March 10, 2011      

Although it describes itself as a “robotics engineering and design company,” KumoTek LLC is much more than that. The company created life-size animatronic dinosaurs that interact with an audience by visually tracking it and responding differently based on the size and actions of the crowd within their view. KumoTek also provides a range of humanoid robots for education and research that are sold to the public, research institutions, and major clients such as Intel, MIT, Dartmouth, the U.S. Army, and the U.S. Naval Academy.

KumoTek was started in 2004 by native Texan Matthew Fisher, who wanted to return to Texas to build his company even though there is little robotics infrastructure in North Texas. After studying Japanese and international business in college and spending 11 years in the U.S. Navy in satellite communications, Fisher started KumoTek as a small robot import and distribution company. Now it is a multinational design and manufacturing concern that focuses on robots for the consumer, education, entertainment, and service sectors.

Located just north of Dallas in Richardson, KumoTek has a 3,000-square-foot facility in a high-tech business area with office and warehouse space leftover from the telecom company crash a decade or so ago. The company works on a small scale with local universities such as the University of Texas at Dallas and UT at Arlington, and will be in a good position to support further academic research if North Texas receives funding to build the tier-one university facilities that the state has approved.

Business Partners
With only five full-time employees and a few software contractors, KumoTek-whose logo incorporates a spider, or “kumo” in Japanese-relies on manufacturing partners primarily in Japan, with some support from Korea. Kokoro Co. Ltd., based in Tokyo and part of the Sanrio Group, has built animatronic dinosaurs for more than 20 years, so it was the logical partner for KumoTek when it was building RoboSUE, its artificially intelligent and interactive Tyrannosaurus Rex. For the summer of 2010, RoboSUE and the company’s other dinosaurs were in residence at the Field Museum in Chicago, receiving high acclaim for their interactivity.

RoboSUE installations give KumoTek a high profile, at least in the geographic area surrounding the installation. The exhibit in Chicago, for example, garnered much local press, both print and video, and received coverage in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times.

A less-terrifying KumoTek robot, ARTI (short for artificial intelligence), interacts with visitors at the Intel museum in Santa Clara, Calif. Using embedded cameras, microphones, and speakers, along with AI software from KumoTek, ARTI converses and guides visitors. The robot has been programmed with a sense of humor, and ARTI remembers objects held up for its cameras, demonstrating how robots can learn new information. A human can operate the unit, or it can run completely autonomously.

Sources of Revenue
After growth struggles the first two years for the grass-roots, organically funded company, KumoTek’s revenue climb the past three years has been healthy. Entertainment products such as RoboSUE and ARTI are special projects and do not provide a steady revenue stream. Per year, KumoTek may get one installation project for RoboSUE and one custom project like ARTI.

Additional recurring revenue comes from the sale of research robots and hobby kits sold through roboporium.com, the company’s online store. KumoTek offers its own products, and distributes some other educational and hobby robotic items. It also has a program the company calls Robot P.E.T.S (Promoting Education through Science). The idea is that early interaction with robots will promote student interest in robots and the math and engineering classes necessary to study advanced robotics.

Humanoid Product Line
KumoTek’s KT-X line of humanoid robots targets hobbyists as well as researchers. The line starts with the KT-X Lite, a bipedal model kit for first-time builders, although the robot is also offered fully assembled. KT-X Superbot is the company’s flagship humanoid, which has 17 servo motors, or degrees of freedom-four more than the KT-X Lite. Next up in the line is the KT-X Gladiator, which includes 19 servo motors, then the KT-X Gladiator Pro, which adds extremely high-torque servo motors to lift objects. The robots can move body parts in a wide variety of directions, and right themselves after falling or being placed on the ground.

As the name implies, the KT-X PC and KT-X PC Pro research robots have onboard computers, and both feature gyro/accelerometer sensors, networking capabilities, and high-resolution vision systems. The PC Pro model also includes 16 metal-gear, high-torque servo motors and a software development kit (SDK) for the onboard motor controller; a KumoTek engineer provides a day of training. For the humanoid line, costs range from $13,960 on the high end down to $990 for the beginner model. Educational robot arm kits can be purchased for as little as $99.

As with the company’s animatronic dinosaurs, its service and utility robots-such as those for disaster area recovery as well as fire, police, and rescue operations-are produced in conjunction with various Japanese and Korean partners and make up a smaller percentage of revenue. KumoTek’s partners in this area have higher profiles and years of experience, so this product line is not yet one of the company’s primary business drivers. KumoTek also offers several omnidirectional sensor and camera modules.

With steadily increasing revenues and its offerings of service, educational, hobbyist, research, and entertainment robots, KumoTek has successfully diversified its product portfolio and may have insulated itself from adverse market changes. This, coupled with steadily increasing revenues, puts the company in a favorable position for continued growth and success.

The Bottom Line

  • A small, young company with a handful of employees, KumoTek nevertheless is a multinational design and manufacturing company that has made a name for itself with its interactive animatronic dinosaur, RoboSUE.
  • KumoTek relies on manufacturing partners primarily in Japan, with some support from Korea.
  • The company’s several million dollars per year in revenue is derived primarily from the KT-X line of humanoid robots for hobbyists on up to academic research facilities, with additional income from RoboSUE installations, distribution sales of other educational robots, and contract work. A line of service and utility robots for fire, police, and rescue operations contributes a small percentage of additional revenue.
  • KumoTek’s diverse offerings and steadily increasing revenues put it in a good position for growth.