The 10 Coolest Robotics Startups Of 2019 (So Far)

Makers of groundbreaking robots for manufacturing, warehousing and retail are featured on our list of notable robotics startups.

Rise Of The Robots

The robots have arrived, although they're mostly staying out the public eye (for now). The biggest deployments by startups of autonomous robots thus far have been in warehouses and manufacturing facilities, where it's becoming increasingly common for robots and human workers to be collaborating side by side. Research firm IDC expects that global spending on robotics systems and drones will reach $210.3 billion in 2022, up from an expected $115.7 billion in 2019. Discrete manufacturing will account for roughly half of the robotics spending this year, followed by process manufacturing, resource industries, health care and consumers, according to IDC.

Startups that are developing cutting-edge robots have seen major traction in 2019 so far, with a number of product launches, partnerships and funding rounds announced in the first half of the year. What follows are CRN's picks for the coolest robotics startups of 2019 so far.

6 River Systems

CEO: Jerome Dubois and Rylan Hamilton

6 River Systems' collaborative warehouse robot, "Chuck," leads warehouse pickers through each step of the process while also offering a large capacity for fulfilling orders. Chuck allows warehouses to onboard employees more quickly along with fulfilling a greater number of orders with fewer robots. The Waltham, Mass.-based startup was founded in 2015 by former executives of warehouse robotics maker Kiva Systems, which was acquired by Amazon for $775 million. In April, 6 River Systems announced its new Mobile Sort solution--which combines Chuck robots with mobile sort stations and machine-learning-enhanced cloud software to more intelligently generate and fulfill orders.

Bright Machines

CEO: Amar Hanspal

While not a hardware company, Bright Machines is seeking to improve manufacturing with a software-defined approach to robotics. The San Francisco-based company, which launched just over a year ago, in June introduced a solution that it's calling Bright Machines Microfactories. The solution is a combination of software, machine learning and computer vision technologies--paired with robotics--that aim to automate the formerly highly manual processes of product assembly and inspection. Key components of the solution 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 a $179 million fundraise last fall by Bright Machines, whose CEO Amar Hanspal was formerly the co-CEO of Autodesk.

Fetch Robotics

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. Founded in 2014, the company has raised $48 million from investors including Softbank. In January, the company announced a partnership with Ryder System Inc., a provider of commercial fleet management as well as transportation and supply chain solutions. The partnership is bringing Fetch Robotics systems to Ryder warehouses to perform tasks such as locating and tracking RFID tags on products.

IAM Robotics

CEO: Joel Reed

IAM Robotics is the maker of Swift, an autonomous mobile picking robot focused on e-commerce and warehousing operations. Swift aims to alleviate worker shortages and reduce logistics costs, and in April, IAM unveiled a new design for the Swift robot. The new design includes the integration of a conveyor and pairs Swift with a transport robot to assist with exchanging full or empty totes. Founded in 2012 by alums of Carnegie Mellon's National Robotics Engineering Center, Pittsburgh-based IAM Robotics has raised $20 million from KCK Ltd.

Kassow Robots

CEO: Kristian Kassow

Denmark-based Kassow Robots is the producer of "cobots"—collaborative robots—that are targeted at being safe for use in industrial settings. Cobots enable customers to achieve complex automation without the need for a robotics specialist on staff, according to the company. After expanding its European partner network, Kassow announced in June that Norwood, Mass.-based Gibson Engineering will serve as the company's first North American partner in the Kassow partner network. The partnership will help to lay the groundwork for Kassow entering the U.S. and Canadian markets in early 2020, the company said. Kassow Robots was founded in 2014 by CEO Kristian Kassow, who formerly co-founded collaborative robotics pioneer Universal Robots.


CEO: Felipe Chávez

Kiwibot offers what it calls a "live robotic system," which consists of a small wheeled delivery robot that is partly autonomous, but has humans monitoring it remotely. The robots feature a number of technological advances such as "Smart Brake" and "Street Crossing Mode" that allow it to safely co-exist with pedestrians and vehicles, according to the company. Kiwibots are initially being used for food delivery on college campuses. UC Berkeley, where the startup launched, has been the largest deployment. But earlier this year, Kiwibot expanded to a dozen additional campuses, including Stanford, Harvard and NYU.

Locus Robotics

CEO: Rick Faulk

Locus Robotics is another up-and-coming player in the realm of autonomous robotics solutions for warehouses. Locus offers a multi-bot picking system that safely work alongside human workers, allowing gains in worker productivity leading to faster order fulfillment, according to the company. In April, Wilmington, Mass.-based Locus Robotics announced raising a $26 million Series C round from investors including Zebra Ventures, which is Zebra Technologies' investment arm. The funding is going toward scaling production of the Locus robotic system and toward the expansion of sales and marketing activities. Locus has now raised $66 million since its founding in 2014.

RightHand Robotics

Founders: Leif Jentoft and Yaro Tenzer

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 platform, which offers advances in both hardware and software, are capable of picking and placing individual items, and can work collaboratively with human workers as well as with existing systems (either manual or automated). In April, RightHand Robotics announced its next-generation solution, RightPick2. The new platform includes AI-enabled vision and motion control software with deep learning, as well as adding hardware upgrades such as a next-gen intelligent gripper, new collaborative robot arms from Universal Robots and the Intel RealSense Depth Camera D415. RightHand Robotics was founded in 2014 and is headquartered in Somerville, Mass.

Simbe Robotics

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 11 international retailers since its launch in 2015, most recently at sporting goods retailer Decathlon. Tally is capturing and analyzing 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.

Soft Robotics

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. In January, Bedford, Mass.-based Soft Robotics launched its first on-demand modular automation system, the mGrip. The solution aims to "enable the rapid proliferation of soft robotics," the company said, allowing users to quickly create their own production-ready systems. The mGrip key includes the necessary components for building tools "with limitless configurations and spacing options, solving even the most impossible picking challenges," Soft Robotics said in a news release.