Company Name: Clearpath Robotics
Founders & Principals: Matt Rendall, CEO; Bryan Webb, COO; Ryan Gariepy, CTO
Products: Husky, Grizzly, Kingfisher, and Turtlebot; distributor of other products.
What it is: Autonomous vehicle platforms for use in applications on land, water, and in the air.
Market niche: System integration of custom hardware and control system software, paired with engineering design and consulting services.
Funding: Undisclosed angel investment, $200,000 in IRAP/DTAPP funding, a $100,00 Market Readiness Award, along with other nonprofit and government grants.
Industry Partnerships: Ascending Technologies (AscTec), Kinova Robotics, Entact Robotics, Vicon, and others.
Contact: Meghan Hennessey ([email protected])
Clearpath Robotics, maker of autonomous vehicle platforms, built its business by serving the academic and research institutions, and the company?s marketing reflects that history. I recently spoke with Ryan Gariepy, co-founder and CTO of the Ontario-based company, and I got a closer look at its current business. What I found was a business-savvy startup successfully soothing some of the growing pains that many industries face as they look to integrate more automation and robotics into their operations.
Clearpath makes autonomous vehicle platforms that integrate hardware, software (including the open-source ROS operating system, perception modules, and motion control systems), and other end user?defined technology. Its portfolio includes land-based and aquatic products, and it holds patents in both areas. Husky and Grizzly are rugged, all-terrain vehicles, while the Kingfisher platform is designed for use at the surface of watery environments. It also sells a handful of other products – the Turtlebot, an off-the-shelf mobile robot that sells for a base price of just under $2,000; Hummingbird, a small aerial drone by AscTec; and Jaco, a robotic arm. But Clearpath is not only (or, I would argue, primarily) a technology company. Its main business is in systems integration.
The company helps clients customize the platforms to meet their needs; customers may come in knowing exactly what sensors or additional features they want to use, or they may simply have a use case and need help identifying the tools available for addressing it. Clearpath?s sales reps then help translate these needs into customized products, which Clearpath builds at its facility in Ontario.
Robotics is quickly extending its reach into new industries and as companies look to test out new kinds of automation, they often face a steep learning curve. That?s where Clearpath is focusing its efforts. ?Our customers are not roboticists; we serve as that interface,? Gariepy says. Plug-and-play hardware, a user-friendly interface, and tight integration with whatever technology its customers are already using is central to the company?s strategy.
What the company?s commercial customers have in common is a desire to automate tasks that Clearpath calls ?dull, dirty or dangerous.? What those tasks are, what tools are used to complete them, and who?s responsible for completing them vary widely. Customers are already using Clearpath?s products to inspect factories and energy infrastructure, monitor environmental conditions, and clear minefields.
Clearpath Robotics News
?Everyone has their own way of interfacing with tools and technology,? Gariepy says. ?We?ve been attempting to quickly and reliably integrate different tools and programming languages into our system. Our customers don?t need to learn our system; they just need to learn how their systems work with our system.?
The approach has been quite successful: ?10 of the Fortune 100 companies are working with us to add further robotics capabilities to their products or facilities,? Gariepy says. And the company, which recently turned five, has proof beyond just marquee customers; Clearpath is profitable, Gariepy says, and has been cash flow positive since 2011. The group raised an undisclosed angel round during its launch stage and has been awarded several grants for high-tech startups from governmental agencies and nonprofits. (All told, I estimate the company has raised less than $2 million from all sources.)
Clearpath?s success speaks to a trend that I think we will continue to see growing in importance: enabling customers to integrate robotics with their existing workflows and technologies. It?s what struck me about Bot & Dolly?s BDMove software (now owned by Google), and it?s where I think Clearpath?s business is best positioned for success. But while Bot & Dolly?s filmmaker-focused software is now housed at the Googleplex, Clearpath is on its own in figuring out how to scale a business around this opportunity.
I spoke with Gariepy extensively about how its sales team works with customers, attempting to understand how Clearpath can expand its business without relying on a slow-growing consultative sales cycle. ?We do so much customization and client service, and that is difficult to scale,? he acknowledged. ?We?d like to streamline that process and let people configure robots themselves.? But for now, customers ?like having a human on the other side.?
And at this stage in the development of robotics markets, Clearpath may have many years of lucrative work ahead of it helping companies experiment with new robotics applications. Indeed, its customer base is growing and it recently expanded its production facility in Kitchener, Ontario. But adding the in-house expertise required to continue growing (and supporting) the universe of applications will quickly become onerous. Clearpath is already facing a talent shortage.
Clearpath should work toward eliminating its own dull and (economically) dangerous work: developing a core library of interfaces to its robotic control system to avoid the challenge of maintaining and supporting too many systems, and looking for ways to develop self-serve tools that help customers select their own configurations with less hand holding.