Amazon announces designs for delivery drones while Google acquires robotics companies. Some liken the potential for growth in robotics to the dawn of personal computing. Here’s how Silicon Valley is leading the way.

All over the world, the field of robotics is developing rapidly and flourishing with entrepreneurial energy. Nowhere is that more true than in Silicon Valley. Some liken the potential for growth in robotics to the dawn of personal computing.

Amazon Drone

Photo credit: Amazon

Amazon recently announced their ambitious designs for delivery drones while Google continues to acquire robotics companies such as MEKA and Boston Dynamics, enlarging their automation portfolio. Smaller robotics startups are also heating up, with many new entrants such as Unbounded Robotics building the next generation of advanced, affordable, mobile manipulation platforms for service robots and research into personal robotics. Origami Robotics, meanwhile, builds toy robots but also provides social robots for therapeutics and education.


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Robot snapshot

As developments in robotic technology reach market maturity, the entrants—both large and small—begin demarcating their respective domains.

Startups tend to tackle straightforward technological problems like designing a better manipulator, for example, solving problems that don’t require as much experimentation (and money) to innovate. At the other end of the spectrum are the more inchoate, research-intensive efforts such as creating a system on a chip with parallel reasoning capabilities on par with that of a 12-year-old. These challenges are more suitable for the Bell Labs and Googles of the world with the resources to invest in solving long-term problems.

The robots are coming—to market

There is little doubt that the near future will see a much broader dissemination and application of robotics into the personal market, similar to what happened in the early 1980s with personal computing.

In an interview, Rich Mahoney, Director of Robotics at SRI International and President of Silicon Valley Robotics, said that he believes robotics is surfing a wave of commercialization with two converging opportunities that will strengthen the potential returns for companies in the field: low cost components and sensors driven by personal and mobile computing, and new robotic manipulation.

Investment supports notion of market growth

The dollar amount of Venture Capital (VC) investments has ramped up significantly for drone and other robotics companies. By the third quarter of 2013, VC investments in drone-related startups had topped $79M across 15 deals (CB Insights, Dec. 2013). Prominent VCs including Google Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and Felicis Ventures all invested in drone startups in the past year.

VCs already strongly support the broader robotics market, the CB Insights report notes. The $174M in VC financing to robotics companies in 2013 was more than double the investments in drones alone. In 2013, consumer robotics and AI company Anki, and the vacuuming Neato Robotics, raised significant money from VCs ($50M and $14M, respectively).

Robotics Venture Capital Deal

Credit: CB Insights

Seeding the robotic future

There is an ecosystem around robotics in the Silicon Valley that ensures the future of the market. For many years, the NASA Robotics Alliance Project has supported participation in the FIRST Robotics Competition by providing grants to high school teams and bringing students together with mentors and industry players.

San Francisco-based hardware accelerators such as Lemnos Labs and PCH International’s new seed-stage accelerator, Highway 1, along with San Jose-based Flextronics Lab, provide a support network for early stage companies. Highway 1 offers a one-stop-shop and four-month incubation program with office and machining space in San Francisco, as well as an inside view into the supply chain and contact to the manufacturing infrastructure in China.

All this is to say that with support, resources, and investments, innovation in the field of robotics is accelerating—and the market potential is growing like never before. 2014 is sure to be an exciting year for robotics, and we’ll be sure to update you on nextrends as it evolves.

Interested in robotics? Check out our post on robots in the workforce.

Featured image credit @AmazonDrone