Things were on the quiet side in robot land this week – and frankly, I don’t mind. It’s hard to catch your breath talking about the industry these days. But even in such a highly developed field as robotics and automation, there are periods of calm, and late July / early August is the best time to take a step back and understand how we got here and where we are going.
In a nutshell, here are a few macro trends I’ll be keeping an eye on in the coming weeks and months:
- I watched CHIPS and science law over the past few weeks as it passes through Congress and onto the President’s desk. This was something Secretary Walsh quickly mentioned during our recent conversationand robotics and automation firms are no doubt keeping a close eye on the impact this may ultimately have on domestic production.
- On a less cheerful side, it seems like we’re sitting here waiting for another shoe to fall amid economic woes and recession fears. If you follow Actuator, you’ll know full well that the industry hasn’t been immune to this kind of activity, but for a category that’s so infamously difficult to succeed in, it’s proven remarkably resilient thanks to the massive investment spurred by the pandemic. Just don’t be surprised if both investors and startups tighten their belts in the coming months.
- Listing in 2023? Locus Robotics recently mentioned its plans to go public (which is still a rarity among robotics companies, especially on a more traditional path). Given the money and interest that has sprung up in recent years, I wouldn’t be surprised if more companies are eyeing it, but are at least waiting to see some of the broader economic factors disappear.
- I have seen a lot of trending stories in general interest news outlets about the widespread adoption of robotics in places like restaurants. That means we’re at the point in the cycle where we’re tracking how many places are embracing these technologies. All too often, these are stories about a company looking for a little publicity boost by experimenting with some new technology, only to decide after it all calms down that it doesn’t make much sense on the scale.
I’ll say, I think we’re at a point where we can say that automation is a lot more than a flicker in the pan when it comes to warehouse and logistics. Many companies have had great success here, and the problem of labor shortage is unlikely to be solved anytime soon. FedEx and Berkshire Gray this week made a big deal it shows the logistics giant is buying $200 million worth of robotic systems in exchange for share warrants. The news is indicative of good growth in the value of BG shares after a really difficult year after the SPAC.
FedEx Corporate Vice President Rebecca Yeung says:
Our growing relationship with Berkshire Gray in robotic automation is a direct response to the growth of e-commerce, which has accelerated the demand for reliable automation solutions throughout the supply chain. FedEx believes that continuous innovation and automation will increase the efficiency, productivity and safety of its team members as they continue to support the global supply chain.
Some positive growth news North American Fanuc Wingcausing the Japanese industrial robotics giant to nearly double its presence in Michigan after the campus opens in late 2019. When completed, it will add 788,000 square feet to the original 461,000.
Meanwhile monarch announced this week that it will manufacture its autonomous tractors at Foxconn’s plant in Lordstown, Ohio. The news follows the announcement of retail expansion in India.
Kirsten received news of the launch Polymath Robotics, a new firm founded by Stefan Seltz-Axmacher of Starky. This one begins with the evocative quote “robots suck.” I’d argue for the more subtle “robots are less user-friendly than they should be” but that’s a lot less drastic and probably a big part of the reason I’m trying to survive in New York on a journalist’s salary. and not start startups.
The firm enters the lucrative market for user-friendly automation software. There’s a reason many people try to crack the code of hardware-independent, user-friendly robotics software. A company that can really succeed can make a lot of money.
It appears that funding for last mile delivery robots has yet to be fully exhausted. Ottonomy.IO just raised a $3.3 million seed round as it works to distribute its sidewalk bots more widely. Co-founder Ritukar Vijay naturally cited labor shortages as a driving force, telling TechCrunch, “One of the biggest challenges we’re trying to solve with these autonomous delivery robots has to do with labor shortages.”
Earlier this week, I wrote about a significant ~$30 million for spread. The firm is arguably the best-known name in Japan’s growing vertical farming industry. As I have noted, things in space began to gain momentum around 2011, when the tsunami that caused the Fukushima disaster caused many in the country to look for alternatives to agriculture. I mention this here because robotics is an important part of Spread’s automated game, along with other leaders in the field.
Meanwhile, Terabase Energy just announced A $44 million Series B co-led by Prelude Ventures and Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy. The round brought the Berkeley-based company’s total funding to $52 million. The company uses robotics to help build and operate its photovoltaic power plants. The release notes:
Able to operate 24/7, the Terabase Automated Field Factory can dramatically reduce construction time and costs while delivering higher build quality. The robotic workflow will also improve the health and safety of workers by eliminating the need to manually lift heavy panels and steel components in challenging weather conditions.
And finally NASA this week in detail his work on a shape-shifting underwater system developed with Houston-based Nauticus Robotics. According to NASA:
Bright orange, all-electric and the size of a sports car, Aquanaut, the company’s signature robot, resembles a propeller-driven torpedo as it travels to its destination. At this point, his shell opens and his nose lifts up, revealing a set of cameras and other sensors, now facing forward. The two arms rotate, ending in claws that can be equipped with various tools.
Potential tasks for the robot include inspection of underwater equipment such as wind turbines, maintenance of submarine cables, and monitoring of fish populations.
Come be under the sea Actuator garden.
Credit: techcrunch.com /