Welcome to the Robot Remix Bulletin, where we share a summary of the week's need-to-know robotics and automation news.
In today's email -
- Robot footballers at DeepMind
- How can robot start-ups survive the recession?
- Hyundai's $5B investment fund
- Surgical kirigami
The Big Idea
We're heading for recession, how will robotics fare?
Pundits are predicting a recession. This isn't great for anyone but it's particularly bad for start-ups. How will early-stage robotics companies fare?
2021 was a record year for start-up investment. Valuations hit new records and VCs dropped £620 billion globally, doubling 2020’s investments. Unfortunately, 2022 has not followed this trend with tech stocks taking a battering and venture investment down. Tech Twitter is currently in panic mode, FOMO has turned to fear and as money dries up founders are finding it harder to raise investment. A leaked letter from Y-combinator to its investees hammers home the situation -
“No one can predict how bad the economy will get, but things don’t look good.”
“If your plan is to raise money in the next 6-12 months, you might be raising at the peak of the downturn. Remember that your chances of success are extremely low even if your company is doing well. We recommend you change your plan.”
What does this mean for robotics companies?
Founders of robotics companies should heed the same advice being passed on to other founders -
- Cut unnecessary spending,
- Find new sources of funding
- Take care of cash flow and accelerate plans for profitability
The goal is to de-risk activities and weather the next 24 months, as per YC, simply surviving the downturn can put companies on top -
“Remember that many of your competitors will not plan well, maintain high burn, and only figure out they are screwed when they try to raise their next round. You can often pick up significant market share in an economic downturn by just staying alive.”
The good news is that robotics companies might not be in for as tough a ride. Investment in robotics companies nearly tripled from 2020 to 2021 and 2022 hasn't seen as much of a dip as other industries. There are 3 reasons this trend may continue -
1) Luxuries vs Necessities
During a downturn, the first companies to fail are those seen as discretionary. Products that are wants and not needs are the last to be bought and the last to receive investment. Luckily for robotics companies, COVID’s labour shortages and supply chain impacts have emphasised that automation is often a necessity if companies want to remain competitive.
2) Prevailing Technology Trends
Attitudes to robotics are also improving as fundamental technologies become cheaper and more capable. Improvements in hardware and software are reducing the barriers to entry for founders and encouraging customer demand, making the robotics industry an easier space to see success.
3) Robot Focused Funds
Historically, investors have been put off by hardware and ‘risky’ deep-tech start-up but this attitude is changing. Several funds have been announced in the last month specialising in robotics, including the Amazon Industrial Fund ($1 Billion), Hyundai ($5 Billion), Cybernetix Ventures ($50M). Hopefully, there will be enough cash to go around!
Custom paint jobs - ABB has released a robot cell designed to automate the personalised painting of cars. This system includes an inkjet printing head with 1,000 nozzles that is able to paint complex designs in multiple colours. Remix Robotics has a project underway to do something very similar… watch this space!
Dyson reveals secret robot group - The company has invested heavily into applying robotics across the home from doing the dishes to tidying up toys. The department went public this week and is expanding with plans to hire 500 robot engineers.
Cloud computing - FogROS 2 has been released, offering an improved method of offloading robotic tasks to a remote server. Using cloud computing platforms like AWS reduces onboard control systems' weight and power requirements.
£££ for robotics start-ups - Hyundai has promised to invest $5 billion in the U.S. by 2025 to further develop mobility technologies in areas like autonomous driving, robotics, and A.I. Hyundai bought Boston Dynamics in 2021 for $1.1B and we can’t wait to see their robotics strategy develop.
Sick of self-driving cars - It's no secret Apple is developing an electric vehicle. Rumours are now circulating that it will be autonomous only and that Apple is worried robot cars will induce motion sickness in passengers. To counter these unpleasant side effects Apple has patented a VR system for cars.
DeepMind on Robotics
Last week we discussed the impact of Deepmind's new general algorithm on robotics. A reader sent us this podcast with a bit more info on their London robotics team!
The podcast explains how they're trying to solve the most challenging tasks in robotics using reinforcement learning and simulation. They are focused on tasks like key insertion, flexible object manipulation and… football.
True to form, DeepMind is using computer games to train its algorithms. Their two-legged AI is being trained to walk and manipulate objects in 3D space using a football simulator. The next step is creating robots that can outmatch footballers in real life. It’s a long way off but Messi may go the same way as Kasparov!
GIF of the week
Dr Tikfu Gee showing off his skills on the Da Vinci surgery bot.