Gideon Brothers, an ambitious startup out of Croatia that is building autonomous robots to put to work in warehouses and other industrial logistics, has quietly raised $765,000 in funding.
The round is led by TransferWise co-founder Taavet Hinrikus, who has become an increasingly active investor, recently backing fintech Cleo, legal tech startup Juro, and satellite company Open Cosmos. Ex-Wired U.K. editor David Rowan and a number of unnamed Croatian angels have also participated in Gideon Brothers’ seed round.
Founded in early 2017 and comprising a 40-plus team of deep learning and robotics experts — which includes 5 PhDs and 27 Masters of Hardware and Software engineering and other related disciplines — the company is developing an AI-powered robot for various industrial applications.
Dubbed “The Brain,” the technology combines 3D computer vision and deep learning to enable Gideon Brothers’ robots to be aware of their environment and operate autonomously, similar to self-driving vehicles.
“We have been developing a technology we call a ‘robot brain’,” co-founder and CEO Matija Kopic tells me. “We believe that robots of the future will rely on the same type of vision that you and I rely on, which is basically stereo vision. We’ve deployed deep learning on top of stereo vision to give our robots a new type of perception of their environment”.
The startup’s first product is described as an “autonomous and modular intralogistics robot” that is capable of safely handling large pallets in manufacturing, warehouse and commercial environments. It is designed to work alongside humans, with minimal changes to a facility, negating the need for prohibitively expensive retrofitting or investing in brand new robot-enabled buildings, which is the route that Amazon has gone down.
More broadly, Gideon Brothers wants to help address current labour shortages in industrial logistics. Citing a research brief by DHL, Gideon Brothers says that demand for supply chain professionals exceeds supply by a ratio of six to one. The work is often painstakingly dull and physically demanding, meaning that turnover can be as high as 40 percent.
“[We use] a combination of camera-based 3D vision, primarily powered by deep learning algorithms to make sure that our robot, whatever it ends up doing, is aware of its surroundings and the dynamics that exist in these old school industrial facilities which are not highly structured or highly organised like, for example, e-commerce environments are,” adds Kopic.
“We are targeting the remaining 90 percent of the world’s industrial facilities that are completely old school, traditional and centered around human beings as the drivers of those facilities and the business model”.
In practice, this means that instead of workers rushing around a warehouse taking orders from a computer-generated voice or a scanner, and then moving several tons of product (the so-called “man-to-goods” model), the Gideon Brothers robot brings the goods to the worker. It receives instructions from the Gideon Brothers fleet management system, which is integrated into an operator’s Warehouse Management System.
“It goes to the pallet position it has been sent to, lifts it off the frame it is sitting on and transports the entire pallet to a commissioning or “picking” area where workers take the product that need to be packed onto another customer-specific pallet. The robot then returns the original pallet back to its original position – autonomously and safely. The workers don’t have to zoom around and can focus on more complex tasks like picking,” explains Kopic.
If all of that sounds incredibly ambitious for a European startup that has raised less than $1 million, it’s because it is. However, Kopic says that by setting up shop in Croatia he has been able to recruit a very specialist team while keeping costs much lower than direct competitors. It also has the advantage of being close to a number of facilities where the startup is currently testing its robots, including being given access to much-needed warehouse logistics data.
Investor Hinrikus echoes this sentiment. “[Gideon Brothers is] building a killer deep tech team. This will be the best team of deep tech talent to the east from here (well, before we get to China),” he tells me.