AlleyCorp Robotics | August 2023 News Rollup
August 23, 2023
Hey friends - Because we like to consider ourselves the fine dining of robotics newsletters, I hope you enjoy this appetizer of Robot GIFs before the main course (which is of course, Robotics News!)
Be sure to read until the end to get the latest scoop on upcoming events across the robotics ecosystem, and don’t forget to follow us on social media and comment with your thoughts (or frankly anything you think we’ve missed).
In the words of our favorite Iron Chef TV hosts’ great Uncle…. “Allez! Cuisine!” 🧑🍳
From top to bottom (a) Unitree’s H1 humanoid robot looks slow, but pretty sturdy (b) Sea turtle inspired robotic locomotion (c) Modular robot arm design inspired by Origami’s Kresling Fold (d) A robotic gripper with extreme dexterity
Enjoy 🤖 ♥️ 📈!
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Robotics News Rollup
Across industry lines robotics continues to deliver marked advancements on the technical, financial, and commercial fronts. It is an exciting time to be in our space!
State of Robotics
June 2023 Robotics Investments Total $2.1 Billion: Although summer is typically known for reduced investment activity, Robotics have punched above their weight, demonstrating strong interest from investors. Israeli companies attracted the lion’s share of the funding, and thematically, drones (and drone enabling technology) stole the show. Read more here.
Going backwards to go Forwards: Robots can cause a 'U-shaped' effect on company profits, leading to initial declines before profits rise again, according to a study by the University of Cambridge. Researchers found that companies initially adopt robots to reduce costs, but as competitors copy this 'process innovation', profit margins fall. As robot adoption levels increase, however, firms shift their focus to product innovation, gaining a competitive advantage and boosting profits. The researchers recommend that companies adapt their business models concurrently with robot adoption to quickly reach the profitable side of the U-shaped curve. Read more here.
The Future of Robotics (Podcast Episode): Serial entrepreneur and Boston Dynamics/ AI institute founder Marc Raibert opined on the next 10 years of the sector, its challenges and the bleeding edge of innovation. To get his take on robotic intelligence training and the potential of humanoid robotics, listen here.
Catalysts for Innovation in the Robotics Industry: All eyes are on the robotics sector, and sustainability, economic uncertainty, and labor shortages are driving much of the innovation. Click here to listen to ABB's Stefan Drakensjö emphasize the role of robotics in these areas, the need for collaboration in education, and how re-shoring may support robotics adoption among SMEs.
Strap in - There were a number of noteworthy deals and financial developments in the robotics industry.
Return of the SPAC - Serve Robotics Raises $30M and goes public: Delivery robot company Serve Robotics has raised $30 million and gone public via a reverse merger with Patricia Acquisition Corp. The funding will support Serve's expansion and deployment of up to 2,000 delivery bots in collaboration with Uber Eats. Serve's robots, which started as a division of Postmates, have seen a 30% monthly increase in food delivery orders and now boast a 99.9% order completion rate. The company plans to revolutionize last-mile delivery efficiency. Read more here.
Olis Robotics Raises $4.1M: Seattle-based Olis Robotics has secured $4.1 million in funding to expand its remote robot monitoring, control, and error-recovery technology for industrial robots. Olis Connect, the company's system, allows users to remotely manage robots, monitor performance indicators, and perform error-recovery actions. The technology works with various brands, including Universal Robots and FANUC, and aims to minimize costly robot downtime. This funding round was led by PSL Ventures and included participation from Tectonic Ventures, Ubiquity Ventures, and several prominent angel investors. Read more here.
Saeki Robotics Raises $2.3M: Swiss startup SAEKI Robotics has emerged from stealth mode with $2.3 million in seed funding to develop automated plants for large-scale component manufacturing using industrial robots and 3D printing. SAEKI aims to tackle slow and costly production of large components by creating microfactories that offer end-to-end automation within 24 hours. The company's production hub will utilize robots built by SAEKI that combine additive manufacturing, milling, and inspection to offer an efficient, low-waste, and easily deployable localized production system. Read more here.
Realtime Robotics raises $9.5M: Realtime Robotics, a provider of robot motion planning and control software, has raised $9.5 million in additional funding, bringing its total to $54 million. They’ve developed a technology called RapidPlan, which significantly reduces costs associated with robotic automation and speeds up the robot programming process - eliminating robot collisions and minimizing manual adjustments. This funding will be used to scale and develop efforts to meet the increased market demand for intelligent tools that reduce complexity and human error in deploying and operating industrial robots. Read more here!
FernRide Raises $31.M: Munich-based startup Fernride has raised a $31 million Series A round for its autonomous, electric yard trucks. Unlike other AV trucking companies that focus on long-distance haulage, Fernride concentrates on yard trucks used to move trailers and containers around ports, terminals, and distribution facilities. Their trucks have Level 4 autonomous capabilities and are monitored by remote drivers who can control up to four trucks at once. Fernride, which already works with companies like Volkswagen’s logistics unit, plans to scale from six to 20 trucks by the end of 2023 and to 1,000 trucks thereafter. Read more here.
Botinkit Raises $13M: Botinkit, a Shenzhen-based kitchen robotics startup co-founded by food industry veteran Shirley Chen, just cooked up a tasty $13 million in Series A funding! Led by Forebright, the round includes an investment from DJI angel Zexiang Li. Botinkit's wok-shaped robots, specialized in stir-frying and stewing, help chain restaurants automate and standardize cooking, cutting ingredient loss by 30% and energy by 40%. With plans to develop sensors detecting flavors and smells, Botinkit is spicing up the future of food! 🍳🤖🌶️ Read more here.
ForwardX Robotics Raises $61M: ForwardX is celebrating a whopping $61 million Series C funding boost! With a grand total of $140 million raised since 2016, the vision-based AMR tech developer is going global. ForwardX's automation game is strong, with over 150 projects and 3,000 robots deployed across four continents. Time to roll out the red carpet for more growth and global expansion – North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia, get ready. Read more here.
Simbe Robotics raises $28M: Simbe Robotics is cruising into the spotlight with a fresh $28 million Series B funding round, bringing its total funding to $54 million! Simbe's Tally robot takes the tedium out of retail inventory, monitoring shelves for missing or misplaced items. In the past year, Simbe has serviced 12 of the top 250 global retailers, processed over 12 billion shelf photos, and analyzed over 5 billion products. With this funding, CEO Brad Bogolea aims to share Simbe's vision with more retail partners worldwide. Read more here.
Neura Robotics Raises $55M: German startup Neura Robotics has secured $55 million in funding to enhance its cognitive robots, or "cobots," which boast memory, adaptability, and human collaboration. Neura Robotics has a hefty $450 million in orders over the next five years and plans to expand its R&D and business in Asia and the U.S. With three models of robots designed for various tasks, Neura focuses on B2B and B2B2C markets. The company's robots can be trained in any language and dialect, and can work safely alongside humans. CEO David Reger envisions Neura robots collaborating with humans across various societal domains and alleviating shortages of skilled workers.Read more here.
Innovations in Autonomy (Vague classification… I know)
Robotaxis Gainfully Employed: 🎉🚖 Beep Beep, San Francisco! Robotaxis are hitting the streets! Alphabet's Waymo and GM's Cruise received the green light from the California Public Utilities Commission to offer unlimited, all-day paid robotaxi service in the city. Despite concerns from local officials and residents, the companies are excited to turn their tech dreams into viable businesses. Over 100,000 people on Waymo's waitlist will soon be invited to enjoy driverless rides. Safety first, though—officials will be keeping a watchful eye! 🤖🌉. Read more here.
Bots beget Bots - The Circle of Life: ChatGPT is now a robotics design assistant! In a recent experiment, researchers at TU Delft and EPFL enlisted ChatGPT's help in designing a tomato-harvesting robot. While the AI chatbot provided useful insights for high-level design choices, it's still not ready to replace human engineers, especially in tasks like coding and CAD modeling. So, while AI tools like ChatGPT offer exciting potential for creativity in robotics, the human touch remains essential (and irreplaceable) in the engineering process. 🤖🍅 Read more here
Amazon’s Automation Advances: Amazon is rolling out a new generation of robots to help automate its fulfillment centers. Among the newcomers are Proteus, a friendly robot that can express emotions, and Sparrow, capable of picking up individual items from storage bins. With recent advances in AI, these machines will continually learn and improve, reshaping Amazon's operations. While some jobs may be eliminated, the company's rapid robot rollout could also create new opportunities for workers in manufacturing, maintenance, and specialized roles. Read more here.
Evolving Humanoid Robotic Dexterity: The push for general-purpose humanoid robots has overlooked one key element - human-like dexterity, especially in hand movement! Current robots might walk the walk, but when it comes to hands-on tasks, they're still toddler-level. Human hands boast intricate networks of muscles and sensors, enabling delicate tasks. Robots need similar design attention, with a focus on tactile sensing. Contactile's innovative sensors are helping robots get that much-needed touch. So, before your bot buddy tries to pass you the salt, let's make sure it doesn't spill the whole shaker! 🧂🤖🤲 #GripItGood. Read more here.
Industrial Robotics Poised for Growth: Good news for factory-bots! The global industrial robotics market is expected to reach a $20 billion by 2027. Thanks to benefits like cost reduction and improved quality, the demand for these mechanical workers is on the rise. The high initial and maintenance costs might still give SMEs a case of sticker shock. Still, with exciting opportunities in Industry 4.0 and the emerging Industry 5.0, there's no stopping the robot revolution! 🤖💰 Read more here.
Global Competition Heating Up: China is leading the robot race with a staggering 268,000 industrial robots installed in 2021, according to a report by the International Federation of Robotics. While most robots in China and Japan are found in automotive or electronics industries, U.S. installations are more varied. With aging populations and looming labor shortages, robots are stepping up, not just in manufacturing but also in agriculture and healthcare. Surgery room, here they come! 🤖🔧🌾🏥. Read more here.
Home and Kitchen
Chipotle’s Avocado Peeling Robot: Guac 'n' roll! 🥑🤖 Chipotle's new cobot, Autocado, is making waves by halving, peeling, and coring up to 25lbs of avocados in half the time it takes humans. Created in collaboration with tech firm Vebu, Autocado tackles the most time-consuming step of guacamole prep. While it's still a prototype, this avo-mazing innovation could soon be a game-changer in Chipotle kitchens worldwide. We can't wait to see this guac-bot in action! Read more here.
Motion Planning for Home Robots: Robo-chefs on the horizon! 🍳🤖 MIT CSAIL is spicing things up with PIGINet, a neural network that helps home robots create action plans in different environments, focusing on kitchen tasks. By combining task plans, images, and text, PIGINet predicts plan feasibility and has slashed planning time by up to 80% in simpler scenarios. PhD student Zhutian Yang sees potential beyond the kitchen, aiming to revolutionize robot training and deployment in our homes. Get ready for some robo-culinary magic! Read more here.
Karakuri Shuttering: Karakuri, the robot-assisted ready meal assembler, is closing its kitchen doors. 🤖🍔 Despite offering automated fry lines and meal assembly systems, the startup couldn't secure additional funding. CEO Barney Wragg announced the wind down on LinkedIn after negotiations with food-service equipment manufacturer Henny Penny fell through. Read more here.
Ramping up Robo-Lawn care: EcoFlow Blade, the “Tesla Cybertruck” of robot mowers, is a sleek, autonomous grass-cutter that will keep your lawn in tip-top shape. 🌱🤖 Unlike most robot mowers, it requires no boundary wire; instead, it uses GPS tech and a GNSS antenna. It's a bit finicky to set up but well worth it, as it does a fantastic job maintaining your lawn, avoiding obstacles, and even handling complex yard layouts. The jury is still out, but with a few more firmware tweaks, this mower may become a game-changer. Read more here.
Government and Military
Keeping Top Gun in Top Shape (Podcast): Click here to listen to a featured interview conversation with Aerobotix VP of Sales, Chris Kolb. Aerobotix builds and integrates robotic inspection, sanding, and painting systems for US military aircraft maintenance. The systems installed by Aerobotix even painted the US Air Force aircraft filmed for the original Top Gun Maverick movie. ✈️🪖🤖
Autonomous Military Robots: Estonia's Military Academy recently conducted extensive autonomy trials for Uncrewed Ground Vehicles (UGV) developed by 11 international teams from nine countries. These military robots underwent tests that included road and off-road navigation, dense forest operation, route planning, obstacle avoidance, and human team member cooperation. The event, supervised by defense and autonomy specialists from six countries, aims to provide comprehensive feedback on the latest UGV developments to the defense forces, partners, and participating companies. Read more here.
Construction and Fabrication
The Whittling Robot: MIT students have combined woodworking and robotics to create the Homie Stool, a two-person seating arrangement that promotes human connection. Crafted from maple wood using CNC milling, the stool is assembled by a robot using intricately designed dovetail connections. Balancing on just two legs, the stool invites people to sit back-to-back and lean on each other for support, sparking conversations and forging connections. A unique blend of artistry and technology, the Homie Stool celebrates the essence of human interaction. Read more here.
Guns N’ Roses N’ Home Renovation: Named after Axl and Slash, the "metallic beasts" from Durham-based startup BotBuilt, are helping to address the labor shortage in the housing industry with automated construction techniques. These hefty robotic arms can assemble interior and exterior wall frames, following 3D layout models and turning wood planks into customized panels for residential construction. Co-founders Brent Wadas and Colin Devine believe their robots can reduce house frame construction from weeks to mere hours. Despite fears of job displacement, they argue robots can fill labor gaps and make construction more accessible to workers. 🏠🛠️🤖 Read more here.
Decked Out: RoboDeck has raised $2.5 million to revolutionize deck maintenance with robotic technology. The company's robot autonomously navigates, cleans, stains, and reports on wooden decks, reducing labor by 70% and cutting downtime from days to minutes. RoboDeck's RaaS (robot-as-a-service) model targets commercial properties and service professionals. Currently available to select customers in Israel and California, the product is expected to reach mass production within 18 to 24 months. The recent investment will be used for expanding production and growing the operational and R&D teams. Read more here.
Other Fun Robotics Tid-Bits
Winners of The Surgical Robotics Industry Awards 2023: These are admittedly leftovers from late June… but it is fun to look back at the winners of the 2023 Surgical Robotics Industry Award. They were recognized in four categories: Industry Leadership, Innovative Start-up, Outstanding Company, and Groundbreaking Technology. Joe Mullings of The Mullings Group took the Industry Leadership award for his influential career in medtech and life sciences. Innovative Start-up was awarded to Moon Surgical for their rapid progress and the development of their workflow-integrated Maestro System. Medtronic was recognized as Outstanding Company for its global impact with its Hugo™ robotic-assisted surgery system and Touch Surgery™ Enterprise. Finally, the Groundbreaking Technology award went to WITTENSTEIN for its miniaturized Galaxie® gearbox, ideal for applications in medical robots where precision, safety, and compact design are critical. Read more here.
Biological Organisms as End-Affectors: Researchers at Japan's Tohoku University have devised a robotic hand system that uses live woodlice (roly-polies) and marine mollusks called chitons as end effectors.🪲🐛 These creatures are mounted on 3D-printed seats at the end of the robot's manipulator arm, tasked with picking up objects like cotton or submerged cork. While the results were promising, ethical concerns arose regarding the animals' welfare, and Dr. Josephine Galipon, the project lead, aims for a cooperative relationship with the creatures, avoiding coercion. Read more here.
Grab Shell Dude: Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have developed a robotic sea turtle that mimics the adaptable gait and propulsion of real sea turtles. The robot, designed by Yasemin Ozkan-Aydin and her team, features an oval-shaped body, four radio-controlled flippers, and a multi-sensor device. It was created using zoological data on sea turtle morphology and gait patterns. The team hopes to use these robots to help guide vulnerable sea turtle hatchlings safely to the ocean, reducing the risks they face during this critical period. 🐢🤖 Read more here.
A Fly on the Wall: Researchers at Nanjing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics have created a robotic insect that can both fly and climb walls. Inspired by the natural adaptability of insects, the robot uses a hybrid power layout combining flapping and rotor mechanisms. The robot can transition from flying to climbing a wall in just 0.4 seconds and from climbing to flying in 0.7 seconds. The design and control strategy have been optimized for smooth transitions, and the team envisions adding microscopic hooks and claws for better adaptation to complex environments. Read more here.
📅 Upcoming robotics events
AUTOMATING THE ATL: 25 AUGUST 2023, ATLANTA, GEORGIA
IEEE RO-MAN 2023: 28–31 AUGUST 2023, BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA
TECHCRUNCH DISRUPT 2023: 19-21 SEPTEMBER 2023, SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA
CLAWAR 2023: 2–4 OCTOBER 2023, FLORIANOPOLIS, BRAZIL
ROBOBUSINESS 2023: 18-19 OCTOBER 2023, SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA
HUMANOIDS 2023: 12–14 DECEMBER 2023, AUSTIN, TEXAS
(P.S. -Robots are promising to *not* steal jobs from humans or rebel against us etc…)
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