Apptronik Gets $14.6M to Build Scalable, All-Purpose Humanoid Robot
With more than 11 million open jobs and only 6 million unemployed workers, the U.S. economy is facing a labor shortage that has sparked more interest in automation and robotics.
Apptronik, a robotics company that spun off from the Human-Centered Robotics Lab at the University of Texas at Austin in 2016, has raised $14.6 million in seed funding to develop a multi-purpose humanoid robot that could be used to fill some of those jobs — particularly dull, dirty and dangerous jobs in the logistics and construction industries.
Apptronik CEO and co-founder Jeff Cardenas said the company’s humanoid robots can perform a wide variety of tasks in environments that are designed for humans — not environments that are specially designed for robots.
The company’s newest robot can be programmed to perform any task, Cardenas said, and the company has also figured out how to produce robots affordably so that they can be scaled for mass production. Cardenas believes that robots will be ubiquitous in the not-so-distant future, and Apptronik hopes to usher that era in with its next humanoid robot model.
“There will be tens of millions, hundreds of millions and eventually billions of robots that are living and working with us and helping humans go to the next level,” he said.
One of Apptronik’s earlier contributions to the robotics sector was its work on the NASA Valkyrie Robot during the DARPA Robotics Challenge in 2012 and 2013. The company went on to develop wearable robotic exoskeletons, also known as an “Iron Man suit,” designed to provide enhanced strength, speed and armor as part of the military’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit program.
Apptronik’s latest robot, known within the company as Astro, is a multi-purpose humanoid robot on wheels. This robot is being used by several companies, including some Fortune 500 enterprises, in the manufacturing, automotive and supply chain sectors, among others.
Like other robots in the manufacturing or logistics sectors, Astro has vision-based grasping, a machine-learning technology that teaches the robot how to locate, grasp and pick up objects.
Now that the company has raised a hefty seed round, Apptronik aims to pull all of its previous innovations into a humanoid robot that Cardenas said is “really going to change the game.” The company plans to unveil the new prototype later this year.
“We’re basically building the system that we’ve always wanted to build,” he said.
Cardenas said the robot will differentiate itself from other humanoid robots with its design.
“Part of our belief is that, not only do we want to build highly functional systems, but also beautiful systems that are well-designed, that people want to be around,” he said. “These don’t have to be scary, industrial, lifeless-looking machines.”
The seed funding will be used to get its first mass-produced commercial product onto the market and hire the staff to make that happen. The company, which currently has 52 employees, anticipates doubling its headcount in the next year. Apptronik is currently hiring for 15 positions on its careers page.