Kleiner Perkins and Tiger Global have led a $36.7 million funding round for Rapid Robotics Inc., a startup developing artificial intelligence-powered robots aimed at the industrial sector.
San Francisco-based Rapid Robotics announced the funding this morning. The startup says its technology is aimed at making it easier for manufacturers to introduce automation into their operations. That’s the same goal Google LLC parent Alphabet Inc. is pursuing through its newly formed robotics software venture, Intrinsic, which launched last month.
Rapid Robotics’ $36.7 million funding round is the third for the startup in less than a year. It previously closed a $12 million investment in April and, earlier, raised $5.5 million last November. Several of the investors that backed those previous rounds, including NEA, Greycroft, Bee Partners and 468 Capital, also participated in Rapid Robotics’ latest capital raise.
Founded in 2019, Rapid Robotics has developed an AI-powered robotic arm called the Rapid Machine Operator that it says can perform 80% of the tasks done on a typical factory floor. That includes welding, printing, moving items between production lines and more. The Rapid Machine Operator is equipped with AI software that the startup says allows it to perform many tasks more cost-efficiently than other robots.
Setting up a newly purchased robot in a factory can take weeks or months and, as a result, the initial deployment process represents a major expense for manufacturers. A big portion of the time spent setting up robots goes towards programming them. For every task that a robot will perform on the factory floor, the factory’s operator must write significant amounts of software code to manage how the task will be carried out.
Rapid Robotics says its Rapid Machine Operator doesn’t require any manual programming and is consequently simpler to set up. The system comes with dozens of pre-programmed workflows for carrying out common manufacturing tasks.
Rapid Robotics also provides AI software that automates some of the other chores often involved in the initial robot setup process. The result, the startup says, is that the Rapid Machine Operator can be deployed in hours rather than the weeks normally required for other systems.
Rapid Robotics uses AI for another task besides speeding up hardware deployment: motion planning. That’s the process of finding the most efficient way for an industrial robot to carry out a given task.
A manufacturing task, such as welding together two pieces of metal, is often not one operation but rather an entire series of actions. There are thousands of potential ways to carry out each action. To maximize efficiency, a robot must analyze all the possible ways it could go about welding the two pieces of metal and find the fastest approach. It also must carry out the operation in a way that ensures its arm won’t collide with nearby objects, such as other robots operating on the same production line.
According to Rapid Robotics, it has developed AI software that automates motion planning tasks. In scenarios where a company operates multiple Rapid Machine Operators in the same factory, the startup’s machine learning algorithms also help ensure that all the robots operate consistently. The startup says its AI facilitates an up to 15% improvement in production quality while reducing downtime.
Manufacturers can monitor their Rapid Machine Operators for issues via a cloud-based dashboard. The dashboard doubles as an administrative console for managing the automation tasks the systems perform.
Rapid Robotics provides its robots through a subscription that allows customers to spread out hardware costs over time instead of paying for everything upfront. The startup says that the subscription pricing, coupled with the fact that the Rapid Machine Operator is relatively simple to set up, makes the robot more accessible than traditional factory automation gear.
Rapid Robotics’ value proposition is that lowering the entry barrier to factory robotics will enable manufacturers to automate more parts of their operations. That, the startup says, will translate into lower costs and more reliable production.
Making robotics more accessible to help manufacturers improve the capacity and cost-efficiency of their production lines is also the focus of Intrinsic, Alphabet’s newly launched robotics software unit.
Intrinsic started out as a research project at Alphabet’s X lab five and a half years ago. Last month, it spun out into a standalone venture. The unit is building AI software to reduce the cost and complexity of programming industrial robots to perform specific manufacturing tasks.
By simplifying programming, the search giant hopes to make it practical for manufacturers to automate more parts of their operations. In one recently detailed project, Intrinsic successfully used its AI software to reduce the amount of time required to train a robot from hundreds of hours to just two.
Photo: Rapid Robotics
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