George Devol created Unimate, the first digitally controlled and programmable robot in 1954, and since then we’ve been impressed with the likes of C-3P0 from “Star Wars”, Tipsy – the robot cocktail waiter in Las Vegasand scout – Amazon delivery robots in Snohomish County. But recent advances in technology mean robotics is now ripe for accelerated innovation and adoption, especially in industry, manufacturing, logistics and agriculture, and at Madrona we’re excited to see where entrepreneurs l will take.
Robots are transforming productivity, efficiency, cost, production and product quality for businesses, and mall the trends are coming together to push the switch to automation.
- COVID-19 has pushed for a more contactless and remote mode of operation.
- Persistent labor shortages over the years are pavedg the path to self-sufficiency in all industries, including discrete manufacturing, automotive, assembly and agriculture.
- Technological innovation in distributed and edge computing, combined with advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, and neural networks, have made near real-time command and control possible.
- Technological infrastructure and advances in data quality mean that the use of real-time computer vision is now also possible.
- The emergence of large-scale transformer models, learning without shooting, and transfer learning allow machines to do much more than in the past.
All of these trends combine to create nearly endless opportunities for founders in the field of robotics. And the industry is ready for change.
All of these trends combine to create nearly endless opportunities for founders in the field of robotics – ahe industry is ready for change.
Driven by the need for better quality, increased labor, performance and speed, as well as the need to improve margin profiles, flexibility and inefficient processes – similar to what we’ve seen in the acceleration of digital transformation in business – industry at large is on the path to adopting robotics. Additionally, players like Amazon have put incredible pressure on businesses to automate their operations. Last year, the Association for Advancing Automation reported a 28% increase in non-automotive robot orders in North America. And, according to BCG, the global robotics market is is expected to reach $160-260 billion by 2030.
We believe autonomous operations are the future – it’s only a matter of time before that change happens. At Madrona Venture Group, we recognize robotics as one of the next frontiers, and we are particularly interested in what we define as enterprise robotics – software-driven robots used for mission-critical applications or business. These robots are programmable machines deployed in live production environments, not in a consumer environment. They take advantage of the large-scale volume of signals and data collected in the physical world to act with minimal or no overshoot.to augment and empower the human workforce.
So what must be true to make an interesting Enterprise Robotics game?
We believe it starts with innovation in the core infrastructure, easy-to-use platforms and tools in the middle, and smart app on top. A business does not need to focus on all three levels to be successful. Below are some of the key elements that we believe will make a compelling enterprise robotics business:
- Bots that rely on software dependencies on hardware
- Robotics companies that own the platform end-to-end and hide the complexity from the end customer
- Adoption of new business models that reduce financial barriers (i.e. robotics as a service or licensing model)
- Easy-to-use platforms and tools combined with smart apps to transform and create digital or physical experiences
- General purpose platforms that can be used in different use cases
When we look at different verticals, a host of interesting applications and companies caught our eye:
- Agriculture: Companies like Terra Clear(a Madrona portfolio company you can read more about here), Carbon Robotics, iron buffaloand Zordy are pioneering the next revolution in agriculture by solving complex agricultural problems using robotics and artificial intelligence.
- Industrial/Manufacturing: Companies like Symbio Robotics, Real-time robotics and Robotics ready enable the construction, deployment and operation of high-quality assembly applications in high-throughput manufacturing facilities.
- Logistics: Companies like Berkshire Gray, Covariant, Osaro, PlusOne Roboticsand Ambi Robotics leverage artificial intelligence to optimize the picking, sorting and handling of full stacks. These companies are trying to build software to make warehouses, distribution, and distribution centers smarter while tackling labor shortage issues.
Beyond these verticals, we’re also excited about so-called ‘enablers’. When it comes to developing automation solutions involving robotic systems, different vendors deploy different types of robots that need to communicate and work together seamlessly. However, interoperability is rare because companies often run robots autonomously in silos. Innovative examples of robotics enablers include companies like Groundlight.ai and retrocausalwhich provide computer vision as service More precisely suitable for robotics use cases.
We believe that a new generation of companies is emerging that will serve as “enablers”, such as AWS IoT runtime bot. RoboRunner provides a central data repository to store and use data from different robot management systems and business management systems. Once the bots are connected, developers can use sample apps and software development libraries to build business apps on top of the centralized data repository. Companies like forming also allow companies to manage fleets of robots and analyze the data they collect.
Robots have proven to offer a host of benefits in various applications, and the technological advancements we have discussed mean that now is the time for entrepreneurs to experiment and execute new ideas. We’re always on the lookout for enthusiastic entrepreneurs who embrace new, innovative ideas. We would love to meet you and learn more! Our contact details are linked in our byline!