Last-mile, landscaping and leaping robots – TechCrunch
Robotics Roundup: Thoughts on Delivery Robots in a Post-pandemic World
I’ve talked to refraction AI Co-Founder / CTO Matthew Johnson-Roberson on the Michigan startup’s $ 4.2 million seed raise. This week we posted a question and answer session where he answers a wider range of topics about the delivery robotics company, and this bit caught my eye:
It still puzzles me that no one has tried to copy what we do. In early 2015, 2016 and 2017 there were 10 or 12 sidewalk robot companies. With a few exceptions, many of them have ceased their business activities.
The first part of the quote points to seemingly obvious truths that are worth repeating here. First, when you see a need in the market that you think you can address, go to. Second, there are probably more possibilities for robotics and automation than we thought. The second sentence seems to negate the second point to some extent, but most of all I think it is an indictment of how merciless this industry can be.
High risk / high reward and all that, but even with a great idea, smart people, and a healthy raise, bad timing can still turn you on your head. At the moment, the timing seems right. Delivery robotics is an industry that the pandemic has sped up in terms of interest, innovation, and of course, funding.
As I noticed last week, at the TC Sessions: Mobility event last week, I spoke to Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro operations manager Amy Jones Satrom, and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla. This is what Kumavat has to say about this acceleration:
Even before the pandemic, this whole e-commerce trend was on the rise. Nobody wants their deliveries to come after a week or two. Everyone expects them to be done the same day, as well as roadside pickup options. Expectations for e-commerce and on-demand deliveries rose even before the pandemic broke out. After March 2020 we saw an enormous increase in this development.
Another big news from Nuro (try to put this quickly five times) the delivery company has just signed a contract with FedEx, which is a big leap into package delivery.
This week, I also spoke to another pair of robotics startups that have emerged from the pandemic with sizeable rounds. Boulder-based Scythe emerged from the stealth with $ 13.8 million in Series A, bringing its total funding to $ 18.6 million. The company specializes in landscaping robots, starting with a mower. Given the potential market size, I’m honestly surprised that no more companies are doing this.
Interestingly, the company offers a RaaS (Robotics as a Service) model, which is growing in popularity in the industry. Here customers are charged according to the number of hectares mown.
Bay Area-based Dusty Robotics raised $ 16.5 million in Series A, bringing the grand total to $ 23.7 million. Building is a huge potential market with a lot of interest and many players. Interesting and quite unique, Dusty’s offering is effective in printing plans on the floor of a construction site. The company compares it to “Ikea instructions”. Here is Co-Founder and CEO, Tessa Lau:
We just released our third generation hardware platform which was designed from the ground up by our team at Mountain View to be specifically designed for creating an accurate and fast layout on construction sites. We have been working on this product since fall 2018 and have incorporated the insights gained from completing over 1 million square feet of production layout into this third generation design.
And for a good measure, here’s a fun one from Tencent Robotics.
IEEE Spectrum discovered the robot that was actually announced a few weeks ago. According to the newspaper in which Ollie appeared, the wheeled robot is more experimental than practical, but it can still perform some pretty impressive feats:
Experimental results show that linear power control can maintain the robot’s stance and that non-linear control can balance the robot at an initial starting angle far from the equilibrium point or under a changing robot height.
There’s not a lot of info on Ollie yet, but it’s definitely fun to see.