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More automatons about buildings and food – TechCrunch

As I noticed Last year we were preparing to return to Boston for our TC Sessions Robotics event this July. Our March 2020 event on the Berkeley campus was the last major in-person TechCrunch show before everything shut down. For probably self-evident reasons, we’ve decided that robotics is a topic best experienced up close and have taken 2021 off.

I’ve been thinking about programming for this one for the last two years or so and now that we’ve gotten into the early stages it’s hard to shut down the fire hose. When we’re ready to announce guests, I’ll no doubt dedicate some space in the column to those folks.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the industry has evolved since it all started. I’m quite confident when I say that future historians will point to that moment of great acceleration when, after decades of talking about the future, robotics truly became a part of everyday life.

Of course, some verticals are much wider than others. The delivery is making quite some progress – at least from the investment side. Regulation and implementation are a little slower. Understandably. In addition to manufacturing – a long-standing application, particularly in the automotive industry – warehousing has been red hot lately. Amazon got the ball rolling, and now the rest of the industry is trying to catch up.

Photo credit: Right-handed robotics

And then COVID happened. Then labor shortage. Then supply chain concerns. Decentralized logistics really is the only way these days, and these fulfillment centers are increasingly being staffed by robots, like the pick-and-place machines developed by RightHand just raised another $66 million.

The company’s funding is currently around $100 million. It’s a healthy — but not wild — amount for a startup that’s clocked up many hours in the real world. Among the long list of notable investors here is Zebra Technologies, which I noted yesterday bought Fetch last year.

Agility robotics digit

Photo credit: Ford/Agility Robotics

Oh, and while we talk about logistics and delivery, allow me to quickly end my conversation next week with Jonathan Hurst, CTO of Agility Robotics, and PlayGround Global Founding Partner Bruce Leak. That’s Wednesday at 11:30am PT / 2:30pm ET. More Info here.

Anyway, if you asked me which categories are about to break through, I’d give you two answers: agtech and construction. These are both huge industries with so many opportunities to automate. Agriculture is particularly interesting. It’s ripe for the proverbial harvest. If you’ve read this far, you almost certainly understand how difficult the category is, and we’ve seen quite a few stumbling blocks lately.

John Deere is pumping a lot of money into robotics, both through internal development and through acquisitions of companies like Bear Flag. Because it’s John Deere, it’s well-positioned to remain a major player in autonomous tractors. But labor shortages are a very real thing here – and the average age of a farmer in the United States is a few months less than 60, for this often backbreaking work.

The next few years will be wild for agriculture in general – especially as climate change remains a priority. It’s a topic that will likely increase interest in alternative approaches to this category, such as vertical farming, which we talked about last week. But the 10,000-year-old world of agriculture will not change overnight. In a sense, robotics offers a way of retrofitting existing ways of farming with new technologies.

Photo credit: green

Given all the advances that have been made toward autonomy over the past several decades, there are many opportunities there. And while you obviously need to make the systems secure, you have far fewer points of error in a field than your average city block. green announced this week an increase of $11.5 million, bringing the total to $21.5 million.

Based in Hayward, California, the company offers a robotic system that performs a combination of laser and spray-based weeding and field scanning to give farmers more data about their crops.

“Farmers were telling us not to give them more data, but to figure out what to do with the mountains of data they already have, or better yet, just do it,” said co-founder and CEO Gabe Sibley. “They want an all-in-one solution that takes real-time action and keeps farmers in control—while improving profitability and automating dangerous, tedious fieldwork.”

Housing Development Leko Labs

Photo credit: Leko Labs

Construction is another category ripe for massive robot disruption. I say this as a resident of a city that seems to be constantly under construction – so if you could build some silent robots to do some of the work it would really help me. Anyway, Natasha had the story this week on Leko Labs’ $21 million Series A. The company is working to use more sustainable materials in home construction using an “automotive, robotic” approach.

Photo credit: hyphen

I wouldn’t put kitchen automation at the top of the list, but it’s certainly one that’s been heavily catalyzed by the pandemic. Two years later, restaurants are finding it harder than ever to stay busy. We wrote about Hyphen in this very newsletter when the startup came out of stealth, and this week announced it a $24 million Series A led by Tiger Global for its modular conveyor kitchen system.

The system specializes in bowls/salads, which is probably what you want your robot to cook when it’s not trying to make pizzas and/or flip burgers. Also fast Mention for Dexai Roboticswho signed a $1.6 million contract to bring his cooking arm Alfred to US military installations.

The Automata Labs case with the Eva robotic arm next to it.

The Automata Labs case with the Eva robotic arm next to it. Photo credit: vending machines

Automata is something of a dark horse this week. Laboratory automation is something we haven’t covered much in this newsletter, but COVID has really shed some light on the need for quick lab results. The Company announced this week a $50 million Series B aimed at fully automating the lab process.

“We had to build a whole new hardware stack that would enable this type of automation,” co-founder and CEO Mostafa ElSayed told Devin. “The benchtop is really the standard unit of all labs, so it’s basically an entire lab bench that can be automated.”

And finally, the real automation we’re all waiting for. Here is Amazon’s Astro brings someone a beer. The expensive home robot has recently been shipped to customers.

Photo credit: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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