Robotic start-up companies range from the whimsical to the amazing, from futuristic to topical, and from hubs of robotic activity in Silicon Valley, Boston, New York City (a new hub) and Switzerland to far-off places around the world: Turkey, Tel Aviv, Moscow, Christchurch, Reykjavik, Singapore, Shenzhen, Buenos Aires — essentially, everywhere that programmers program and engineers tinker.
Some start-ups have proven concepts, achieved adequate funding and have begun to provide unique solutions to long-term problems needing robotic assistance, e.g.:
Robotic projects often get funded for strange reasons. Many are at the whim (in scientific circles they call it “inspiration”) of researchers attempting to conquer an interesting scientific challenge. This often translates into commercial projects just to get the funding to continue to do research. Many crowd-funded projects fit into this latter category. Others are funded to solve specific as-yet-undiscovered methods of doing something that needs to be done. The space and defense programs (NASA and DARPA) are perfect examples of the latter and are referred to as “strategic funding” and there’s a whole industry of technology transfer to make their inventions into commercial ventures.
In the last few years, the influence of crowd-funding is shaking things up and can be seen in some of the start-ups cited above. Kickstarter, Indiegogo and Angel List have all had their robotic hits – some even raising millions. TechJect‘s Dragonfly is an example. The spin-off from GA Tech raised over $1 million on Indiegogo! 3D printer start-ups also did quite well and FormLabs‘ Kickstarter campaign was a record-breaking $2,945,000 from 2,068 backers (FormLabs was only seeking $100,000)!
Crowd funding may be a passing fad, but for the last couple of years these types of sites have provided start-ups with a quick sense of whether their idea will sell to the public or not — and they don’t require giving away equity. Crowd funded projects also pop up on the radar of venture capitalists searching for interesting new ventures. There is no doubt that slick marketing and performance videos do well in that environment. Also, equity crowd funding is coming; the Securities and Exchange Commission is working on the rules.
Crowd funding supporters believe the process helps entrepreneurs become profitable while rewarding investors; others are concerned about online fraud and bad investments stimulated by lively videos focused toward inexperienced investors.
Nevertheless, crowd funding is here to stay and will soon include equity as a perk of investing. Further, it is spreading globally. Although robot start-ups and other long-lead projects don’t get as much attention as some of the other projects, the number of robotics-related crowd funded projects is up and the sophistication of the presentations is also up – both a boon to getting the attention of serious equity investors (VC’s and hedge funds).
Finally, a review of the makeup and geography of 235 start-up companies can be seen in the chart below. Robotic start-up companies are privately held robotic companies established to develop a concept or product or robotic-related service for sale but don’t yet have it all together. From the chart below one can see that few are attempting to become industrial robotic manufacturers; instead, most are offering service robotic solutions for industry, home use, health care and academia.
Industrial = industrial robot makers;
Service with an “S” = service robots used by corporations and governments. A service robot is a robot which operates semi- or fully autonomously to perform services useful to the well-being of humans and equipment, excluding industrial automation applications. They are capable of making decisions and acting autonomously in real and unpredictable environments to accomplish determined commercial tasks and are usually operated by a trained operator. Defense, rescue and security applications account for many of the start-ups. Unmanned aerial, mobile and underwater vehicles are included in this category. Field robots (mainly milking robots), cleaning robots, construction and demolition robots, laboratory, medical, rehabilitation, and surgical robots, and mobile robot platforms for general and small business use are also included as are logistic systems, inspection systems and educational and public relations robots;
Service with a “P” = personal service robots include vacuum cleaning and lawn-mowing robots, elder care and medical companions, entertainment and leisure robots, including toy robots, hobby systems, home education and training robots, and some remote-presence systems. Personal service robots are usually operated by a lay person;
Ancillary = refers to businesses that provide robotic-related products or services such as software developers, autopilot providers, vision system providers, integrators, resellers, design firms, etc.; and
Stealth = indicates robotics-related but specifics unknown because companies don’t yet have a web or social presence or are in a language that is difficult to search and translate.
[Please send start-up companies that we have missed or are new to firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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