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Tag : robot funding


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by   -   February 15, 2013

I would like to start from the other side: “Why is robotics great in creating new technologies and poor in creating new businesses?”. Well, someone may disagree, but I really think that robotics is great in creating new technologies. However, almost everyone agrees that robotics is poor in creating new businesses.

In my opinion, this is due to two main reasons:

  1. Robotics is DIFFICULT! It is a multidisciplinary field, where you have to put together the best from several worlds, and make it work. This results in huge integration challenges, which are as complex, or even more complex, than the technology itself.
  2. Robotics is EXPENSIVE! Being an expensive technology makes it challenging to find viable business models for new markets.

Based on that, a successful funding scheme should foster the transition from research and technology to integration and business. This does not mean that one should directly fund companies, but that the funding scheme should enforce market orientation. In addition to the fundamental research, a successful funding scheme should put in place a combination of market oriented technological research, development of integration solutions, and pre-commercial procurement. This should, hopefully, help new robotics applications to reach the market.

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by   -   February 15, 2013

Funding new robotic projects in America is mostly done two different ways:

(1) strategic funding from NASA, DARPA, DoD, NSF and other government organizations to do the pure science involved in solving stumbling blocks in robotics, and

(2) entrepreneurial-initiated funding from friends and family, angel investors, VCs and “special people” like Scott Hassan, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, or Sergey Brin.

In addition, some funding is available via macro programs such as the Roadmap for US Robotics, which don’t move at the same speed as the entrepreneur-initiated projects.

Finally, surrounding each of the major universities involved in robotics research and education are clusters of support networks working with and supplementing the universities’ own commercialization activities. Stanford and UC Berkeley in the Bay Area of California; Georgia Tech in Atlanta; CMU in Pittsburgh; and MIT and Harvard in Boston. All of these clusters and commercialization activities are without government stimulus or direction.

Willow Garage is a perfect example of the benefits of special people: Scott Hassan had a vision to jump-start robotics – particularly the open source software side – and he invested hundreds of millions of dollars in that pursuit. From Willow Garage came seven notable spin-offs including an ongoing non-profit to perpetuate ROS.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page from Google established Google X-Labs, invested in Tesla Motors, and many more.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has set up a fund that has invested in all sorts of start-ups: from Uber to Behance to Linden Labs.

The real excitement comes from the special people: They not only enthusiastically give back with profits from their own experiences, but also bring the same level of energy that made them successful to funding of new robotics projects.

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by   -   February 15, 2013

The public should in most cases not subsidize companies. Tax payers should not be venture capitalists. The new wave of Lean Startup going around the world is a great model to ensure that companies are building products that truly match real market needs. Too many companies are launched without a clear understanding of what the required market demands are in terms of price, performance, and market size. There is a lack of market analysts who are experts in robotics applications. Trying to fund R&D without a clear understanding of what can be sold at what prices is typically a poor investment.

There is still a major need for new methods and companies for systems integration. Still 75% of the system cost is integration, which is a surprise to most companies. We need to bring down the cost of deployment. Too little support has been provided for a new generation of systems integrators.

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by   -   February 15, 2013

The best way to commercialize robotics research is to make better connections between academics and entrepreneurs.  Academics venturing out into the business world tend to have a “hammer looking for a nail” mentality, and often lack an appreciation of the skills and real-world experience that entrepreneurs and business-minded folks bring to the table. Likewise, most entrepreneurs cannot accurately estimate the complexity of the underlying technology … they do not know what is hard to do and what is not. Nor should they be blamed for this: speaking as an academic, I must admit that distinguishing between what is easy and what is difficult to achieve is not usually the focus of our publications, web pages or videos. So how do we bridge this gap?  Two ideas:

  1. Continue to fund robotics competitions.  Not only is this a great way to educate researchers on how to build real systems, but the approaches adopted by the winning teams are highly correlated to what is feasible with today’s technology. Also, the challenges these teams encounter in a one-year competition cycle are similar to those faced by a young startup in its first year of existence. This funding approach could be expanded to include team projects that create large-scale public installations because, like startups, they too must be reliable and robust to succeed in a public, real-world context.  Finally, one must also make sure that entrepreneurs know about these competitions and team projects, and that they have the right incentives to attend.
  2. Provide funding that allows freshly-minted PhDs to transition from fundamental research to applied research with a specific business focus, and at the same time provide support from business mentors and entrepreneurs.  A pre-startup phase, if you will. This not only brings the research closer to application, but it also gives individuals an appreciation of what it takes to commercialize their research, without the immediacy and constraints of being a startup.  A good example of this kind of funding scheme is the Pioneer Fellowships program established at ETH Zurich.

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by   -   January 31, 2013

Funding schemes aren’t viable until we can make more innovative roboticists, and over the years I’ve tried several methods of engendering the Divine Frankenstein Complex in others. Teaching at a university had some merit but little flexibility. Starting international robot competitions brings in exposure but promotes more involvement than innovation. Scientific publications vanish into the ether (though books fare better). Movies, TV shows, and toys are never treated seriously though they spread memes universally. Even being a government research program manager (dispensing millions of $) is a slow bath in futility against IP lawyers and rigid corporate policy.

The most successful (and enjoyable) funding scheme I ever took part in was through a science outreach organization that distributed ‘Angel Cards’. We would actively seek out people who were frustrated but brilliant and give them a $10,000 US a month Visa card to spend on their research “hobby”. No other paperwork. At the end of 6 months we’d assess what they’d done and up their card to $20,000/month if good, or we’d just cancel the card, thank them, and walk away.

26% turned out something amazing, and not always in robotics, but that was fine. It was an excellent integrity test proctoring scientific conviction, but it’s exhausting for the managers, which is why we had to recruit successful candidates to take our place when we moved on. Regrettably the program stopped a decade ago, but for a while there it was like Santa Claus for innovation – an option to explore exotic, tangental paths without consequence, and I’m glad to see many of our docents have diversified profitably.

Money well spent. Always hoped someone else would take it up, and it seems a form of it has with the net-wide Kickstarter trend now raging. Rather than indenture a researcher to servitude under a venture-capital scheme or the bureaucracy of government funding, pre-customers can buy into a future product on promises and universal visibility. The personal investment is small, the risk distributed, and some of the products look promising.

Though crowd sourcing lacks the ‘blue-sky’ appeal of pure research outreach, I feel the best robotic funding scheme at present is to invest in cool and visible crowd-sourced ventures.

Or you could fund my ass. A cool hundred mil otta do it. :)

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by   -   January 15, 2013

Welcome to Robotics by Invitation! Each month we pose a question of general interest to the robotics community, and ask our panel of experts to answer.

So, where would the experts invest their money? Our panel members weigh in:

 

Frank Tobe Frank Tobe on “If you had a EUR 100M investment fund, into which robotics technology or field of robotics would you put your money?”

As the robotics industry continues to grow, enters new industries, and provides new applications, strategic focus is necessary or the overall industry will develop haphazardly and spread out …

Read more →

 

Mark TildenMark Tilden on “If you had a EUR 100M investment fund, into which robotics technology or field of robotics would you put your money?”

Well if it was for fun, I’d invest in autonomous paving mothers (APMs).  A self-driving solar-powered mobile furnace robot that eats sand and dirt and spits out interlocking solar-panel paving stones …

Read more →

 

Henrik ChristensenHenrik Christensen on “If you had a EUR 100M investment fund, into which robotics technology or field of robotics would you put your money?”

Robots for manufacturing. Generating a new family of robots that have a fluent interaction with humans. It will be easily programmable. Some would argue that Baxter provides this functionality …

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Herman BruyninckxHerman Bruyninckx on “If you had a EUR 100M investment fund, into which robotics technology or field of robotics would you put your money?”

A project that would (1) represent human knowledge about manufacturing in an ontology server; (2) focus on system integration software and hardware issues …

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We hope you will join the discussion. Feel free to post your comment.


by   -   January 15, 2013

A project that would:

  1. represent human knowledge about manufacturing in an ontology server;
  2. focus on system integration software and hardware issues;
  3. develop affordance-driven system and component design;
  4. make students aware of the dead-end future of the current wave of “Sense-Plan-Act” software development;
  5. lobby with academic decision makers to throw away the “publish or perish” system, and replace it by direct peer review (that is, the technology exists to just ask all roboticists to score their peers, with a limited budget of points to distribute).

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by   -   January 15, 2013

Well if it was for fun, I’d invest in autonomous paving mothers (APMs).  A self-driving solar-powered mobile furnace robot that eats sand and dirt and spits out interlocking solar-panel paving stones (whose power is fed back into the APM to help it along).  As a necessity for holding back deserts, shoring against rising seawater, providing power and roads to desperate areas, and colonizing space (we need dust-free tarmacs to live on), it could change mankind.

I also like the idea of making 100,000 solar-powered self-driving surfboards to roam all the shores of earth so there’s always something to play with when you take your kids to the beach (I’m tired of fumbling with inflatable ducks).

And if it’s for profit I’d invest in advanced life-size humanoid executives to act as the research platform for a mass inexpensive humanoid robot market.  Start them out as executive helpers (a walking I-phone that can bring you coffee), then scale to tele-robo-tourism (why not take a walking tour of Hawaii before visiting?), and shopping (your robot avatar working a market far away).

Data from this development could then be used to optimize the ultimate robot market, a $1000 soft-plasic humanoid nurse that will keep the house in order, fetch and cook food, dispense medicine, then put itself away in a closet.  An affordable option to give people the dignity to live at home comfortably through their dotage without burden.

Yes, there might be a demand.  A good investment I think.


by   -   January 15, 2013

As the robotics industry continues to grow, enters new industries, and provides new applications, strategic focus is necessary or the overall industry will develop haphazardly and spread out around the world. It is important to remember that the first industrial robot was designed and developed in America but almost all industrial robots today are manufactured offshore and the profits from their sale go to offshore companies.


by   -   November 8, 2012

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s the Robot Dragonfly from TechJect. Developed over four years by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology for the US Air Force, the researchers are now investigating commercial and consumer opportunities through their recently released campaign on the crowd-funding website, IndieGoGo.


by   -   June 16, 2012


“We are at the start of a transformative period for robotics that requires a new breed of risk-taker to drive mass-market adoption,” says Dmitry Grishin, founder of Grishin Robotics.

With a particular focus on already-working products with mass-market appeal, Grishin aims to facilitate the development of the robotics industry by injecting much-needed capital and providing business counsel for up-and-coming startups. He has seeded the fund with $25 million of his own money.

Grishin is co-founder and CEO of Mail.Ru Group (61HE on the London stock exchange), the largest Internet and social networking company in the Russian-speaking world.


by   -   May 17, 2012

OSRF logo
Announced via the Willow Garage website, the Open Source Robotics Foundation, Inc. (OSRF) is an independent non-profit organization founded by members of the global robotics community. Its mission is to support the development, distribution, and adoption of open source software for use in robotics research, education, and product development. OSRF’s board of directors includes Professor Wolfram Burgard of the University of Freiburg, Ryan Gariepy, CTO of Clearpath Robotics, Brian Gerkey, Director of Open Source Development at Willow Garage, Helen Greiner, a co-founder of iRobot and currently CEO of CyPhyWorks, and Sam Park, Executive Vice President of Yujin Robot. Initially sponsored projects include the Robot Operating System (ROS), and Gazebo, a 3D multi-robot simulator with dynamics. Gazebo has been chosen by DARPA as the simulation platform for its recently announced robotics challenge for (humanoid) disaster robots.


by   -   March 3, 2012
Travis Deyle, is a postdoc researcher at Duke and a recent PhD from GA Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering where he was a member of the Healthcare Robotics Lab and a frequent blogger at Hizook.com. Fortunate for us, he kept a file of 2011 venture funded robotic projects and turned it into an interesting chart:
Source: Travis Deyle, Hizook.com

by   -   March 3, 2012
By Frank Tobe, editor/publisher, The Robot Report

Travis Deyle, is a postdoc researcher at Duke and a recent PhD from GA Tech’s School of Electrical and Computer Engineering where he was a member of the Healthcare Robotics Lab and a frequent blogger at Hizook.com. Fortunate for us, he kept a file of 2011 venture funded robotic projects and turned it into an interesting chart:

Source: Travis Deyle, Hizook.com

This chart may not reflect all of the equity investment activity in the robotics market but it is a far cry from the $6.9 billion that went into 997 venture funded deals in web and Internet startup companies over the course of 2011. This chart also doesn’t mention the many acquisitions, strategic partnerships and mergers that occurred. The most recent is the acquisition of French Cybernetix by Technip, an oil resources and ROV service provider to the industry.

Deyle describes why he thinks VC funding for robotics is a tough nut to crack:

Robotics companies have large capital requirements for robot hardware, few potential acquirers, and almost no “Google-scale” breakout success stories (i.e., IPOs). One of the best known robotics companies, iRobot, has a market cap of just $700 million. This makes robotics a difficult sell to your typical VC firm.

Although these 14 companies represent just a sliver of the 100+ robotic startups that are getting funded in one way or another, they do offer insight into those that are of interest to the venture capital community. Of the companies listed in the chart, it is interesting to note that two are foreign and the biggest investment is for a robotic hair implant device for balding men.

VGo telepresence robot, Harvest Automation’s nursery robot, Liquid Robotics’ wave glider.
  1. Restoration Robotics and their new ARTAS System provide image-guided technology for hair follicle harvesting. It’s a massive market, hence the large investment. They received US FDA clearance mid-2011 and treated their first patient in August, 2011.
  2. Redzone Robotics was featured by Pres. Obama last year and, in addition to the 2011 funding, received an additional $8.5 million just a few days ago. Their wastewater systems – pipe inspection and cleaning robots – provide critical environmental assistance to municipalities, contractors and engineering firms. Again, a big investment for a big marketplace.
  3. Liquid Robotics and their wave gliders have been much in the news. They presently have four wave gliders traveling different paths across the Pacific and making their data available to scientists and lay people worldwide. Their gliders are valuable additions to the arsenals of scientific and environmental agencies, fisheries, aquaculture, pollution detection and resource discovery companies as well as defense/security and law enforcement agencies. Hence the large investment.
  4. Aldebaran Robotics, a French company, makes the Nao and newer Romeo robots which they sell to schools and for robotic soccer and other competitions to promote STEM education, a limited but growing marketplace, hence the midrange venture investment.
  5. Medrobotics is a Carnegie Mellon spin-off focused on surgical applications using flexible snake-like robotic devices for minimally-invasive procedures. Like other medical start-ups, there is a long lead time for product refinement and FDA clearances. Medrobotics has received funding in almost every year since it’s inception in 2005.
  6. Tibion Corporation, is a Sunnyvale, CA start-up, providing bionic legs for stroke rehabilitation. This form of robotic-assisted rehab therapy, therapy with the use of an exoskeleton, is a big step forward from the $300,000+ fixed-position machines previously used.
  7. MakerBot Industries, the 3-D printer maker for the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) crowd, and featured at Maker Faires held all over the country to mammoth and enthusiastic crowds, services the DIY, prototyping, small run, and hobby communities while more expensive 3-D printers support the additive manufacturing sector. The Maker Faire Bay Area DIY innovation festival will be held in May in San Mateo, CA.
  8. Harvest Automation has a lot of good things going for it: (1) many of it’s investors are the very same ag businesses that will be buyers of the robots, (2) although focused on nursery automation to begin their business, they are poised to broaden their scope into many other facets of the ag industry, and (3) the key players are experienced in the business of robotics.
  9. Orbotix is the developer of the sphero smartphone-controlled robotic ball. The ball has no buttons, no battery box, no socket or cord for a charger (although it does have a cup-like charging dock). Shake it and it glows; put it on the floor and direct it anywhere with your iPhone. It’s a Bluetooth-based, wirelessly-charged device first shown at the 2011 CES in Las Vegas. 
  10. ThinkLabs is an Indian education company focused on science and technology. It uses simple robots, sensor enhanced devices, and robot competitions to provide hands-on inspiration for students taking their courses.
  11. Precise Path Robotics began as an entity to participate in the 2005 DARPA Grand Challenge and has migrated it’s navigation system into robotic lawn mowing and other robotic devices to provide maintenance and conditioning robots for the golf course market.
  12. VGo Communications has thus far produced 2,000 telepresence robots and plans to lower the cost to near $2,000 in their next production run. You may have seen the ABC News stories about the high school student who couldn’t leave home but nevertheless, through the use of the VGo, attended the local high school, piloting his VGo from class to class and up and down the school elevator.
  13. Aethon is a Pittsburgh, PA based mobile robot company that makes robotic carts and tugs for the hospital industry
    tugs to pickup and deliver food, medicine, waste materials and general supplies. The company began in 2001 and has had many rounds of financing. This round of $1.74 million was less than the $2.5 million targeted.
  14. CyPhy Works, a maker of small unmanned flying robots used to inspect bridges and other public infrastructure, has also received federal grants and research awards to develop its technology for both commercial, governmental and defense clients.

by   -   June 16, 2011


U.S. DoD to spend $41.7 billion on unmanned aerial vehicles and systems in 2012-2014 (that’s $13.9 billion per year!) says research firm focused on the aerospace/defense sector.

Defense spending towers over venture capital investments, eg:
  -  Aldebaran Robotics (of Nao fame) raised $13 million from Intel Capital, CDC Innovation, iSource and Crédit Agricole Private Equity
  -  Liquid Robotics (wave gliders) got $22 million from VantagePoint Capital and Schlumberger
  -  Estonian Fits.me (robotic mannequin) received $1.75 million from the Estonian Development Fund