “perfect cup of coffee every time,” using computer vision algorithms to guide a robotic arm and monitor drink quality. It has five retail locations across the West Coast and will use the new funding to expand its model.

Artly sources and roasts its own coffee beans. Its stores are profitable and most are company-operated. The startup also has partnership with clothing retailer MUJI in Portland, Ore.

Artly is positioning itself as a speciality coffee maker, competing with the likes of Blue Bottle and Stumptown.

“AI and robotics make it easier for us to scale than traditional specialty coffee stores,” Artly CEO Meng Wang said. “Interaction with our robots is unique for consumers, but we will make the overall experience similar to conventional coffee stores.”

Wang sold his last startup, imagine recognition company Orbeus, to Amazon in 2015. He then spent seven years at the Seattle tech giant as a principal scientist for Amazon Web Services.

Wang acknowledged that Artly’s robots reduce the need for human labor at its coffee shops but also said the technology isn’t necessarily displacing workers.

“We created more STEM jobs and elevated barista jobs so our baristas could focus on creating better recipes, teaching the robot, and providing customer service,” he told GeekWire. “A barista will have higher pay and serve many more, potentially millions of, customers if their skills are popular among our customers.”

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Artly is among a flock of robotics companies aiming to improve efficiency and reduce labor costs in the food and hospitality industries. Worker shortages and increasing interest in contactless service are providing tailwinds for these businesses. There are a number of other companies developing coffee barista bots.

Picnic is another Seattle startup bringing automation to the food industry with its robotic pizza maker. The company just inked a deal with Dominos.

Wang co-founded Artly with Yushan Chen, a former colleague at Orbeus and Amazon, where she was a senior technical product manager in robotics. Artly recently hired Daniel Lee, a former district manager for Starbucks, as vice president of retail and business operations.

The company described the new funding as a “Pre-Series A round.” Investors include SV Tech Ventures, Amino Capital, LDV Partners, Aimtop Ventures, and individual backers. Total funding to date is $10 million. Artly employs 15 people.

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