The Time for Robotics Startups is Now

Recently, we’ve been investing a lot in robotics. I’m always on the lookout for megatrends that a startup can take advantage of, particularly now in robotics. In a perfect world, a larger technology is pushing forward and you can start a company with a related product that works, but that product may be expensive or not fully “there” yet. In two years, however, thanks to a mega trend, your product works well, is cheaper, and the cost basis has dropped dramatically. This is why knowing or anticipating a megatrend is key to early success.

There are five mega trends that make this the right time to start a robotics company.

Connectivity: High-speed data is nearly ubiquitous, and with the coming roll out of 5G it will get even better. This helps robots in two critical ways. First, it lets robots send back performance data in real time, allowing a company to monitor and head off any problems. Secondly, you can deploy robots sooner because you have greater confidence that you will be able to tele-operate the robot at any time.

Sensors: Chris Anderson once said, “The personal drone is basically the peace dividend of the smartphone wars.” Phones are not the only technology pushing down the cost of everything from cameras to gyroscopes. Self-driving cars are also going to bring down the costs of radar and lidar significantly. We see the cost of lidars dropping by 10-100x over the next five years. Companies can build a robot today and lidar is 50 percent of the total cost, but in just a few years, it will be a rounding error.

Computer Vision: In addition to producing cheap, high-resolution cameras, there is a massive focus today on the software that interprets these bits. The ability to leverage these new tools will result in robots that are safer and more capable from day one.

Storage: Even with LTE cloud connectivity and soon 5G connectivity, there is still more data that robots can collect. The fact that their storage is cheap, power-efficient, and tiny means you can log all the sensors and analyze the data later. This lets you then build more robust systems over time and fully capture everything you learn from your deployments.

Computation: All of the trends above rely upon continued advancements in computation. Even though Moore’s law seems to be tapering off for central processing units (CPUs), Nvidia is continuing to push forward with graphics processing units (GPUs). GPUs enable us to make sense of all the data we’ve collected and stored faster than we ever could.

These mega trends are not just impressive in their own right. Stacked together, you can see tremendous exponential effects on costs and capabilities. This is why now it’s possible to start a robotics company and take on a problem that a decade ago only nation states could attempt.

Robotics is a core focus area for us. If you’re working on something interesting please reach out to me at jeremy@lemnoslabs.com!