Benji Barash and Yves Albers-Schoenberg experienced the challenges of robotics development while working on Amazon’s ambitious drone project. Now the engineers are leading a new startup aiming to address some of the pain points they faced.
Seattle-based Roboto emerged from stealth mode Thursday, announcing a $4.8 million seed round and revealing its AI-powered software built to help robotics developers save time.
“We got a sneak preview of the pain,” Barash said. “And we really felt the pain and wanted to solve it ourselves.”
Tools to help engineers analyze huge swaths of data and troubleshoot failures have not kept up with the pace of robotics development over the past decade, Barash said. Data analysis platforms such as Splunk or Datadog don’t support the type of multimodal sensor data coming off of robotic systems.
“Engineers just kind of build stuff for themselves, and it’s really janky,” Barash said. “It becomes technical debt.”
The problem is especially acute for smaller companies that don’t have big budgets to invest in building their own tools.
Roboto not only shows data from hardware, but also identifies whether particular instances happened in the past.
“The hard part of robotics is all the edge cases that you run into,” Barash said. “That’s where tools like Roboto are really important to build confidence, to do that development quickly, and then get to production.”
The 5-person company is initially targeting smaller robotics firms that can use Roboto to get data analysis functionality on par with what giants at Tesla and Waymo might be using, Barash said.
Roboto also sees opportunities to sell to larger industrial companies in sectors such as aerospace and manufacturing that are increasingly using automation.
“They will need these sorts of tools that work with sensor data, as opposed to the traditional tabular business data,” Barash said.
Roboto went through the incubator program at Seattle’s Allen Institute of Artificial Intelligence (AI2), where Barash spent a year as an entrepreneur-in-residence after more than six years at Amazon.
Unusual Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley, led the seed round, which included AI2 and Seattle-based FUSE.
Roboto is partnering with researchers and professors at the ETH Zürich AI Center, where Albers-Schoenberg earned a Masters degree in robotics.
Venture funding to robotics startups fell 44% year-over-year in 2022 amid the larger tech downturn, according to Crunchbase data. But many companies still landed big rounds and robot sales reached record highs last year as companies address the ongoing labor shortage.
“We really need robots,” Barash said, citing construction industry labor shortages and data that predicts millions of unfilled manufacturing jobs by 2030. “At some point, society will not continue to function well without leaning on robots to do some of these jobs that we don’t want to do.”