Just a few months ago, Grishin Robotics made its robotic first investment (that we know of) by writing a check for a cool quarter million to Double Robotics and its rolling iPad telepresence thingy. Today, Grishin has announced investment number two, with another $250,000 going to Elad Inbar's RobotAppStore.
What is RobotAppStore? We'll break it down for you: it's a store, that sells apps, for robots. You can buy (or download for free) apps for a variety of consumer robots (Naos, Pleos, Roombas, Lego NXT kits, and more), each of which has been checked out by RobotAppStore itself to make sure it won't cause your hardware to explode. On the other end, developers can sell apps through the store, keeping 70 percent of whatever their apps bring in.
Here's Dimtri Grishin on why he decided to go with RobotAppStore:
“Robotics is a combination of good hardware and software – thus, the important role of a project like the RobotAppStore in the market ecosystem is unquestionable. The concept of ‘Cloud robotics’, which implies ability of all robots to connect to the internet, share a common knowledge database and seamlessly upgrade their functions in real-time, is a soon-to-be future; one reminiscent of the of personal computer industry. We believe that the strong team behind RobotAppStore coupled with their ability to leverage the advantages of having strong community already built around the product, can make this future closer”, said Dmitry Grishin, founder of Grishin Robotics, Co-Founder & CEO of Mail.Ru Group.
That mention of cloud robotics isn't coincidental; Grishin is betting that there's a future in giving robots the same ability to benefit from cloud software and cloud hardware that smartphones have now. Like, let's take some sort of stupendously difficult problem that may or may not be solved (depending on who you ask), like grasping, and imagine how a cloud-based app store or service could improve it: your robot could be about as smart as a plastic spork with an arm and a Kinect on it, but as long as you've got the right app and a connection to the cloud, it doesn't matter. Your bot can simply send a 3D image of the object in question, some supercomputer somewhere can do some number crunching, and send back grasping instructions faster than you can say "wow, that was fast." Obviously, the RobotAppStore isn't set up for this kind of thing yet, but that's why now's the time to invest, I suppose.
Anyway, here's what Elad thinks about the whole thing:
“The support provided by Grishin Robotics is a great vote of confidence in our plans for the company,” said Elad Inbar, Founder & CEO of RobotAppStore. “It shows their belief in our vision and the importance of the marketplace for robotics applications. The robotics industry has reached its tipping-point with broad market acceptance, usability of robots, and the ability to extend the robots' capabilities. Being a part of Grishin Robotics’ portfolio provides high synergy with other robotics companies and better resource utilization. We are excited to use this funding to secure our place as THE market-leader of the consumer and educational robot-apps™ industry."
As much as I'd like to believe this, "the robotics industry has reached its tipping-point" is a sentiment that I've heard consistently ever since I started writing about robots back in 2007, and as far as I can tell, nothing has tipped yet. I think it's more likely that Grishin's investments, and RobotAppStore itself, will help the robotics industry reach some sort of tipping-point in the first place. An app-type ecosystem, where you can download new capabilities for your robot that someone else has come up with rather than taking the time to develop them yourself, is one of the things that has made ROS so successful in robotics, and has the potential to do something similar for consumer robots in general. The only question I have at this point is whether there are really enough robots out there for RobotAppStore to get a good foothold, but even if there aren't (yet), the existence of a place to share apps will perhaps motivate people to buy more robots knowing that new capabilities are already available.