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Fetch Robotics Secures Massive $20 Million Investment from SoftBank

A robotics company that didn't exist a year ago gets a huge investment from Japan

2 min read
Fetch Robotics Secures Massive $20 Million Investment from SoftBank
This robot would be smiling, if it had a mouth.
Photo: Evan Ackerman/IEEE Spectrum

Fetch Robotics, a robotics startup in Silicon Valley that didn’t exist a year ago, has just announced a staggering US $20 million Series A funding round led by SoftBank, along with additional funding from seed investors O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and Shasta Ventures.

SoftBank is a Japanese multinational telecom and Internet giant that may sound familiar because they dropped $100 million into Aldebaran Robotics just a few years ago and ended up with Pepper. So far, SoftBank has refused to comment on its investment in Fetch beyond this mostly meaningless statement from the press release:

“As businesses look for solutions to streamline operations and meet the needs of an on-demand economy, we see a tremendous opportunity for robotics to solve that problem,” says Kabir Misra, Managing Director at SB Group US, Inc. “The team, the robots, and the timing all lead us to Fetch Robotics and we are happy to join them in bringing Fetch and Freight to market.”

Fortunately, we did get a chance to talk with Fetch CEO Melonee Wise. Our first question was how much Fetch Robotics is worth now, but unsurprisingly, Wise wouldn’t tell us. We can guess, though: based on the fact that Fetch’s intial round of funding was $3 million, and that we imagine retaining control of the company was a priority for them, that probably puts the valuation of Fetch Robotics at something better than $50 million, and quite possibly significantly higher than that. Not bad for a robotics company that only announced their first robots like six weeks ago.

What Wise was happy to talk about was what Fetch is planning to do with this huge pile o’ money. Their first production run was 40 robots, and they’re now planning a second, larger production run to meet demand. They’ll also have more freedom to invest in some new tech, like experimenting with different arm actuators that Wise can’t discuss further because “provisional patents are involved.” They also want to try out some different end effectors, and improve the battery and charging technology to give the robots 21 hours of uptime over a 24-hour period.

In other Fetch-related news, the company now has a European distributor, and they’re in the process of setting up distribution in Asia, intially just for the research platform. Wise explained to us that selling commercial robots overseas involves dealing with a bunch of regulatory certifications and other hullabaloo, and at the moment, Fetch is just too busy to deal with that stuff. And besides, they have more prospective customers in the US than they can immediately handle, and they’ve already had to turn down potential pilot customers.

Speaking of pilots, Fetch is planning on starting three pilots over the summer with real customers, with the first one kicking off within a few weeks. We haven’t been told who the customers are, but if the pilots go well, I’m sure we’ll hear all about it. And lastly, Fetch is trying to hire another 20 to 25 people, and is boosting their intern program to operate year round.

This investment is a substantial vote of confidence from SoftBank considering that (as far as we know) zero Fetch robots have shown that they can operate successfully in a commercial environment. But if there was much doubt that Fetch would deliver on the technology that they’ve promised, having this much money to back things up should go a long way towards making it happen.

[ Fetch Robotics ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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