Dismissal of the workforce

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Yesterday we officially announced another big name for TC Sessions: Robotics. I will talking to Marty Walsh, US Secretary of Labor, at the July 21 event. It’s a little chaotic during a day of discussions with startups, venture capitalists, and researchers, but it’s something I’ve been wanting to discuss for a long time.

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Walsh was appointed to the position last March by President Biden. Prior to that, he was mayor of Boston for 7 years – the combination of these positions gives him a unique opportunity to discuss the impact of robotics and automation on the US workforce in the future.

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I expect the people we talk to in places like Amazon and the three companies in our fulfillment group (Locus, Berkshire Gray and Fetch/Zebra) will generally agree that these technologies will immediately make things easier for workers by creating more jobs in the long term. However, during these conversations, I often ask the question: what happens to jobs during this time?

It is true that at the moment there is a shortage of work. Many companies are struggling to fill vacancies due to the effects of the last 2 years. As a result, we are experiencing a tidal wave of automation adoption. But what does this mean for the workforce in the long run?

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Are we really ready for the impact of all these technologies on people who, say, do not have an engineering education? Can the government do more in terms of job creation and education? What about older workers who don’t have the time or resources to go back to school and learn how to program a robot?

I have a lot of questions, and if you’re reading this, I’m sure you are too. I can’t think of many people in this world that I would rather discuss this topic with other than Secretary Walsh, given his experience; his work in local, state and national law; and his personal connection to one of the largest and most vibrant robotics startup communities in the world. I mentioned to several speakers that he would be at the event, and it seems like everyone in Boston Robotics has met this guy at some point.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

You can register for free event here. You don’t want to miss it.

Just two years ago, we were talking about some numbers that indicate that investment in the robotics category continues to rise, despite the more dire macroeconomic trends in venture capital. Here’s some data on the other side of the equation. New figures from the International Federation of Robotics indicate impressive growth in sales of industrial automation products.

Here in North America, Q1 2022 sales are up 28% year-over-year. This means that the growth we are seeing is not just forward. This is happening right now.

There is currently a strong recovery in international robotics markets: “Global installations of industrial robots in 2021 will even exceed the record year of 2018,” IFR President Milton Gerry said in a release related to the study. “In North America, order volumes in the first quarter, both per unit and per revenue, were at an all-time high. Across industries, the post-COVID crisis boom is driving double-digit growth year-over-year.”

Image of a robotic arm at a manufacturing facility.

Focus on grabbing the robotic arm. Industry 4.0 concept; artificial intelligence in a smart factory. The robot picks up the product from the automated machine on the production line. Selective focus. Image Credits: Getty Images/rozdemir01

Unsurprisingly, automakers make up a huge portion of that total at 47%. The car companies are way ahead here, by a couple of decades or so. Despite this, bookings in this category continue to grow, up 37% year-on-year.

In the finance department FarmWise continues become one of the most successful firms in the field of robotics, both in terms of venture capital support and viable product. Let’s be honest, we could all use a little more weeding in our lives. Earlier this week, the central California firm announced a $45 million Series B led by Fall Line Capital and Middleland Capital. Thus, the total amount reaches 65 million dollars.

Image Credits: Farmwise

“We launched FarmWise with the belief that farmers must be provided with cost-effective, sustainable solutions to feed a growing world, and that AI is the ideal technology to make this a reality,” co-founder and CEO Sebastian Boyer said in a press release. . “Due to rising costs in the agriculture industry, we continue to expand our technology to work with many more farmers.”

To date, the company’s technology has generated 15,000 sales hours in the (literal) field. This funding will be used to accelerate the release of an existing product and the research and development of new technologies.

Image Credits: Teleo

Meanwhile, a construction robotics firm Teleo announces $12M Series A. The round was led by UP.Partners and included K9 Ventures and Trucks Venture Capital, the latter of which led the startup’s seed round. As with FarmWise, the money goes towards deploying existing technologies and developing the company’s roadmap. In particular, Teleo is developing technology that turns old heavy vehicles into autonomous vehicles.

“With this Series A funding, we plan to redouble our efforts to strengthen and deploy technologies that will enable our customers to semi-autonomously operate their existing heavy equipment fleet,” says co-founder and CEO Vinay Sheth in a press release.

serve robot with uber eats branding

Serve Robotics is partnering with Uber Eats on an autonomous delivery pilot in Los Angeles. Image Credits: Uber

Interesting piece here from Kyle. Interesting, if not particularly surprising, I suppose. The delivery market is finally coming back to Earth after 2 years of everyone ordering Uber Eats or DoorDash for almost every meal. In short, the implications will vary greatly from company to company, depending on specific models.

“DoorDash appears to be operating by charging fees from all over to cover operating costs,” Hoxton Ventures partner Rob Knyaz told TechCrunch. “Fast Commerce Companies” [like Gopuff] compete on price and speed, and have smaller basket sizes, making it much harder for them to break even. I think this model works when you can walk away with very high margins and/or shipping charges, but it will never be a low cost everyday model. In my opinion, this is a luxury business.”

I mention this in relation to what it will ultimately mean for all the money currently being pumped into delivery robots. Given the huge number of companies currently operating in this field, it is safe to say that in any case, a regression should have occurred. But if I were a venture capital firm betting on any of those countless delivery bots, I know I’d be asking some tough questions right now.

Image Credits: symbolic

The SPAC world has also seen a significant cooling off this year (I’m putting this as best as I can, mind you) due to some of the negative effects on several companies going public. However, at the moment, not everything is so hopeless. Warehouse robotics firm Symbotic has just been officially listed on the Nasdaq via a SPAC with SVF Investment Corp. 3 (there is a really creative title).

The combined company, Symbotic Inc., is receiving additional cash to drive development progress. Says CEO Michael J. Loparco in a press release:

Today marks a major milestone for Symbotic and its people, and we are excited to accelerate our growth with a truly revolutionary technology platform used by some of the world’s largest companies. Symbotic’s long-term partnerships with SoftBank and other established investors will enable us to scale our operations faster, drive new technological innovations, and expand into new markets.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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