Marty, a mobile robot from Badger Technologies, is rolling out to stores in 2019. (Credit: Badger Technologies)
We didn’t forget about the large amount of exciting robotics startups out there. We’re focusing on young companies. With the exception of Badger Technologies, which was acquired for an undisclosed amount by Jabil in mid-2017 after just six months in existence, and Kassow Robots, which is self-funded, none of the companies on the list have raised more than $6.8 million. And no company is older than five years.
It’s hard to narrow this list down to just 10 robotics startups, so please share in the comments some robotics startups you will be watching in 2019. No disrespect to the many other robotics startups doing tremendous work, such as IMS Systems, Motus Labs and Root AI, to name a few. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 robotics startups The Robot Report will be watching in 2019.
10 robotics startups to watch in 2019
Industry: Agricultural robotics
Funding: $250K Seed Round
Reason to watch: Augean Robotics makes Burro, an autonomous mobile robot that follows people on a farm, moving up to 500 lbs of cargo around to free up workers to perform more valuable tasks. Burro can learn the routes it takes and re-run them autonomously. Augean is currently working with fresh fruit farmers. In December 2018, Augean took home top honors at the FBNFarmers Startup Competition by winning the Judge’s Choice Award. Agriculture is a $5 trillion industry, and it’s ripe for automation.
Headquarters: Nicholasville, Kentucky
Industry: Mobile service robots
Reason to watch: According to Research and Markets, the retail automation sector is expected to be worth more than $18.9 billion by 2023. And Badger Technologies, which is owned by Jabil, is starting to carve out its own piece of that pie. The company just announced it is rolling out its Marty autonomous mobile robot to nearly 500 Giant/Martin and Stop & Stop stores after successful pilots. The rollout, one of the largest of its kind, will continue through the early part of 2019. Marty moves throughout stores looking for spills, obstacles, debris or anything that could impose potential safety risks to customers and store employees. Marty can also be used to address out-of-stock, planogram compliance, price integrity, and audit and compliance issues.
Headquarters: Stuttgart, Germany
Industry: Programming software
Funding: Seed round of 1 million-plus euros
Reason to watch: The two biggest obstacles that prevent SMEs for adopting industrial robots are the investment costs and required programming expertise. drag&bot GmbH, a spin-off of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation, is trying to solve the latter problem with drag-and-drop programming for industrial robots. We’ve heard this from others, but drag&bot want to make programming robots “as easy as operating a smartphone.” According to drag&bot, its software is most commonly used for robots handling parts, palletizing workpieces and loading or unloading machines. More complex tasks, including screwing or joining gears, are also possible. The software works independently of the robot hardware and currently supports ABB, Denso, Fanuc, Kuka and Universal Robots. drag&bot recently closed a Seed round of funding led by Speedinvest Industry, an Austria-based venture capitalist.
Headquarters: Sunnyvale, Calif.
Industry: Construction Robotics
Reason to watch: Founded by former Savioke CTO Tessa Lau, Dusty Robotics wants to automate critical-path tasks on construction sites. When The Robot Report talked to Lau in the fall of 2018, she wasn’t yet ready to publicly share the tasks Dusty Robotics is looking to automate. The construction industry, as Lau pointed out in a recent blog, is in dire need of a technological shakeup. “I discovered that unlike industries such as manufacturing, which have seen consistent productivity growth due to process automation, productivity in the construction industry has actually declined over the past few decades … The average age of the construction workforce is 41, and anecdotally people were telling me that workers were switching jobs at 50 because their bodies just couldn’t handle the work anymore. At the same time, young people aren’t entering the workforce; younger construction workers declined by 30% in the decade leading up to 2016. Even aside from labor shortages, rework due to errors and miscommunication costs US construction companies an estimated $65B per year.”
Kassow Robots is developing 7-DOF cobot arms. (Credit: Kassow Robots)
Headquarters: Copenhagen, Denmark
Industry: Collaborative robots
Founded: 2014; launched products in 2018
Reason to watch: If Kassow Robots sounds familiar, it should. The company was co-founded by Kristian Kassow, one of the former co-founders of collaborative robotics leader Universal Robots. After about a five-year stint outside of collaborative robotics, Kassow is looking to make in-roads in an increasingly competitive market. To do so, Kassow Robots will be offering the KR810 (850mm reach, 10kg payload), KR1205 (1200mm reach, 5kg payload) and KR1805 (1800mm reach, 5kg payload). Each robot has built-in force torque sensors to detect impact and abnormal forces and stop the robots when they’re overloaded.
Industry: Motion planning
Funding: $2M Seed Round
Reason to watch: Realtime Robotics, a spinout from Duke University, has developed a processor called “RapidPlan” that offers real-time motion planning for robotics and autonomous vehicles. According to Realtime, the processor can achieve sub-millisecond motion plans, is retargetable and updatable on the fly. Realtime said “a robot with fast reaction times can operate safely in an environment with humans. A robot that can plan quickly can be deployed in relatively unstructured factories and adjust to imprecise object locations and orientations, thus lowering a major the barrier to the use of robots.”
Headquarters: Odense, Denmark
Industry: Commercial Drones
Funding: $797K Seed Round
Reason to watch: Keep an eye on the Odense robotics cluster as a whole in 2019, but an interesting company watch is QuadSat. The commercial drone company autonomously tests and calibrates satellite and VSAT antennas. The company will initially focus on high-value aeronautical and maritime applications. QuadSAT was one of six companies to take part in Mission 1 of Seraphim Space Camp, the UK’s first accelerator for space-tech start-ups.
Two Danish robotics startups filed IPOs in 2018. Odico, a construction robotics company, in June 2018 became the first Danish robotics company to be admitted to trading on Nasdaq First North. Scape Technologies, which focuses on automated bin picking, began trading on Nasdaq First North Denmark in November. Michael Hansen, investment manager at Odense Seed & Venture, tells The Robot Report that the IPO culture is new in Denmark.
“Smaller companies went for direct investments or IPOs in Sweden. There has been a strong national political wish for a change of the culture,” he said. “The National and government-owned growth fund has supported the possibility of going IPO. This year (2018) we see the beginning of this new culture.”
Headquarters: Austin, Texas
Industry: Fleet autonomy
Funding Status: Pre-seed
Reason to watch: Stocked Robotics is still semi-stealth mode, but it recently got its first customer up and running in June 2018. Stocked Robotics turns manually-driven forklifts into autonomous forklifts using its Stocked Intelligence Engine for Robot Automation (SIERA) platform. The company sounds similar to Brain Corp, which is crushing it with its Walmart partnership, among other initiatives. Stocked Robotics wants to be out of stealth mode by the end of the first quarter, so it is also focusing on raising funding.
Headquarters: Dresden, Germany
Industry: Robot control
Funding Status: $6.8M Series A
Reason to watch: Wandelbots wants to make it easier for everyone to program industrial robots. The system enables programming by demonstration, which isn’t new, but Wandelbots has developed a novel programming technique. Users wear smart clothing, including a jacket, that tracks human motion in real-time and converts these into robotic controls. Wandelbots said its system works with the 12 most popular industrial robotics makers. Volkswagen and Infineon are reportedly testing this in assembly and logistics.
Headquarters: Oslo, Norway
Industry: 3D machine vision
Reason to watch: A spinout from Norway’s SINTEF research lab, Zivid Labs has more than two decades of R&D expertise in optical sensors, 3D machine vision hardware and software. Its 3D color cameras target a range of applications, including de-palletizing, bin-picking, pick-and-place, assembly, packaging and quality control. Check out this case study about how 3D vision enabled a DHL e-fulfillment robot to achieve at least 400 picks per hour.