Startups are breaking new ground when it comes to robotic applications in manufacturing, construction and agriculture. Outfitting robots with tools such as artificial intelligence (AI), light detection and ranging (lidar) and computer vision, the following companies are shaping the future of robotics and solidifying the role of robotics in these industries.
Veo Robotics is deploying robots with AI, 3D sensing and computer vision that can work in collaborative manufacturing settings with people. Manufacturing machines typically must be separated from humans for safety reasons, but Veo Robotics has created robots that humans can interact with safely and effectively because these robots are always “aware” of their surroundings. In this way, manufacturers can combine the strengths of humans (e.g. dexterity and intelligence) and the strengths of robots (e.g. precision and physical strength) to make manufacturing more efficient. Veo Robotics has raised $28 million in funding from investors.
Grabit is using an electroadhesion breakthrough to innovate grasping activities in robotics, industrial automation and handling materials. Grabit is revamping how we handle goods on gravity-fed and linear conveyor belts using the energy that makes hair stick to a statically-charged balloon. The startup delivers load efficiency, increased speed and higher operation density by allowing for better goods handling. Grabit has raised $21 million to date.
Doxel has been deploying lidar-equipped autonomous robots on construction sites. Currently, 98% of construction megaprojects (in excess of $1 billion) are executed an average of 80% over budget and 20 months behind schedule. The cause? In many cases, it’s simply errors in tracking what gets done. Doxel’s idea is to introduce autonomous robots to track quality and progress for construction projects. The robots scope out the entire construction site after hours and send data to the cloud where Doxel’s AI begins recognizing components by size, shape and location. The AI is able to confirm whether the components have been constructed in the right place. If not, they send the information to managers so they can fix mistakes before they lead to other mistakes. Doxel has raised $4.5 million in funding.
Built Robotics is sending autonomous bulldozers, skid steers and excavators to construction sites. Construction is dealing with a labor shortage on a global scale. To address this shortage, Built’s goal is to enable a single equipment operator to watch over an entire fleet of autonomous construction vehicles. Built converts popular construction equipment by fixing lidar, GPS, Wi-Fi and autonomous navigation to existing machines. Built’s robots are already digging foundations for wind turbines and doing demolition work on highways. The company’s largest excavator weighs in at 82,048 lbs. Built Robotics announced in September a $33 million Series B, bringing its total funding to $48 million.
The Small Robot Company deploys compact, lightweight robots on farms to precisely apply plant treatments, including using lasers to eliminate weeds and feeding each plant individually. The “farmbots” know the precise location of each plant and work in tandem with the company’s AI system, Wilma, to know what they need to plant and when. Using small robots instead of huge tractors means that farmers can use less energy for ploughing (which is only necessary because of the heavy machinery pressing down on the soil). According to the company, farmers stand to save 90% in energy costs by going small. Precise plant treatment also means that farmers can use up to 95% less chemicals on their farms. The Small Robot Company offers its robots using a “farming as a service” (FaaS) model, in which farmers can rent the robots from the company to reduce the risks that would stem from buying the machines outright. At the end of 2018, the Small Robot Company raised $1.6 million in funding.
FarmWise has started using its robotic weeders on large vegetable farms in California. These robots use machine learning, refined mechanical tools and computer vision to remove small weeds. The robotic weeders weigh in at 8,000 pounds, and a single unit can weed enough crops in one day to sustain 400,000 people, according to FarmWise CEO Sebastien Boyer. Next up? Boyer’s plans for FarmWise’s robots include providing services beyond automated weeding. Boyer foresees that these robots will act as crop caretakers, monitoring the health of each plant and applying interventions based on each crop’s special needs. Farmwise has raised $20.2 million in funding to date.
The Road Ahead
As robots continue to permeate supply chains, procurement departments will have to adjust their practices as well. Whether it’s purchasing autonomous machinery for their own operations or sourcing from vendors whose outputs depend on robots, procurement departments will find new ways to incorporate robotics in the approaching years. By exploring these new technologies, businesses can ultimately save money, prioritize safety, boost efficiency and promote quality.
By: Remi Nathanson