State of Robotics 2015

December 13, 2015
John Quinn

While faulty hoverboards are setting themselves ablaze to celebrate Christmas, robots are gradually moving from labs to news reports to entering our daily lives.

First in line are drones, already in many people’s hands, autonomous cars with early deployments such as Tesla’s autopilot, and desktop robots like 3d printers.

In 2015 robot popped up in many forms, shapes and industries. Investments in robotics keep growing (about $340M in 2014) as well as the number of robotics startups. They represented a third of HAX new investments in 2015.

Now let’s review the state of robotics.

Robots are booming

Like all connected devices they are benefitting from the massive drop in price and size of sensors and CPU ushered by the boom of smartphones and advanced game consoles. Robotics companies can certainly thank Apple, Nintendo and Microsoft! They can also thank the now defunct startup Willow Garage for initiating the ROS robot OS project.

More projects and available early stage capital means that many startups can build prototypes. Things get difficult with the next phase as most professional money waits for revenue to fuel growth. Still, a number of startups access significant funding. Large players such as Google, Amazon, Tesla, Apple and Uber are investing in or acquiring various companies, talent and technologies.

What’s a robot?

It is not easy to come up with a definition that could satisfy professionals and the general public, who uses the term liberally. To simplify, a robot is a device that adapts to its environment thanks to autonomous movement and takes autonomous decisions. This definition does not include machines that just execute a repetitive task, or require full remote control. Hence, most toy drones, 3d printers and a large number of factory arms would not qualify, though many would call them robots. Those are, however, evolving toward more intelligence with computer vision and more, and crawling toward a proper “robot” status.

Review of robots

Classifying robots is another tough one. It could be done according to technology or application. We decided to group them the following way:

Drones are receiving vast amounts of attention and funding. DJI, 3DR, Parrot and a few upstarts like eHang and Yuneec secured 8-digit investments (and China is rising as a drone powerhouse). GoPro announced its entry for 2016. Applications are evolving from imagery, surveying and surveillance toward deliveries (Amazon Prime Air, Alibaba, but also delivery companies such as SF Express in China), inspection and even first-person-view (FPV) racing. Key players have formed the Small UAV Coalition to inform policy makers and promote safety.

To read the rest of this article, published in TechCrunch, please click here.