Coalescent Mobile Robotics: Irishwoman’s retail robots start-up in Denmark

17 Oct 2022

Clionadh Martin. Image: Coalescent Mobile Robotics

Clionadh Martin is building her mobile robots for supermarkets out of the robotics hub of Odense.

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Clionadh Martin is clear on what sets her business, Coalescent Mobile Robotics, apart from others in this transformative tech sector.

“The majority of robotics companies develop a robotics platform and then look for industries to sell their product in,” she said. “But we focused the development of our mobile robot on the retail industry from the inception of the company.

“This means that we were continuously able to focus our development on need rather than imagination.”

And with that focus, her goal is to see Coalescent Mobile Robotics become the “go-to technology for the retail industry”.

‘The Odense ecosystem consists of over 130 robotics-related companies in the same town’

Martin is putting a decade of working with mobile robots to good use as CEO, CTO and founder of her own start-up.

After securing degrees in both mechanical engineering and robotics in Ireland, she went on to pursue a European master’s in advanced robotics which took her to Italy, France and Japan. She then moved to the UK to work on developing navigation systems for automated guided vehicles.

It was after this that Martin found herself in Denmark working on floor-cleaning robots before catching the entrepreneurial bug in 2018. It helped that she happened to have settled in “one of the go-to places for robotics”.

Odense, the third largest city in Denmark, is “a great place to start a company, especially one focused on robotics”, according to Martin. “The ecosystem there consists of over 130 robotics-related companies in the same town. It’s a very flat culture based on trust, and the private, public and research sectors have done a great job at working together.”

Denmark has also provided Coalescent Mobile Robotics with its first key partner. Salling Group, Denmark’s largest retailer and owner of a number of chain stores, is currently deploying 10 of the start-up’s mobile robots in one of its supermarkets. These robots are being tailored to support the BilkaToGo click-and-collect service in Bilka hypermarkets. Martin calls it “process optimisation”, with robotics.

From her research, she finds that 40pc of employee time in supermarkets is spent walking around the store “carrying out tasks such as pushing 180kg trolleys for restocking and for filling out online orders for the click-and-collect service”.

With the tech advances we have, a robot can be equipped to perform these tasks. And while that sounds an awful lot like ‘robots taking our jobs’, Martin sees it as robots bridging a labour shortage and improving the quality of work for others.

“Nobody wants to work low-paying labour-intensive jobs any more, or the people that do work these jobs are usually the more vulnerable in society or students who are only there for a short period,” she said.

“These mobile robots also reduce the need for people to push and pull heavy trolleys, which significantly increases working standards and frees up the employees’ time to focus on what is more important, and that is good customer service.”

There are other ways robots can support better customer service, too. With product detection and tracking functionality, retail robots can help guide customers in finding what they came for and also ensure the shelves are always stocked with what they need.

“Supermarkets currently only have the capability of knowing what products are delivered to the supermarket, and what gets checked out when customers buy them,” said Martin. “There is very little consistent knowledge of what happens to the product when it is in the store, and this also leads to a high level of food waste.”

Of course, Martin sees robots as the answer. “Mobile robots offer the possibility to tackle all these issues, by automating the transportations of trolleys for store specific transportation needs, and collecting data to ensure that the shelves are always stocked and that the stores can keep track of where the products are at all times which reduces food waste.”

‘We have good momentum going at the moment, and it is not looking to slow down’

And as Martin’s robots get moving in a real-life retail environment, Coalescent Mobile Robotics is on the right track.

“We have good momentum going at the moment, and it is not looking to slow down,” she said. “In October last year we closed our pre-seed round of €1.7m, and now we have just opened our next funding round to help us scale into other European chains in 2023 and 2024, and to build a partner network for deployment and servicing. We are looking at closing it in March of 2023.”

Martin also plans to double her workforce of 15 in the coming year, and already has a roadmap for the next steps.

“Once we have established ourselves in the EU and US with our hardware and software, we will offer product tracking and data analytics capabilities from the data collected by the sensors in all the robots,” she said.

She’s also thinking sustainably for future development. “We are looking to understand what our carbon footprint is and because we haven’t completely finalised our product, we will be looking at using different environmentally friendly materials and manufacturing processes,” she said.

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Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.