SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Companies looking to create robots often get bogged down in the challenges of robotics development, and pressures from investors to scale up and get to market quickly often prevent them from looking at other functionality options and other approaches that could help them find new markets. Silicon Valley robotics firm OhmniLabs hopes to change this approach by offering a new robotics-as-a-service offering to assist companies with speedier and more flexible robotics component development. The company also named Dr. James Kuffner, CEO at the Toyota Research Institute – Advanced Development (TRI-AD) to its advisory board.
As part of its commitment to accelerating the robotic development process, OhmniLabs aims to leverage its fifth-generation additive manufacturing process and modular robotics hardware and software stack with partners around the world bringing robots to market in record time, the company said. The new RaaS offering lets partners focus on market, customers, and sales, while OhmniLabs provides the end-to-end robotics, technology, and production components. Japan’s Toppan Merrill LLC, a global provider of integrated solutions in the fields of printing, communications, security, packaging, décor materials and electronics, is one of the launch partners, the company said.
“We see the true explosion of robotics coming from close partnerships between established companies who deeply understand their market and have mature marketing and sales channels and robotics companies like OhmniLabs, who can bring robots to reality in record time and at record cost,” said Jared Go, a co-founder of OhmniLabs. “This enables our customers to be innovative, rather than conservative. They now have the freedom to quickly iterate and test ideas without requiring a massive budget, and the corresponding risk.”
Go said the company would continue to sell its flagship Ohmni telepresence robot and development platforms directly, growing both sides of the business and taking advantages of synergies between them. “For example, many of our RaaS customers started out buying and testing their ideas on our development platforms,” he said. But for customers looking for customized option, OhmniLabs estimates that they can provide a 10x reduction in the robot development cost, time, and risk.
The RaaS model was developed after customers began asking OhmniLabs about customized options, Go said. For example, customers would ask questions like:
- Could they have a larger wheelbase for outdoor use?
- Could they add lights for inspection in dark factory areas?
- Could they have a super-high resolution camera for inspecting wounds?
- Could they autonomously photograph and survey a site?
“No typical product-centric robotics company would ever say yes, because it’s such a pain for them to make changes to the product,” said Go. “But we were in a position to try saying yes to some of these requests because of how little it costs us to produce and scale these custom changes – thanks to our ultra-lean additive manufacturing technology. Customers loved the changes and that incremental work we did to tailor-fit their use case added a ton of value, which they were more than happy to pay for!”
He added the company realized that off-the-shelf robots provide about 95% of the required functionality, but without the ability to customized, most companies were throwing it away and starting from scratch. “The best way, instead, is to make closing that 5% functionality gap a scalable business, and that’s where all the real value lies,” Go said.
A warning for robotics companies
Companies that are not lean enough, or fast and flexible enough to pivot to a better product and market fit is a systemic issue in the robotics industry, he added.
“The failures of robotics companies that have consumed upwards of $50 million have shown that the traditional robotics development pipeline is broken,” said Go. “To VCs, more capital is not the answer – in fact, it can often be part of the problem,” as companies are forced into scaling their team, target production numbers, and shorten time to mass production.
“We started OhmniLabs in 2015 with the thesis that to become one of the best robotics companies in the world, speed and flexibility and iteration time is the most important,” he said. “If, as a company, you can try 100 ideas to add value to the world via robotics, you’re much more likely to succeed than if you pour everything into one shot that’s boom or bust. Even better, you have the flexibility of reusing technology across all these robots you try and make, rather than all that overhead cost the first time you go and make a new robot from scratch.”
Adding Dr. Kuffner
The company said that both co-founders, Jared Go and Thuc Vu, were studying under Dr. Kuffner during their undergraduate years at Carnegie Mellon University, and Thuc reconnected with Kuffner during this year’s RoboBusiness at CES event. Kuffner is a pioneer in the cloud robotics space, and his status within the robotics community helps connect the company with potential partners and advisors to help them grow the business faster. His experience and insights will be helpful in identifying new vertical markets that OhmniLabs can apply its technologies.
“We are delighted to have Dr. Kuffner onboard as an advisor,” Thuc said. “Today he continues to inspire and motivate us through both his thought leadership and practical applications of robotics technology across various methodologies and industries.”
In a statement, Kuffner said he was also honored to be joining the company’s advisory board. “I have tremendous respect for Thuc and Jared as entrepreneurs and innovators, and I look forward to working with them.”