We’re bringing robots to a factory near you. Before you call me crazy, I’m not talking about the Ex Machina or Terminator ones, but rather the mass wave of collaborative robots in industrial environments, such as manufacturing. Manufacturing drives anywhere from 10-30% of a country’s overall GDP and is currently undergoing a massive technological transformation.
Today Canaan led the Series B financing of READY Robotics, a software platform that enables anyone to easily and rapidly deploy automation to the factory floor (no technical training required). You can read more about the round here.
Robotic automation has been penetrating manufacturing for some time now, but it was largely focused on high-volume, low-mix environments. Said another way, factories producing a large amount of the same thing – over and over, without stopping. The hardware was expensive, and the software was difficult to program; the only facilities that could justify automation were multi-year lines that used robotics for static, high value production use cases. But that begs the question, what about other industries that didn’t have the exact use case that fit early robotics technology?
Largely driven by the high cost to implement automation, manufacturing largely decided to double down on leveraging human labor, as humans were the only solution for lower volume, higher mix, rapid refresh cycle manufacturing. But as the population grows and demands for better, faster, cheaper goods grows with it (thanks Amazon!), humans alone are not a sustainable solution to fulfill the long-term manufacturing needs. Demand for workers today vastly outpaces available supply. A report from The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte states that 4.6 million jobs will need to be filled over the next decade, but 2.4 million may be left open, and the National Association of Manufacturers states that a shortage of workers remains the top concern of the industry.
The solution is not to replace humans with robots, but rather upskill factory workers by empowering them with the ability to program and use robots to fulfill the increasing manufacturing demand.
Rapid advancements in robotic technology coupled with the growing population’s demand for better, faster, cheaper goods has led to the start of a new manufacturing paradigm. The price of robotic hardware has decreased substantially to the point where the cost of a robot arm is now cheaper than the annual salary of a human operator. In addition, advancements in computer vision and computation have enabled robotics to thrive in increasingly unstructured environments. Overall, this has drastically lowered the barrier to entry to automate, because manufacturers can now justify the ROI to leverage robotics in their high-mix, low-volume, fast refresh cycle facility.
The last remaining barrier to rapid robotic automation is implementing and programming the robot, which is where the READY Robotics platform comes in. Each robotic arm OEM has their own, proprietary programming language, resulting in the need for either specialized robotic engineers or expensive systems integrators. Imagine having to rewrite the drivers and code every time you plugged in a different mouse or keyboard into your computer? That’s the state of industrial robotics software today every time you want to use a different gripper and change the robotic task. In the case of a high-mix manufacturing environment where the product lines are rapidly changing every 6-12 months, easier robotic software programmability is the key catalyst that truly unlocks robotic automation.
READY Robotics is the first universal operating system that works across all brands of robot arms, enabling seamless cross compatibility and integration. Their software platform also provides an intuitive programming experience which enables the human workers to now build applications to program (and re-program) the robot to take over the dangerous, boring, and repetitive tasks, and they can now focus on building an agile, scalable manufacturing facility powered by READY Robotics (and their newfound programming skills).
At Canaan, we’re excited about the potential for READY Robotics to fundamentally expand the capabilities of global production, and are thrilled to partner with Ben, Kel and the rest of the team by leading their Series B financing. The rapidly changing world of commerce and consumer needs has put increasing pressure on the manual, human-led manufacturing and we are at a breaking point where robotics are necessary in order to fulfill the ever-increasing demand for goods.
The READY Robotics platform is the last missing key that will enable robotic automation for the masses, and we’re excited to bring robots to a factory near you.