I write this just hosted TechCrunch Live this week with Jonathan Hurst from Agility Robotics and Bruce Leak from Playground Global. I’ll post more about the session later this week, but in the meantime, it gets me thinking about carts, horses, and the inherent command system.
Specifically, how important is it for a robotics startup to have a specific notion about things like the addressable startup market? This is a complex question with no single answer and which largely depends on the startup and the investors. Agility presented its Series A/seed (it’s complicated) pitch deck this week, which was more a highlight of the company’s technology than a fancy breakdown of market fit.
If your technology is compelling enough – and you find the right company – you might be able to get away with it. Of course, in addition to some really cool YouTube videos (which actually played a role in getting Playground on the radar), the startup has also proven itself capable of creating, building, and selling robots on a budget. and limited staff. In total, the company has sold a dozen Cassie robots, many of which are destined for research facilities.
Good job if you can get it. There’s a reason why some big companies continue to target search installs, even if it’s a bit of a loss leader at times. Imagine training a future generation of roboticists on your specific platform. Talk about ivy league root growth. And hey, those who develop really smart apps might just find a place on your payroll in the future.
That said, the seeds for future growth were also in the pitch deck. In addition to current applications such as warehouse management, the pitch highlights Digit’s potential as a development platform. This is clearly the direction things have been heading for some time beyond the world of single-use robotics. Anyway, good conversation. More information on this subject will be communicated to TC in the coming days.
This week is a little slow, in terms of big robotics titles, although we do have some funding rounds to discuss. The first is the world of last-mile delivery robotics, which is seemingly an excuse to print money these days. I’ve seen plenty of verticals masquerading as fundraising bandits during the pandemic, but I’m having a hard time remembering the last time a week went by without a big delivery round.
Lots of hungry VCs sitting around their deserted offices, wondering where their food is, I guess.
This week, Starship Technologies returns to the well. A Series B of $42 million puts the company north of $100 billion in total. NordicNinja and Taavet + Sten led and TDK Ventures and Goodyear (yes, that TDK and that Goodyear) came back for the ride. Fun nugget of Ingrid’s writing that I’ll just go ahead and quote directly for you:
“There is so much more to do. We’re still in the grand scheme of things that are just getting started,” said Ahti Heinla, the CTO who co-founded Starship with Janus Friis (the co-founder of Skype, where Heinla was an early key developer). said in an interview.
On the form factor, he confirmed that an idea the company is working on in its R&D labs is a robot that will not only move on the sidewalk, as the current model does, but also on the road, which which will also bring him into the realm of working on “bigger robots”.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if we did something like this in the future, although the sidewalk strategy is still a good choice for the majority of deliveries.”
For now, though, a small cart with a bunch of wheels really is the path of least resistance – unless you’re Agile, I guess.
Drone delivery, on the other hand, seems so random these days. There are larger (and important) questions about how much we really want or need a sky full of drones. Amazon drones, Google drones, UPS and Fedex drones all buzz overhead, delivering our lattes to us while they’re still reasonably warm. I’ve long noted that they make sense for more rural areas (depending on battery and range). Certainly getting someone to a remote, hard-to-reach place to get their medicine is the kind of app we can all rally behind.
But Alphabet’s project wing has long had urban areas on its list, including Australia’s capital. This week, the company reached 200,000 commercial deliveries. It comes six months after the company passed the 100,000 milestone, including 30,000 in Australia in the first months of 2022.
The news reveals that Wing is partnering with major Australian supermarket chain Coles in Canberra. It will join KFC, Vietnamese restaurant chain Roll’d and Friendly Grocer, which provides rapid COVID tests through this service. Wing says:
Integrating drone delivery into daily life is not just an added convenience. It delivers on the promise of reducing traffic congestion, accidents and greenhouse gas emissions while increasing business sales while giving people more time in their busy lives. If you want to peek into that future, just look at Australia.
With drones and infrastructure in mind, CMU introduces a crack detection system for bridges and other infrastructure, created through joint development with Tokyo-based construction company Shimizu Corp. The duo created a prototype drone designed to search for problem areas. before they become much bigger problems.
“The automated technology we developed for the Shimizu project is designed to prevent this type of collapse through comprehensive mapping, crack detection and structural analysis that would be too much work if done by hand,” says Sebastian Scherer, associate research professor at CMU. “Today, you usually only do spot checks on critical parts, because a comprehensive study and analysis would be too slow. Automated flaw detection technology would allow inspectors to check bridges more frequently and perhaps identify problems before failures occur.
File This Under: You knew this was going to be a problem. Axios reported this week on a letter from a trio of U.S. congressional Democrats requesting a meeting with U.S. Customs and Border Protection about these Ghost Robotics dogs being flown across the border. Among the footnotes is a problem with the phrase “robotic dogs,” which I just used in the previous sentence.
“This minimizes the threat robots pose to migrants arriving at our southern border and the role they play in a long history of surveillance and privacy violations in our border communities,” the letter reads in part.
Alright, more next week! In the meantime, subscribe.