Apptronik, a robotics company that aims to create a new generation of robots, has been given a boost in its quest, thanks to a new partnership with NASA.
Founded in 2016, Apptronik was affiliated with the Human Centered Robotics Laboratory at the University of Texas. The company says it wants to produce robots capable of changing the way we work and live.
Apptronik has built a number of robotics products over the years, from exoskeletons to humanoid robots, and the technology is used by customers including many Fortune 500 companies.
Now, the company is working to commercialize its first general-purpose robot, called Apollo, which it says is able to adapt to a range of environments.
Apptronik said the Apollo robot will be among the first mass-produced humanoid robots in the industry and will be part of a larger platform that will expand to create a variety of robots. The company plans to launch Apollo in the South by Southwest in March 2023.
The move toward large-scale commercialization comes on the heels of raising $14.6 million earlier this year.
Unlike special purpose robots capable of only performing one repetitive task, Apollo is designed as a general purpose robot capable of performing a wide range of tasks in different work environments.
Once production begins, the Apollo will operate in industries ranging from logistics, retail, hospitality, aviation and beyond, the company said.
Can robots help humanity “explore the stars”?
NASA first partnered with Apptronik in 2013 during the DARPA Robotics Challenge, where the founders were chosen to work on NASA’s Valkyrie Robot.
NASA has now chosen Apptronik as a commercial partner to launch a new generation of general-purpose robots, starting with Apollo. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
Jeff Cardenas, co-founder and CEO of Apptronik, said: “The continued investment from NASA validates the work we do at Apptronik. The robots we’ve all dreamed of are now out there and ready to go out into the world. These robots will first become our tools here on Earth, and they will help us… The end is on transcending and exploring the stars.”
Apptronik considers its products to be “human-centred” or designed with humans in mind, i.e. robotic devices capable of working alongside humans in a number of environments.
Cardenas said the company is focused on making robots safe, high-performance and capable of a number of tasks, but also affordable and powerful enough to meet mass market demand.
Apollo will be a general purpose robot that can lift roughly as much weight as humans can, and is designed to work in spaces designed for humans. Apptronik’s extensive robotics system is capable of doing the same tasks, but is also capable of lifting heavy payloads. Both will be equipped with artificial intelligence and able to adapt and respond to their environment, according to the company.
Cardenas said the first generation of Apptronik’s robots is designed to begin filling the labor gap in the logistics industry, which includes work in warehouses, the energy industry, facility inspection, defense and manufacturing, among others.
The products build on the work the company has done over the years, building both humanoid robots and exoskeletons, which are robotic devices designed to be worn by humans. As the company enters its latest phase, it will focus entirely on human-like robots.
Cardenas said the company’s work over the years has helped teach Approniks, by getting the team to consider a variety of technical issues, improving engineering, and demonstrating the capabilities of the technologies.
“Every project we’ve done has given us a piece of the puzzle,” Cardenas said. “What we’re focusing on today, is the idea of manipulating mobile devices, or mobile robots that can do work.” “You don’t really know what a robot is going to do until you build it. We’ve had to build a lot of different systems over time to really learn how to build and scale robots.”
Apptronik currently has 60 employees and plans to add another 30 employees across all business lines over the next year.
Austin has become a robotics hub
Cardenas said Austin has become a prime location for entrepreneurs to build robotics companies.
“We don’t have a large domestic robotics industry,” he said. “A lot of this technology was sold to Japan and Europe back in the 1980s. We are now at this inflection point where for a number of reasons, including national competitiveness and national security, we need a vibrant manufacturing sector.”
“We think this is something in which Texas will play a very big role,” he said.
Another Austin-based robotics company that’s on the industry radar is Diligent Robotics, which has launched a series of robots dubbed Moxi. Robots perform delivery tasks for healthcare teams on the front lines.
Diligent, founded in 2017, uses artificial intelligence, machine learning technology, and social engineering to build assistive robots that help humans in their work environments.
Moxi robots assist medical staff with routine tasks that do not directly involve patients. This includes collecting supplies and linens, delivering them to patient rooms, delivering samples to the laboratory, and retrieving items from the nursing unit supply rooms.
Designed with flexible arm, handle and full motion, Moxi assists clinical staff with routine work that does not directly involve patients. This includes collecting supplies and linens, delivering them to patient rooms, delivering samples to the laboratory, and retrieving items from the nursing unit supply rooms.
Among Diligent’s clients is Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. “Moxi keeps nurses close to their patients so they don’t have to hunt and gather,” said David Marshall, chief nursing officer at Cedars-Sinai. “The staff told me this gives them more time to take care of patients directly.”
Diligent is in expansion mode, investing $30 million to ramp up development and marketing efforts. The new funding brings the total amount raised by Diligent to $50 million.
“We are focused on expanding automated support for clinical teams so that nurses can do what they are set to do, which is focus on patient care,” said Andrea Tomas, co-founder and CEO of Diligent.
American Statesman reporter Kara Carlson contributed to this report.
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