Savioke, a robotics startup out of Sunnyvale led by the former CEO of the now-defunct but influential Willow Garage robotics startup, is announcing a seed round of funding today, $2 million from Jerry Yang’s AME Cloud Ventures, Google Ventures, Morado Venture Partners and other individual investors. It is planning to use the money to develop and build its first robot, an as-yet unnamed piece of hardware that will be focused on the services industry.
Why the services industry? CEO Steve Cousins says that he and his team see a “huge untapped opportunity” to target that vertical. “Hospitals, elder care facilities, hotels, restaurants, office services all provide large opportunities for robots to take on dirty, dull and dangerous work, improve process efficiency, reduce cost, and most importantly free up people to help other people,” he says. “We see the services industry as the next logical step for robotics, moving out from behind the fences in factories and out from research labs to provide value around people, where we live and work.”
I asked, but was told that there are not yet any models, names or other details available for the new services robot. What we do know is that it will be built on the open source robot operating system ROS, which was originally developed at Willow Garage under Cousins. Savioke says it plans to begin customer trials later this year.
Indeed, Cousins was at the startup at a significant time. In addition to creating the ROS, Willow Garage spun off some eight startups — Suitable Technologies (maker of the Beam remote presence system); Industrial Perception, Inc.; Redwood Robotics; HiDOF (ROS and robotics consulting); Unbounded Robotics; the Open Source Robotics Foundation; the OpenCV Foundation and the Open Perception Foundation. Two of those spinoffs, Industrial Perception, Inc. and Redwood Robotics, were eventually acquired by Google in 2013. It also created the PR2 robot as well as the open source TurtleBot.
Savioke, founded in 2013, was not strictly a spinoff, but it is nevertheless a Willow Garage off-shoot, with not only Cousins at the helm but a number of other staff also coming over (in fact, everyone but one of Savioke’s full-timers and an intern are ex-WG). Even its name seems to be a hat-tip to Willow Garage’s arboreal theme, pronounced “Savvy Oak.”
What’s interesting about the concept behind Savioke is that it’s a signal of how the robotics world, and those developing for it, are trying for more targeted products as the space continues to mature. “There’s a unique entrepreneurial excitement surrounding Silicon Valley’s robotics industry today, and much of that is due to the efforts of the team at Savioke,” noted AME’s Jerry Yang in a statement. “As the market for service robots continues to grow, AME is pleased to offer our support to Savioke.”
And, in a world where robotics are equal parts exciting and challenging businesses (the demise of Willow Garage is direct enough evidence of that) Cousins’ track record feels like a good bet for investors.
“As the lines continue to blur between industrial and personal robotics industries, Google Ventures is thrilled to be working with an exceptional group of people at Savioke,” noted Andy Wheeler, a general partner at Google Ventures. “Steve and his team already have had a lot to do with moving the robotics industry forward. The next act promises to be even more revolutionary.”