September 28, 2016      

We like to call it the “Shark Tank” of robotics. Pitchfire takes place tonight at RoboBusiness 2016 at the San Jose Convention Center. Fifteen startups will have two minutes each to pitch their product to a panel of judges and to a packed room of industry colleagues.

The winner of Pitchfire, which is sponsored by Next47 a Siemens company, will win $5,000, international press recognition, and a complimentary membership to Silicon Valley Robotics with individual mentorship and professional introductions included.

The 2014 Pitchfire winner, nLink, made the world’s first Mobile Drilling Robot, which the judges agreed is a truly disruptive technology that will relieve construction workers from overhead work involved with measuring and drilling in concrete ceilings. In 2015, Autonomous Marine Systems (AMS) took home the first-place prize. The marine data company uses the autonomous, low-cost Datamaran sailboat to capture ocean intelligence anywhere around the world at 1/10th the cost of existing services, emitting zero CO2, and without risking human life.

Which startup will steal the show tonight during Pitchfire at RoboBusiness 2016? Here’s a look at what each of the 15 Pitchfire finalists have to offer.

1. Catalia Health

Catalia Health is a patient care management company that provides an effective, scalable, AI-powered patient engagement platform for individuals managing chronic disease or taking medications on an ongoing basis. By combining proprietary artificial intelligence algorithms for generating conversations with the patented advantage of social robots, Catalia Health hopes to engage patients to gather and analyze data critical to providing the highest level of patient care.

2. Kadho Inc

Kadho has partnered with IBM Watson to create the Mochu Al-based teaching robot that helps children improve their language skills. Initially, Mochu will launch in China in early 2017 to help children learn English.

Kadho says the biggest issue with the current language programs is accessibility to native speakers and ease of use. Millions of children worldwide do not have access to proper language training centers, and even if they do, 80 percent of the teachers are non-native speakers.

3. Parihug

Parihug makes electronically-connected teddy bears that let loved ones hug each other from a distance. Two people can be on different sides of the world, each with their own bear. When one is hugged, a suite of soft, fabric-based sensors detects the hug and transmits a message to the other bear. The receiving bear then hugs its owner with a gentle vibration. The bears allow loved ones to connect with each other when they physically cannot be together, and brings the humanity back into technological connection.

Parihug is working with the psychology department at Case Western Reserve University to get as close to mimicking the blast of oxytocin in the brain that a child would get by hugging a parent. There is a developmental window in early childhood when kids form the foundation for how they build relationships for the rest of their life.

4. Genesis Dimensions

Genesis Dimensions automates manufacturing and construction using 3D printing and robotics. The company can 3D print proprietary, regulatory-approved, and environmentally-friendly materials that act as insulation and structural components. Genesis Dimensions says it can 3D print homes, warehouses, buildings and other structures.

Genesis uses proprietary software that takes an architectural blueprint held in a CAD file into the cloud and runs additive as well as subtractive manufacturing algorithms to create a time and material optimized robotic path.

5. Franklin Robotics

Franklin Robotics has designed a solar-powered, autonomous weeding robot named Tertill. It lives in the garden and charges itself in the sunlight, patrols the garden, avoids plants and obstacles, and chops down emerging weeds. Setup requires only a fence around the garden and small plastic collars around seedlings; no wires or beacons are necessary.

And there’s no programming of any kind, and chemicals are no longer needed for weed control. The robot also provides a mobile platform for collecting a rich data set about the garden, including: soil moisture, temperature, plant nutrition and local weather conditions.

6. The Kobi Company

Kobi Yard Robot

The Kobi Company has developed an autonomous robot for yard work that can maintain the lawn, remove snow, and clean up leaves. This robot will free up your time so you can focus on the things you really enjoy.

The Kobi Company says the robot does most of the work a contractor does, but at a fraction of the price and with the convenience of 24/7 service. The Kobi Company will sell 10 beta versions of the robot by the end of 2016, wait for customer feedback, then make improvements before starting higher volume production in 2017.

7. Cubit

Cubit is creating modular robotics kits that allow you to develop programs visually without writing any code, and snap together smart hardware without any soldering or configuration. Cubit consists of three integrated hardware and software components: the Cubit Controller, Cubit Smartwares, and our drag-and-drop app, Cubit Workshop.

But Cubit is not limited to the provided Smartware. Cubit also allows you to wire your own piece of electronic sensor or hardware to the controller by using Cubit’s custom Smartware. Cubit custom Smartwares come with open wire leads for you to wire into your own custom electronics.

8. Endurance Robots

Endurance wants to help students jump into robotics. And it’s doing this with its DIY SelfieBot, a program its bringing to schools to show students how to make their own robots based on tutorials. The SelfieBot DIY platform is a tool that empowers students to turn your mobile device into a smarter machine.

This is based off Endurance’s SelfieBot, which is a “smart stand” for smartphones and tablets – think of it as a mobile driven robot for telepresence. SelfieBot can, for example, simplify video calling by turning the phone to follow a speaker as he/she is moving. It can also be used to turn your mobile device into a baby monitor or allow students to virtually attend classes.

9. Luxrobo

LUXROBO is developing a Robotics of Things (ROT) platform that allows users to use electronic modules to construct their IoT device; each module will represent one function. For example, a smart thermostat can built out of six modules. All you need is a WiFi module, LCD display module, dimmer module, battery module, temperature module and a servo module.

10. Iris Automation

Iris Automation is building an industrial-grade collision avoidance systems designed to run on-board a drone in real time, based on computer vision and machine learning technology. The collision avoidance module employs a camera, processor and sophisticated computer vision software that is able to perceive the surroundings enabling collision avoidance and visual navigation, a crucial part of any unmanned system that needs to interact with the world.

Iris’ solution creates 3D models of the world in real-time as drones fly through it, tracks other flying objects, and supports >500m detection range, avoiding traditional range limitations that accompany competitive products. As drones start doing more of the high-value industrial work completely autonomously and carve into multiple billion dollar natural resource sectors, each drone system will need to have a trusted situational awareness unit on-board.

11. QQQ Tech

The World Health Organization estimates there are 372,000 drownings worldwide each year. The Lifeguard Drone is looking to drastically reduce those numbers by using drones that fly flotation devices out to swimmers who are in trouble.

A swimmer can rent this system at select beaches or lakes. Upon pressing an emergency button on the device, the swimmer can get a drone to fly over and drop a flotation device in seconds. Founder R.J. Tang has said the next step is to develop a version of the system that automatically detects when a swimmer is flailing about or sinking.

12. Scanse

Scanse has created a scanning LiDAR sensor called Sweep that offers 360 degree sensing capabilities for just $255. The affordable LiDAR system is designed to help usher in the next generation of mobile robots and drones.

The 2D LIDAR system has a range of 40 meters, even outdoors. Scanse says that Sweep is based on a new time of flight ranging method that involves sending out laser pulses that are made up of a series of micro pulses. These micro pulses act as a kind of light based checksum, which allows the sensor to more easily correlate returning light to the known pattern, and achieve a phase difference measurement. This method is much different than traditional LIDAR, which uses a train of identical pulses to measure the phase difference between outgoing and incoming light.

13. Rokid

Rokid is an IoT hub that uses AI and deep learning to bring your smart devices and experiences all together. It reimagines home automation by connecting the disjointed experience. It can turn on the lights, play your favorite playlist, order a car service and much more. You no longer need to pull out your smartphone and open an app to see the latest weather conditions, just ask Rokid to give you the latest forecast.

Rokid recognizes individual users through voice print technology, it automatically identifies individual faces and adapts to each family member’s specific music, restaurant, calendar, and other preferences.

14. Moti

MOTI Nudge is a social robot aimed at Millennials struggling with a healthy life/work balance. MOTI works firstly by having a physical presence, becoming what is known as an environmental cue, meaning every time you glance at MOTI you think of your habit. Then, every time you complete your habit, you let MOTI know though a satisfying push of his faceplate.

MOTI celebrates your small win with lights, sounds, and haptics. However, slack on your habit and MOTI might get sad, angry, or remain purely encouraging based on what motivates you best. MOTI gets to know you – the better you get at your habit, the more his celebrations evolve, and MOTI’s reminders are custom-tailored to your particular blend of negative/positive reinforcement. MOTI also auto-detects who is falling of their habit and why.

15. Semio

The Semio software platform offers an out-of-the-box integrated solution (in the form of modular drivers) for the automated recognition (of a human user) and autonomous generation (by the robot) of social behaviors that are fundamental to natural, multimodal interaction. Such behaviors include speech, social spacing, eye gaze, gestures (face, hand, and body), turn-taking, and social touch. The processing of these behaviors can occur either on-board the robot or off-board in the cloud.