Sanctuary AI obtains Canadian funding for general-purpose humanoid development

While Phoenix is capable of working autonomously, Sanctuary AI has been teaching it new behaviors. | Credit: Sanctuary AI

Sanctuary Cognitive Systems Corp., or Sanctuary AI, said it is on a mission “to create the world’s first human-like intelligence in general-purpose robots.” Today, the Vancouver, B.C.-based company announced that it has obtained investment bringing its total funding to $140 million to date.

Sanctuary AI said it plans to use the strategic investment from BDC Capital’s Thrive Venture Fund and InBC Investment Corp. to accelerate its efforts toward bringing artificial general intelligence (AGI) into the physical world.

“Following the incredible impact of pre-trained transformers on the digital world over the last seven years, with acceleration in the last few, we see AI in the physical world as being the next major frontier for impacting the way we work and live,” stated Olivia Norton, co-founder and chief technology and product officer of Sanctuary AI.

“With aging populations, plummeting birth rates, and a changing view on work, intelligent embodied systems or general-purpose robots will play an important role in provincial and national productivity,” she added. “We believe that Canada has an opportunity to be a world leader in this space. It is great to work with organizations like BDC and InBC who understand and share this vision.”

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Sanctuary AI takes a different tack with Phoenix

While other developers of humanoid robots have started with a focus on bipedal motion, Sanctuary AI has taken a different tack. The company is working on embedded AI and perfecting dual-arm, hand-eye coordination, as well as the perception and task-planning functionality that enables its Phoenix robot to interact with the world around it.

Founded in 2018, Sanctuary AI noted that its staffers have experience from companies including Amazon, Microsoft, and SoftBank Robotics. The company’s team incudes founders of D-Wave, Creative Destruction Lab, and Kindred, which pioneered the use of reinforcement learning in a production robot.

In December 2023, Sanctuary AI announced that it had acquired intellectual property (IP), adding to its portfolio of touch and grasping technologies. At the time, the company said it expected the IP assets from Giant.AI Inc. and Tangible Research to play a pivotal role in its construction of general-purpose robots.

With “human-like intelligence,” general-purpose robots will address labor challenges and improve safety, efficiency, and sustainability, claimed Sanctuary AI. It said its growing list of investors and customers represents a variety of industries across Canada, the U.S., and other countries.

In April 2024, Sanctuary AI partnered with automotive parts supplier Magna International Inc. and unveiled the seventh generation of Phoenix. During the same period, the upgraded robot completed 110 retail-related tasks in a week-long pilot deployment at a Mark’s retail store in British Columbia. The company claimed that its humanoid robot can now learn new tasks in under 24 hours.

Canadian investors fuel humanoid, AI development

In addition to BDC Capital and InBC, Sanctuary’s existing investors include Accenture, Bell, Export Development Canada, Evok Innovations, Magna, SE Health, Verizon Ventures, and Workday Ventures. The company also received a $30 million Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) contribution from the government of Canada in November 2022.

“At BDC Capital, we’re proud to invest in Canada‘s most innovative women-led businesses, like Sanctuary AI, that are disrupting today’s market,” said Michelle Scarborough, managing partner at BDC Capital’s Thrive Venture Fund. “We’re thrilled to support Sanctuary AI’s team as they realize their next groundbreaking achievements.”

“We have invested in Sanctuary whose mission is helping to build a new growth industry in British Columbia,” noted Leah Nguyen, chief investment officer at InBC. “Sanctuary is a great example of the creative and innovative spirit in B.C., and by investing in leading innovators like Sanctuary, we will continue to grow our technology sector, creating new jobs and anchoring IP in the province for a stronger, more sustainable economy that works for everyone.”

BDC Capital said it has more than $6 billion under management to actively support entrepreneurs. The province of British Columbia created InBC to invest in growing companies and venture funds to generate financial returns alongside economic, social, or environmental impacts.

Leah Nguyen will interview Norton on the theme of ‘’Solving hard problems’’ at BDC’s fifth-anniversary edition of the Women in Tech Bootcamp at StartupFest on July 10 in Montreal.

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