Knee deep in the hoopla

Actuator: Drone consolidation, delivery layoffs and tooth-brushing microbots

Maybe it’s the recent holiday weekend here in the U.S., or perhaps it’s the simple truth that we’re currently staring down the mid-summer doldrums, but holy moly, it’s been a slow week on the robotics news front. I know — you’re supposed to hook readers with a compelling first paragraph, but the truth is this stuff ebbs and flows, and as we lurch toward mid-July, we’re experiencing the former.

I will, naturally, use up some of my column space to share another great bit of news about our July 21 robotics event (100% available to stream for 100% free). We’ve officially announced the three judges for our pitch-off (I hope you entered, because submissions close today), and boy howdy is the lineup an embarrassment of riches.

We’ll be joined by Ohio State University’s Dean of Engineering, Ayanna Howard; E14 Venture Partner and ittleBits founder, Ayah Bdeir; and DCVC partner, Kelly Chen. The pitch-off is a highlight of every TechCrunch event, and while I’m probably (definitely) a bit biased here, I think that goes double for Robotics, where we all get a rare opportunity to see some real early-stage companies.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

As you probably know, it can be tough to get things to line up just right to demo early-stage robotics firms. You really have to hit that goldilocks spot, where you’ve got technology to show, but haven’t yet raised significant capital. We’ll be announcing those companies soon, but for now, I’m excited about the three judges, who bring really unique perspectives to the conversation, from the research, startup and VC sides of the fence.

Register for free here!

From where I sit, the biggest bit of robotics financial news this week is American Robotics’ planned acquisition of Airobotics — or, rather, American Robotics’ parent company’s planned acquisition of Airobotics. The former was acquired by Ondas in August of last year, which now plans to acquire the latter in a deal estimated at $18.4 million. The two companies produce fully autonomous surveillance drones tied to a base station.

Image Credits: American Robotics

There will be some redundancies, no doubt (and the Airobotics brand will likely eventually be swallowed up by the American Robotics banner — a sad end to a fun name), but the deal will create a joint company with headquarters in both Massachusetts and Tel Aviv. American Robotics CEO Reese Mozer told me:

American Robotics and Airobotics have matured different elements of the DIB ecosystem, and this business combination allows for an accelerated offering set that furthers our leadership position in a broader set of market opportunities. Said another way, in the near term we will learn from each other to further mature our respective systems. Longer term, the Scout System and the Optimus System will be different models existing within the same product family, with each specializing in a different set of use cases.

In far less fun news, last-mile delivery platform Starship Robotics announced that it’s laying off around 11% of its global workforce. Not entirely surprising, given how pervasive layoffs have been in the tech sector of late, but a robotics industry flush with funding has been good at largely avoiding such calamity. The company noted in a release that the news comes in the wake of a large raise, but it still had to adjust, due to unforeseen forces.

Image Credits: Starship Technologies

Starship notes:

[D]ue to the aforementioned changes in the economy and investments, Starship must now make difficult changes to focus on cost savings and improving profitability. These changes mean that we are closing a small number of service locations in the US and Germany over the next two months. The locations that we must close do not have the right mix of merchants and customer base to meet our near-term profitability goals. In addition to the staff impacted by these decisions, we are also reducing the team at the corporate level.

Image Credits: Jaia Robotics

Speaking of oldish bits of news that are just now resurfacing (listen, I told you it was slow, folks), Jaia Robotics closed out June by announcing a $1 million seed round. The company makes tiny underwater drones designed for data collection. Co-founder/CEO Ian Estaphan Owen notes, “This investment in Jaia Robotics is a strong show of confidence in the company as an investment opportunity and has led us to keep the round open for 90 days leading to a second close to bring us nearer to the $1.75M ceiling. This will allow us more flexibility and to really accelerate growing our team.”

Image Credits: University of Pennsylvania

Some fun research with even smaller robots closes us out this week. The University of Pennsylvania is showing off some “proof-of-concept” research, demonstrating how a “shapeshifting robotic microswarm may one day act as a toothbrush, rinse, and dental floss in one.”

Professor Hyun Koo notes, “It doesn’t matter if you have straight teeth or misaligned teeth, it will adapt to different surfaces. The system can adjust to all the nooks and crannies in the oral cavity.”

As you can no doubt tell by the above, this is all still very early stages.

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

No time is a good time, for goodbyes, but now is the perfect time to sign up for Actuator