Leaving the cube

i did a little A double-take on this: $100 million is a big number at any point, but two and a half months after the $56 million round is pretty wild. At the very least, we know that Path Robotics is ready to put its money where its mouth is — and Tiger Global likes what it sees in a welding robotics firm.

The “pre-emptive” Series C brings its total funding to $171 and propels it toward the top of the most well-funded construction robotics companies. There’s a lot of space here, of course. The global construction market is worth tens of trillions of dollars annually. And one of the beauties of the industry is how many flanks it has to attack.

image credit: Path Robotics

Path’s special funding… Well, Path points to ambitions beyond welding. But it’s a good place to start, with a massive shortage of about 400,000 jobs in the US alone by 2024. Tiger Global Partner Griffin Schroeder pulled back the curtain a touch, saying:

Path’s innovative approach to computer vision and proprietary AI software allows robots to adapt, understand and adapt to the challenges of each unique welding project. We believe this breakthrough technology can be adopted for many other applications and products beyond welding, to serve our customers holistically.

I think there’s a risk for startups to take too fast – even one as well funded as Path.

image credit: edusa distribution

Verve Motion’s funding round barely missed the cutoff for Roundup inclusion last week. It’s tough when your lead-in is a $100 million round, but $15 million is certainly nothing to scoff at. A spinout of some really interesting work being done in Conor Walsh’s lab at Harvard’s Vice Institute and the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, Verve is one of several startups in the Motion exoskeleton/exosuit category.

There are two vastly different audiences for this technology: people with mobility issues and the blue-collar labor force. For now, at least, Verve is targeting the latter, with its soft exosuits designed to help reduce workplace injuries from activities like repetitive lifting. Honestly, it fits very well on the dull, dirty, dangerous paradigm.

Less funny news from OpenAI, which quietly disbanded its robotics team. This move actually came last October, but Venture Beat reported this last week. The team was perhaps best known for Rubik’s cube-solving robotics arm – a fascinating project, but apparently a bit of a dead end. Quoting a spokesperson:

After advancing the state of the art in reinforcement learning through our Rubik’s Cube project and other initiatives, last October we decided not to pursue robotics research and instead refocus the team on other projects. Due to rapid advances in AI and its capabilities, we have found that other approaches, such as reinforcement learning with human feedback, lead to rapid progress in our reinforcement learning research.

And in the department of horribly crushing a funny thing Mark Twain once said, the report of Pepper’s death…if not exaggerated, is at least disputed by the source. What is clear is that SoftBank’s robotic face was not doing what the firm expected, and at the very least, it has decided to go back to the drawing board.

In addition to continually renewed sales of signage-holding humanoid bots, SoftBank Robotics CMO Kazutaka Hasumi told Reuters, “We will still sell pepper in five years.” It’s hard to know what to make of it. As far as these things go, Paper wasn’t a particularly useful robot, despite having a solid pedigree due to its acquisition of the French firm, Aldebaran, by SoftBank.

At least, the company is considering some kind of redesign. That alone seems unlikely to move the needle much.

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