We’re starting to see a strong uptick in interest from investors about robots as a potentially lucrative investment theme. While we’ve provided you with plenty of information about how to invest in robots and robotics, there are some really cool robots being developed that may not be “the next Microsoft“, but are a good indication of what’s possible. ElliQ is reminding your mom to take her blood pressure medicine, and Buddy is waking up your seven-year-old for school. Robotics are taking over the mundane (and not so mundane) tasks of modern life, and looking ridiculously good while doing it. The following seven cool robots are giving us a different look at what technology is capable of, as well as a preview of where robotics may be headed.
AGILITY ROBOTICS – CASSIE
Founded in 2015, Albany, Oregon startup Agility Robotics has successfully developed the efficient, graceful, and yes, agile bipedaling robot, Cassie. Cassie resembles, and moves like, the lower half of an ambulatory ostrich, with flexible hips and powered ankles that have enabled its evolution beyond the heavy, flat-footed humanoid robots of the past. Seeing Cassie in action is very visually satisfying– Agility’s promo video shows us Cassie balancing smoothly on an unstable floating dock, bending and flexing smoothly with very human-like hip swinging. The actual applications of Cassie? Agility is thinking about search-and-rescue missions, but feels like package delivery is probably the most likely introductory task for the robot, especially given its ability to navigate rough terrain. (Cassie is also emotionally tough–watch this video to see her endure some abuse from one of Agility’s co-founders.) It’s only a matter of time before someone decides to use them to
wage war spread freedom. Humans (rolls eyes).
INTUITION ROBOTICS – ELLIQ
Founded in 2015, Tel Aviv startup Intuition Robotics has taken in $7 million in funding to develop AI-driven robots with a positive social impact, including care for the elderly. Intuition recently announced that they were ready to move into the Bay Area to introduce ElliQ, an “autonomous active aging companion,” to San Francisco’s senior citizens. ElliQ is a robot/tablet combo aimed at keeping aging adults connected to the outside world by providing two main services: keeping people in contact with their families, and acting as a stand-in companion when they’re not available. The robot delivers many of the prompts that can drive a wedge in family dynamics (like prompting… and reprompting… to take medication), and makes tablet communication simpler and more accessible to adults who are less tech savvy. ElliQ’s standout quality is her emotive movements–the faceless, geometric desktop-robot is strangely animated in her gesturing, making companionship less of stretch than it would seem. You can join the waitlist for ElliQ at Intuition Robotics’ Website.
COBALT ROBOTICS – SECURITY GUARD
Founded in 2016, Palo Alto-based startup Cobalt Robotics is working on robotic security guards, providing better security than mere humans can provide alone. Their newest line of indoor security guards are built to be the perfect human sidekick, with mics and a two-way video chat screen that allows human security guards to remotely interact with anyone within the robot’s vicinity. Cobalt’s security guards are considerably less humanoid than their actual-human counterparts, looking more like four-and-a-half-foot gliding chess pieces with a tablet interface, but Cobalt is confident that this won’t detract from the respect and authority the robots need to command to make their spaces safer. For the most part, the robot half of the security guard team is there to pay hyper attention to any abnormalities in the area, like the sounds of breaking glass, or the presence of people in off-limit areas. Cobalt plans to pitch their security robots to hospitals, museums, offices and schools, with a dozen robots already in circulation in the corporate world this quarter. As a plus, Cobalt has done their best to program their security robots with an aura of “friendliness”… looks like we know who the “good cop” is.
SHADECRAFT – SUNFLOWER
Founded in 2016, Californian startup ShadeCraft has taken in $2 million to develop robotic technology that improves outdoor living. ShadeCraft’s latest product is quite the multitasking device. According to the promo material, the Sunflower is a solar-paneled (and solar-powered) umbrella that yes, provides shade, but also acts as a light source, a security camera, a charging station, and hooks you into the internet of things. The smartshade app helps you control light levels and sun protection, as well as helping you monitor the outdoor temp and air quality, as well as how much solar power it’s generating for you. The app also gives you access to the Sunflower as a security camera, which doubles as a selfie facilitator (you know, a normal camera). The robotic sun umbrella is a less-obvious, but undoubtedly sleek use of artificial intelligence (yes, it supposedly uses AI to track the sun but how hard can that be?) and home comfort.
BLUE FROG ROBOTICS – BUDDY
Founded in 2014, Paris-based startup Blue Frog Robotics has raised $659,700 to build Buddy, a new robotic relationship experience. Affectionately, though long-windedly, dubbed “The Companion Robot Accessible to Everyone”, Buddy is a social robot that connects, protects, and interacts with families. Buddy has gotten a considerable amount of press after Blue Frog drummed up some crowdfunding hype on IndieGoGo, where it raised the majority of its capital. Buddy is an open-source technology platform, inviting other developers to build additional applications to the robot’s built in capabilities: calendar reminders, security alerts, video chats, and entertainment through games and stories. Blue Frog went all-out on the cuteness factor of Buddy’s tablet-like face, designing the robot with huge, anime-like eyes, and a mouth and eyebrows that Buddy frequently uses to emote while he patrols the house on a diminutive, wheeled base. The pre-order for the first round of Buddy robots is currently closed, but customers can sign up for notifications and updates on Buddy’s availability.
4MOMS – SELF-INSTALLING CAR SEAT
Founded in 2005, Pittsburgh-based startup 4moms has raised $60 million to develop robotics technology-based products catering toward the needs of children and their caretakers. 4moms focuses on the real, everyday needs of parents, with each product developed to solve a need, and relieve the stress of keeping progeny alive. One of their newest releases is a self-installing car seat that automatically adjust leveling and belt tension. The stress and frustration of car seat installation is likely completely lost on the kid-less crowd, but for parents, this first world problem is very, very real. Securing an infant in a vehicle is a pretty high-stakes endeavor, and it’s hard to ever know if you’re doing it right. The 4moms car seat screen gives you definitive confirmation that your baby is safe and secure, controlled by the 4moms mobile app. (If you’re a parent and you totally get this, check out these other startups geared toward making parenting more manageable.)
POTBOTICS – POTBOT VIRTUAL BUDTENDER
Founded in 2013, Palo Alto startup Potbotics has taken in $2.3 million to enable the pot industry to look, feel, and actually be smarter. Remember how cool your dealer used to be? He’d roll up to your house, beeper buzzing on his belt buckle, with a fresh bag of weed in hand and a giant wad of cash in the pocket of his calf leather jacket? Well, the new dealer in town is a straight-up professional. The PotBot is a virtual budtender that uses artificial intelligence (the new electricity apparently) to recommend the best cannabis for your condition, and even tells you the nearest place you can get it. This is real. PotBot is available at dedicated kiosks, and through a mobile and desktop app, taking the guesswork out of medicinal marijuana use… though you might miss the gold teeth.
2016 was the best year so far for robotic startups, with investors dishing out $1.95 billion to 128 hopefuls developing cool robots that can do anything from feed your pets to craft the perfect cocktail. All jokes about the singularity aside, robots haven’t taken over the industry, but they’re moving into the corners and desktops of more and more households and businesses every year.
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