The 10 Coolest Robotics Startups Of 2019
Makers of innovative robots for farming, retail and manufacturing are featured on our list of notable robotics startups.
Rise Of The Robots
It's not just industry giants such as Amazon that are doing major deployments of autonomous robots. Customers in industries such as farming, warehousing, manufacturing and retail are beginning to make robotics systems a central part of their operations—and many of these systems are coming from cutting-edge robotics startups. Research firm IDC forecasts that global spending on robotics systems and drones will rise to $210.3 billion by 2022, up from an expected $115.7 billion this year.
Startups that are developing innovative robotics technologies have seen strong momentum in 2019, with a range of product launches, partnerships and funding rounds announced. This includes both developers of the robots themselves, as well as creators of software to enable enhanced robotics for other manufacturers.
What follows are CRN's picks for the coolest robotics startups of 2019.
CEO: Amar Hanspal
Bright Machines is aiming to improve manufacturing with a software-defined approach to robotics. The San Francisco-based company this year introduced an offering that it's calling Bright Machines Microfactories. The offering is a combination of software, machine learning and computer vision technologies—paired with robotics—that seeks to automate the once-highly manual processes of product assembly and inspection. Key components include the company's Bright Robotic Cells—modular units based on adaptive robotics technology that are ready for production and can be configured to meet specific product manufacturing requirements. The Microfactories announcement follows $179 million in fund-raising last year by Bright Machines, whose CEO Amar Hanspal was formerly the co-CEO of Autodesk.
CEO: Sebastien Boyer
FarmWise is out to prove that farms could benefit from greater automation (and fewer chemicals). The San Francisco-based startup has developed autonomous farming robots that so far have been targeted at weeding. The robots leverage machine learning and computer vision—along with high-precision mechanical tools—to provide "personalized care to every plant they touch," FarmWise said. The robots can "cleanly" pick weeds from fields, eliminating the need for harmful chemicals, the company said. In September, FarmWise raised a $14.5 million Series A round to expand its engineering and operation teams while investing further in R&D.
CEO: Melonee Wise
San Jose, Calif.-based Fetch Robotics is a maker of autonomous mobile robots that are designed to safely operate alongside human workers in distribution centers. The company's robots are unique in that they don't need human guidance or even fixed paths to operate. In July, the company raised $48 million from investors including Softbank Capital, Fort Ross Ventures and Zebra Ventures, which is Zebra Technologies' investment arm. Fetch Robotics systems are deployed with customers including Universal Logistics Holdings, at the company's Tennessee logistics facility that serves a major Nissan Motors manufacturing plant.
CEO: Joshua Wilson
Rather than developing robots of its own, Freedom Robotics is developing software for simplifying the creation of robotic fleets to serve a variety of industries. The San Francisco-based company is creating infrastructure and tools "that all robotics companies require but are not core to their product or value creation," the company said in a news release. "By using Freedom Robotics, companies of all sizes can take their robotics products to market 10X faster with half of the team and resources as compared to full-stack in-house development." The company closed a $6.6 million seed round in July from backers including Toyota AI Ventures. Freedom Robotics says it is developing both cloud and on-device software for agriculture, factories and warehouses, restaurants, last-mile delivery and other segments.
CEO: Rick Faulk
Locus Robotics is another up-and-coming player in the realm of autonomous robotics offerings for warehouses. Locus offers a multi-bot picking system that safely works alongside human workers, allowing gains in worker productivity leading to faster order fulfillment, according to the company. Earlier this year, Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus Robotics announced raising a $26 million Series C round from investors including Zebra Ventures. The funding is going toward scaling production of the Locus robotic system and toward the expansion of sales and marketing activities. Locus has raised $66 million since its founding in 2014.
CEO: Tim Enwall
In October, Misty Robotics made its Misty II robot generally available to software developers, researchers and educators. "Developers are actively building skills (robot applications) for a variety of use cases including eldercare, inventory data collection, home property inspection, environmental monitoring, autism therapy, and personal engagement," Misty Robotics said in a news release. The company says it is providing tools, documentation and APIs to developers with the aim of "accelerating the use of robots in businesses, homes, research, and education." Boulder, Colo.-based Misty Robotics spun out of educational technology robotics maker Sphero.
CEO: Peter Howard
Realtime Robotics is developing new responsive motion planning technologies for industrial robots, along with autonomous vehicles. In October, the Boston-based company announced a $11.7 million Series A round led by Sparx Asset Management and including other investors such as Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Hyundai Motor Company and Toyota AI Ventures. Realtime Robotics says its technologies enable robots to safely navigate in unstructured and changing environments. The company's "specialized computer processor and software enable machines, including industrial and collaborative robots and autonomous vehicles, to evaluate millions of alternative motion paths to avoid a collision and choose the optimal route before making a move, all in milliseconds," Realtime Robotics said in a news release. The company—which released its initial commercial solutions earlier this year—is targeting automation in segments including industrial, agriculture, food service, construction and health care.
Founders: Leif Jentoft, Yaro Tenzer and Lael Odhner
RightHand Robotics is a developer of robotic piece-picking solutions for e-commerce order fulfillment and logistics, with the aim of offering improved efficiency and performance. The company's robotic offerings—which provide advances in both hardware and software—enable picking and placing of individual items, and can work collaboratively with human workers as well as with existing systems (either manual or automated). Earlier this year, RightHand Robotics unveiled its next-generation offering, RightPick2. The platform includes AI-enabled vision and motion control software with deep learning—along with adding hardware upgrades such as a next-gen intelligent gripper, collaborative robot arms from Universal Robots and the Intel RealSense Depth Camera D415. RightHand Robotics was founded in 2014 and is based in Somerville, Mass.
CEO: Brad Bogolea
San Francisco-based Simbe Robotics is the maker of Tally, a fully autonomous robot for providing retail store inventories. Tally has been deployed at more than a dozen international retailers since its launch in 2014, including this year at sporting goods retailer Decathlon. Tally captures and analyzes the quantity and location of store inventory using RFID and computer-vision technology. Along with offering precise inventory audits, Tally provides alerts when items are out of stock or when there is low inventory, as well as details about misplaced products and visual audits of inventory layout. In September, Simbe Robotics raised a $26 million Series A funding round led by Venrock.
CEO: Carl Vause
Soft Robotics specializes in designing robotics that mimic the human hand for grasping and manipulating items. Key use cases have included bin picking and sorting for industries such as e-commerce, retail and grocery. Earlier this year, Bedford, Mass.-based Soft Robotics launched its first on-demand modular automation system, the mGrip. The system aims to accelerate the spread of soft robotics, allowing users to quickly create their own production-ready systems. In October, Soft Robotics unveiled its new coDrive offering, which brings the mGrip technology to collaborative robots without the need for tethered pressurized air. The modular system "allows mGrip to be deployed where the customer needs it, untethering the system for a variety of collaborative robotic applications such as pick and place, packaging, and machine tending," the company said in a news release.