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Tire-changing startup RoboTire files for Chapter 7 bankruptcy

RoboTire, a Michigan-based robotics startup developing automated tire changing systems for auto shops, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy just three years after its founding.

According to financial documents, RoboTire listed over $12 million in outstanding liabilities against its assets, prompting the company to initiate liquidation bankruptcy proceedings on January 19th in Delaware. The filings show 78 total creditors are owed, the majority being Michigan-based vendors and parts suppliers central to RoboTire’s R&D and manufacturing operations.

The company’s finances rapidly deteriorated in recent months, culminating in a December lawsuit alleging over $130,000 in unpaid debts. RoboTire also held an open $348,000 contract with Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for an unspecified number of tire changing units that will likely go unfulfilled.

RoboTire burst onto the automotive scene in 2018 with an industrial robotic arm-based solution that could autonomously change tires off a vehicle using advanced computer vision and torque control techniques. The novel approach earned RoboTire praise and an RBR50 award last year as a top robotics innovation.

The startup secured major partnerships with America’s largest independent tire retailer Discount Tire in addition to the niche Creamery Tire shops. Just over five total RoboTire systems were known to be installed and operating at select locations before operations ceased.

In better times, Discount Tire’s parent corporation Reinalt-Thomas led RoboTire’s $7.5 million Series A funding in 2022. The tire giant stated beliefs then that RoboTire’s technology would “drive a better customer experience” via automation and reduced wait times in stores.

With untenable debts looming, RoboTire and founder Victor Darolfi now enter the dissolution process where assets will be sold piecemeal towards paying off creditors. It marks an unfortunate demise for the once rising business that promised greater shop efficiency and improvements to an otherwise manual, laborious task.

The company’s sudden fall follows other recent robotics industry turmoil like layoffs at Locus Robotics and Amazon nullifying its blockbuster iRobot acquisition. It suggests this niche sector focused on specific automation challenges still faces hurdles translating innovation into sustainable enterprises. 

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