Robust.AI, the company pioneering an industrial grade cognitive engine for robots, announced today the close of a $15 million Series A investment round, taking the company’s total funding to-date to $22.5 million. JAZZ Venture Partners led the Series A round and was joined by previous investors Playground Global, Liquid2, Fontinalis, Jaan Tallin and Mark Leslie. Angel investors include Esther Dyson, Steve Blank and Tim O’Reilly.
Changing The Way That Robots Think
The company is attempting to change the way that robots think, and they intend to develop a general purpose cognitive engine that can function across a variety of industrial use cases. The system leverages artificial intelligence (AI) to solve the cognitive problems that are faced by robotic systems. The use cases for these robotics solutions include collaborating with humans to safely operate outside of the classic safety fences.
When robots operate outside of highly predictable environments, the system must be able to fuse the inputs from any number (and variety) of sensors that collect information about the work environment. The classic use cases for industrial robots allowed for programming of the systems leveraging single sensors and highly repetitive operations.
Cobots Must Operate Safely Around Humans
The evolution of the class of robotics known as “Collaborative Robotics” (cobots) includes collaborative robotic arms (manipulators that work safely in the same space as humans) and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs). These machines all operate outside of safety fencing and interact with humans and other elements of their work environment. As a result, cobots must be able to identify the presence of humans in their work envelope and be able to adjust their work parameters (i.e. slow down or stop) if a human is in the motion path of the mechanism or the AMR.
The other attribute of cobots is that they often operate in work flows that are open-ended. This means that the outcome might be predictable, but the path taken to achieve the desired outcome has any number of solutions. For an AMR, this may mean that the vehicle has to pick up material at point A and deliver it to point B, but how the AMR moves from point A to point B is left to the AMR to determine. When these machines operate in a public space, like a grocery store or a mall, safety becomes paramount.
A New Operating System War
Today, robotics vendors are developing proprietary operating systems and applications to solve these problems. There are a number of companies attempting to develop a standard operating system solutions, reminiscent of the Microsoft/Linux/Unix/Apple PC operating system wares of the 1990’s. The maturity of machine learning, deep learning and other AI-based methods further complicates the development process towards the creation of a common solution to the needs of all cobot-like robotic systems.
Robust.AI Has Built A Strong Leadership Team
Robust.AI was founded by a team of serial entrepreneurs and leaders in robotics and artificial intelligence:
- CEO Gary Marcus, Ph.D., previously CEO/co-founder of Geometric Intelligence, which was acquired by Uber. He is also the bestselling author of five books including Rebooting AI: Building Artificial Intelligence We Can Trust, and is professor emeritus of psychology and neural science at NYU
- CTO Rodney Brooks, Ph.D., previously co-founder of iRobot and Rethink Robotics, co-inventor of Roomba, the best-selling consumer robot of all time, and former director of the MIT Computer Science and AI lab (CSAIL)
- Chief Science Officer Mohamed Amer, Ph.D., former Senior Technical Manager at the Center for Vision Technologies, SRI International where he led AI and ML projects in machine common sense, communicating with computers, and explainable artificial intelligence.
- COO Anthony Jules, former CTO of Formant.io, an intelligence platform for robot fleets, Senior Product Manager at GoogleX, and COO & VP of Product at Redwood Robotics (acquired by Google)
- Co-Founder Henrik Christensen is the Qualcomm Chancellor’s Chair of Robot Systems and a Professor of Computer Science at UCSD. He is the Director of UCSD’s Contextual Robotics Institute and is also Co-Founder of ROBO-Global ETF with $3.5B in investments in robotics
The team’s extensive experience in robotics and AI has led them to build a solution that could transform the nascent robotics industry into a more robust ecosystem of solutions. Robust.AI is pioneering a powerful software stack for building and rapidly deploying semantically aware robots that will widen the variety of tasks they can do. This will help companies launch more robust robots faster, with more layers of safety, in the real world, across a wide range of industries.
“The deep-learning, heavy AI approach that many favor today often fails in the real world; in dynamic environments that change rapidly, current-generation robots can easily get confused, which is why we are still a long way from Rosie the Robot ,” said co-founder and CEO Gary Marcus, who announced the funding while speaking at today’s WSJ Pro Artificial Intelligence Executive Forum. “At Robust, we want to grow the entire robotics industry, by overhauling the software stack for robotics, injecting cognition and common sense into the pipeline, allowing robots to operate in complex environments that were previously out of reach.
“Finding market fit is as important in robots and AI systems as any other product,” said co-founder and CTO Rodney Brooks. “We are building something we believe most robotics companies will find irresistible, taking solutions from single-purpose tools that today function in defined environments, to highly useful systems that can work within our world and all its intricacies.”
“The remarkable advancements in robotics hardware will be further advanced with our software.,” said Anthony Jules, co-founder and COO. “ Through deep partnerships with industry leaders, Robust.AI will build a transformative business where robots will work more successfully in more applications than ever before.”
John Spinale, Managing Partner at JAZZ Venture Partners will join Robust.AI’s board of directors. “It’s refreshing to be working with such a stellar team who are taking a first principles approach to solving the key obstacles to automation and scalability in some of our most important industries,” said Spinale.
“As an investor with a focus on deep technology, I firmly believe in building toward a future where robots can think and reason autonomously in dynamic and unstructured environments,” said Peter Barrett, partner at Playground Global. “There is no better team in the world to solve this challenging problem than the one assembled by Robust.AI.”
Founded in 2019 by leading scientists and technologists Gary Marcus, Rodney Brooks, Mohamed Amer, Anthony Jules and Henrik Christiansen, Robust.AI is building the world’s first industrial grade cognitive engine for robots. Visit Robust.AI for more information.