Jibo, a social robot meant to compete with Amazon’s Alexa, was vocal amid its shut down. It told owners, “maybe someday when robots are way more advanced than today, and everyone has them in their homes, you can tell yours that I said hello.”
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Before shutting down its robots, the Boston company raised around $72.7 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Burning cash isn’t singular to this robot, however. Robotics startup Anki, which raised $200 million in funding over time, shut down in April. And as for Alexa competitor Aido, you probably haven’t heard of it, and that’s probably because it was kicked off Indiegogo and StartupEngine.
So it is clear that it is hard to be a robotics startup. And one was started to make it easier. Freedom Robotics launched out of stealth yesterday with $6.6 million in funding to help build the “AWS equivalent for robotics.” The San Francisco company offers a suite of tools and services so robotics companies can go to the market faster, as well as smarter.
The round was led by Initialized Capital. Other investors include Toyota AI Ventures, Liquid 2 Ventures, and Green Cow Venture Capital. Also, a slew of individuals participated in the round, including Andrew Miklas, Justin Kan, and Arianna Simpson.
According to CEO and co-founder Joshua Wilson, Freedom Robotics will help other startups succeed.
“This is like trying to create a new software startup and writing your own database from scratch as the first step, or starting an e-commerce brand and having to build your own shopping cart instead of using Shopify,” said Wilson. “We saw this countless times in other markets and companies taking this strategy this got burnt out just trying to get into the market. Then quickly were outpaced by competition. Then they ran out of money. It’s absolutely crazy.”
Him and his co-founders saw a status quo in robotics: “It takes months and sometimes years of work before a prototype can be in a customers hands.” Plus, he added, speed and execution seem to be the “determining factor for most companies that win.”
After interviewing over 50 robotics developers and founders, they decided to create infrastructure and tooling pieces to help other robotics companies succeed.
For example, if something goes wrong, non-technical team members can use Freedom Robotics code to get alerts about an issue. Similar to a black box on an airplane, the team can see a replay of what went wrong and then collaborate between operators, developers, and managers to get things fixed quickly.
From the technical side, Williams says operators can control a robot from afar. For example making a delivery robot get to safety. You can also use Freedom Robotics to see the health status of a fleet of thousands of robots, to help inform decisions around maintenance and service.
The company did declined to disclose information around customers, however it claims it is being used by robots across various industries including agriculture, restaurants, warehouse factories, and last mile delivery networks.
The thought is, Wilson tells me, that by lowering the barrier to entry there is “a more diverse pool of companies bringing robotics into the mainstream.” He would know how important that is. Before launching Freedom Robotics, he started a company that was meant to build robots. And even got “several term sheet offers.” Despite good traction, Wilson thought the fundamentals in robot creation might be the more pressing market.
So while Freedom Robotics might be a company too late to save Jibo, Anki, and Aido and the rest of the deceased, the thought here is that it could help future companies have an easier time not just kickstarting, but also staying alive.
Illustration Credit: Li-Anne Dias