One of the big fears around automation is the impact it will have on jobs, with Forrester recently predicting that 10 percent of U.S. jobs will be lost to automation in 2019. However, a common counter argument is that this very same automation leads to new job creation. Another common counter argument is that automation helps relieve humans from mind-numbingly tedious jobs, thereby allowing them to focus their efforts elsewhere.
And this is where Canadian company Robotiq centers its sales pitch, saying that it “frees human hands from repetitive tasks.”
Founded in 2008 as a spin-out from Canada’s Laval University, Quebec-based Robotiq makes equipment that carries out tasks that typically require the dexterous ability of human hands, such as “grippers” which can be used to pick up and place components or products on an assembly line, while it also makes sensors, camera technology, and the software that binds everything together.
The technology is pitched as “collaborative robotics,” given that it works in tandem with people to take on tasks that may be hazardous to humans, or can fill in where there may be a labor shortage.
The company counts partnerships with distributors in 48 markets, with products sold to customers across manufacturing, electronics, aerospace, automotive, and more.
Today, Robotiq announced its first institutional funding — a CAD$31 million (USD$23 million) raise from Boston-based venture capital (VC) firm Battery Ventures. It said it will use the money to boost its product development efforts and grow its company globally. As part of its investment, Battery Ventures partner Jesse Feldman will also join Robotiq’s board.
“We have been tracking Robotiq and its experienced team for several years and are extremely impressed with the business the founders have built,” Feldman said. “Robotiq’s next-generation products are improving efficiencies at companies all over the globe and, more broadly, provide a glimpse of how new, interconnected technologies including robots, sensors and software are driving a new kind of industrial revolution with huge ramifications for the global economy and workforce.
Rise of the machines
There has been a big uptick in startups developing automated robotics technology, particularly in the retail and manufacturing realm. French startup Exotec develops an autonomous Skypod system which uses mobile robots that can move in three dimensions., while U.K. supermarket giant Ocado has showcased picking and packing robots that use computer vision to figure out the best way to grasp a product.
Elsewhere, California-based InVia Robotics offers ecommerce warehouses a subscription-based robotics service which negates the need for a huge up-front investment from retailers.
Digging down into the nitty gritty of automation technology reveals that sometimes you have purely software-based approaches that may involve artificial intelligence (AI), while other times hardware plays a pivotal part in the form of robotics. While artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics often go hand-in-hand, they are ultimately different things. Sure, there are artificially intelligent robots, but often they are just pre-programmed to carry out a set of tasks autonomously, without having to adapt their behavior or “learn” on the job. It’s more about supplementing human endeavor.
“Collaborative robotics is transforming industries today, offering low-cost, easy-to-deploy solutions that stand in stark contrast to the more-complicated, legacy robotics systems of the past,” added Robotiq cofounder and CEO Samuel Bouchard. “What is amazing about these systems is how they work side-by-side with humans to improve quality, increase efficiency and minimize worker injuries.”