Did you know there is a prison for polar bears in Canada? Neither did we. We’ve become particularly fascinated by the world’s second largest country by area and first in consumption of mac and cheese (referred to as Kraft Dinner by the locals). After all, what’s not to like from a country that basically bans random drug tests and keeps a strategic supply of maple syrup in reserve? Our curiosity rose exponentially following our very popular article on 9 Canadian AI startups earlier this month. Our research team went to work to find a new angle, and after rejecting the top 6 tech startups for extracting maple syrup, we settled on 6 Canadian robotics startups show why Canadians are so smart.
Robotics isn’t quite as hot as artificial intelligence, where Canada has led the way academically though not commercially. We’re certainly not seeing the sort of money poured into this sector as we are with AI, particularly with this year’s mega-round deal to Element AI. Clearpath Robotics out of Waterloo is probably one of the most well known and funded of Canadian robotics startups, grabbing $30 million last year in a Series B round that included companies like Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT) and General Electric (NYSE:GE). The Canadian robotics startup builds all types of autonomous machines, covering land, sea and air, for what it calls the world’s dullest, dirtiest and deadliest jobs. The Canadian robotics startups below aren’t as diversified but highlight a range of industries where Canuck companies are working to lead the way in drones, machine learning and cloud computing for robots.
On the Lookout
Fellow Waterloo robotics startup Aeryon Labs has been around for a decade, and its suite of drone hardware and software certainly shows maturity. The company scored its first major funding round back in 2015 for about $46 million. Its small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS) serve military, public safety and energy customers. At the heart of the system is the Aeryon SkyRanger that you can load down with all sorts of accessories, like a high-res camera with target tracker capability that locks onto bad guys running from a scene.
In addition to the sexier stuff like covert military operations, Aeryon Labs also markets its uSAS to the energy sector for monitoring and inspecting infrastructure, something we recently covered in-depth. In one case, the SkyRanger improved visual inspections of power lines by more than 1,000 percent. One 50-minute flight could do the same number of inspections as a bucket truck and a couple of guys in white hard hats could do in a day. Talk about working smarter by flying higher.
The primary mission of SkyX Systems will also sound familiar if you read our recent article about drones and infrastructure monitoring. A Canadian robotics startup out of Markham, Ontario, SkyX has raised somewhere between $4 million and $5 million (we’ve seen conflicting reports) from a conglomerate in Shenzhen, China, focused on science and technology. SkyX has developed a hybrid drone that looks sleeker and more sophisticated than the endless swarm of quadcopters being churned out. Check out the drone, SkyOne, in the video below:
Currently, SkyOne is being marketed to the oil and gas sector, particularly for monitoring pipelines. Its ability to shift from quadcopter to forward, fixed-wing mode makes it particularly suitable for long-duration flights. The system can run autonomously, with remote charging stations available on site to keep the whole shibang operating continuously. SkyOne can carry different sorts of sensors depending on the job, and can fly night missions as well. The startup hopes to service other industries in the future, including transportation (rail lines) and utilities (electrical grids).
School is Now in Session
The philosophy behind Canadian robotics startup Kindred.ai is that humans have plenty to teach machines. Founded in 2014, Kindred has been bankrolled for $15 million by the likes of Google and AME Ventures, which is led by one of the co-founders of Yahoo!. Some members of the leadership team come from D-Wave Systems, one of the first quantum computer startups and a company we’ve been following for the last couple of years. Add board members like Peter Diamandis, founder of the X Prize Foundation and co-founder of Singularity University, and Yoshua Bengio, a Canadian legend in the AI field, and you have the potential stuff of a great company.
With that sort of pedigree, one could only imagine what Kindred’s 37 employees are actually doing. Robotic asteroid miners? Intelligent battle bots? They’re teaching robots to sort inventory in warehouses. At least that’s the first commercial application of their melding of AI, robotics and human ingenuity. As MIT Technology Review explained, people using VR hardware help train robotic systems—i.e., algorithms using an AI technique called reinforcement learning—to move with human nuance or ingenuity. One would expect the company will quickly move beyond commerce into something more mind-blowing like robotic surgery or Dancing with the Stars.
Get Your Head in the Cloud
Canadian robotics startup C2RO reminds us of a company we introduced you to earlier this year called CloudMinds—but without the big bucks of mega-tech investor Softbank behind it. In fact, all we could find was a Seed round of about $381,000. Still, the concept seems similar: Move the brains of a robotic system from the machine to the cloud, which is a fancy way of saying most of the computing and thinking is done remotely. The Montreal-based startup offers three types of cloud-based services: robotic vision, multi-robot collaboration, and sensor data analysis. You can see an example of its robot vision recognition software in action below:
The platform is currently in beta testing. Co-founder Soodeh Farokhi said in a recent interview that the goal of her company is to “help robots perceive their world better and become more autonomous”. Which should be the role of any good parent or parole officer.
Offering a Helping Hand
Kinova out of Quebec is one of those companies that even makes our heartless MBAs shed a tear. No details on the funding scheme for this Canadian robotics startup, but Kinova was founded in 2006 by a couple of budding engineers with very French-sounding names. One of co-founder Charles Deguire’s uncles, Jaco, was confined to a wheelchair with muscular dystrophy. The inventive Jaco had designed a robotic arm out of a “hot dog pincher, some microswitches, and some complex electronics,” according to a story in TechCrunch. That led to the development of JACO, an assistive six-axis robotic manipulator arm with a three-fingered hand. Below you can watch the arm in action, controlled through a brain-computer interface.
The success of the original design led the company to split into two units in 2015—Assistive Robotics and Service Robotics. The latter division offers a range of robotic arms for industry, research and the medical field.
Welded to New Technology
Vancouver-based Novarc Technologies, founded in 2013, has reputedly developed the world’s first robotic welder. It took in $1 million in Seed funding earlier this year, led by a Canadian marine transportation firm that plans to use the technology as its shipyards. Don’t worry: No one is losing a job to a robot. In this case, the Spool Wielding Robot is filling a labor shortage. The company says its semi-autonomous robotic welder increases production by a minimum of 30 percent. Does this mean we can get rid of shop class in the next round of school budget cuts?
This is but a brief introduction to the Canadian robotics startups landscape. For the retail investor, this gives you additional insight into where this rapidly evolving field is heading outside of the good ole United States. If this has whet your appetite for putting hard cash into a robotics company or fund, read our story about how to invest in robotics stocks.
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