There has been $90 billion invested in robotics companies in the last five years, according to F-Prime Capital’s 2023 State of Robotics Report. With more than 1,250 companies currently within the industry, it can be hard to sift through them all to pinpoint the most exciting startups.
However, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates just shared five startups he thinks are making robots a reality. Gates noted that he has been more interested in companies that are working to solve dexterity and mobility issues with robots. With recent advances in generative AI, robots are further behind on those kinds of issues than they are on their ability to think, Gates says.
1. Agility Robotics
It’s no surprise Agility Robotics was first on Gates’ list. The Corvallis, Ore.-based company’s Digit humanoid is being tested by GXO Logistics and Amazon. This sets it ahead of its humanoid competition, a field that has seen a lot of growth in the past year. The company is gearing up for a lot of growth. Last year, Agility opened RoboFab, a robot manufacturing facility in Salem, Oregon with the capability to produce more than 10,000 robots per year.
Gates noted that Digit can go anywhere a human can go, making it more flexible than other wheeled robots typically used in logistics operations. Digit has all of the flexibility of a human worker and more, as it can lift heavier loads than a human worker and extend its arms to reach higher shelves.
Agility Robotics co-founder and chief robot officer Jonathan Hurst will deliver the opening keynote at our Robotics Summit & Expo, which takes place May 1-2 in Boston. Hurst’s keynote “Humanoid Robots Get to Work” will explore the technological breakthroughs propelling humanoids like Digit into the real world. It will also discuss the ongoing challenges and opportunities and go inside Digit’s pilots with Amazon, GXO Logistics and more.
Tevel was one of our top robots from the World Ag Expo in 2023 and a 2021 recipient of an RBR50 Robotics innovation Award for its fruit-picking drones. The Tel Aviv, Israel-based company has drones working in Italy, the United States, Chile, Israel, and more. Fruit picking isn’t an easy challenge for robots, as it’s difficult to create a system gentle enough to handle delicate fruits. Tevel offers precision and minimum bruising with its unique system.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates there are around 2.4 million farm jobs that need to be filled annually. Gates says that this labor shortage found in agriculture can often lead to farmers tossing fruit that isn’t harvested in time. Companies like Tevel can alleviate that gap and ensure every fruit is harvested.
Unveiled in August 2023, Apptronik’s Apollo is the company’s first humanoid robot. While it had worked on exoskeletons and bipedal locomotion in research and development projects, Apptronik mostly maintained a low profile since its start in 2016. The Austin-based company plans to release the robot in 2024, and aims for it to cost around the price of a new car.
Gates was impressed with Apollo’s promised flexibility. The general-purpose robots can be programmed to do a variety of tasks, from working in traditional robot roles like manufacturing and logistics to helping with household tasks. Apollo can also run software from third parties, making it easier to add new functionalities once it’s released.
UCLA’s Robotics and Mechanisms Lab, or RoMeLa, isn’t technically a startup, but it’s working on some impressive technology. The group’s Advanced Robotic Technology for Enhanced Mobility and Improved Stability (ARTEMIS) robot can walk at 2.1 meters per second, an impressive speed for any humanoid robot. Gates was impressed with the robots speed and stability, as the robot is resistant to being tipped over. ARTEMIS competed at RoboCup 2023, an international soccer competition held in France, and its impressive skills can be seen in the video above.
5. Field AI
Field AI isn’t building physical robots like all of the other companies on this list. The company creates autonomy systems for any machine, making them ready to be deployed in the field. According to Field AI, it can make systems for legged, wheeled, flying, and tracked vehicles. They can also handle any environment, even unknown, dynamic, and unpredictable conditions.
What do you think about Gates’ startup selections? Let us know in the comments.