Today, Fetch Robotics is announcing its existence, a big chunk of funding, and the fact that it’s working on not one, but two robots, one of which is a mobile manipulator targeting the logistics market. What is Fetch Robotics? In short, it’s the core team from Unbounded Robotics, now bigger, better, well funded, and (apparently) with less of a predilection for making things orange. We talk to Fetch’s founders (and funders) and Fetch CEO Melonee Wise, and speculate about exactly what’s going on over there, after the break.
Before we start talking about what happened between Unbounded Robotics and Fetch Robotics, let’s focus on today’s announcement. This morning, Fetch (which is based in San Jose, Calif.) announced that they’d secured US $3 million in Series A funding (on a valuation that nobody’s disclosing) from O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures and Shasta Ventures. The rest of the meat in the press release is the following (although you can read the whole thing here):
Fetch Robotics will use the funding to bring their inaugural robots to market. The robots will provide solutions for the logistics and light industrial markets, as well as for other human-robot collaboration opportunities.
Fetch Robotics is comprised of an experienced team of roboticists, spanning hardware, software, and design. The forthcoming robots will utilize and build upon ROS, the open source robot operating system.
The first robots from Fetch Robotics will be introduced in Q2 of this year.
There’s not a lot here about what exactly Fetch is developing, but we got a chance to ask Fetch CEO Melonee Wise some questions about what she and her team are working on:
Can you talk about what you’re building at Fetch? The press release makes it sound like you're planning on more than one robot.
We are developing more than one robot. I can tell you that one is a mobile manipulator and one is a mobile base, and they’ll work together. We’re targeting the logistics market, looking to do order fulfillment with robots.
Can you give me any more detail about the capabilities of the robots?
Not at this time.
What’s it like growing a new robotics company right next to Google and a bunch of startups?
We’ve been hiring. We’re still hiring. If there are developers and roboticists out there looking for “funemployment” with robots, I welcome them to apply. Myself and my co-workers have all been working in robotics for a long time. We know a lot of people, and we have great connections in the robotics community. We’re at 10 people now. In six months, we’ll probably double in size.
Will there be opportunities for researchers to take advantage of the Fetch robots?
We will be making a research edition available, and we welcome people to contact us for more information. We’ll be shipping robots in Q2 of 2015.
We certainly miss the UBR-1. Is the Fetch mobile manipulator going to be similar to the UBR-1?
It’s going to be similar in the way that all mobile manipulators are similar. They have an arm or arms, a mobile base, and sensors.
How much will the Fetch robots cost?
We’re not talking about price right now, but tens of thousands of dollars, not hundreds of thousands.
When will we be able to see the robots?
We will most likely be showing off the robots in Q2 of this year. We’ll probably be at ICRA in Seattle to demonstrate the research edition of the robot.
This is a frustratingly small amount of detail, we know, but Q2 isn’t that far away, so it’s reasonable to expect that we’ll see some prototypes in April, if not before.
We also spoke with Rob Coneybeer, managing director at Shasta Ventures, about why now is the time to invest in a robotics startup that wants to make mobile manipulators for logistics, and why they decided to put their faith in Fetch specifically:
With Fetch, it’s a company where it’s a bet on the core team and the market. Their product will be coming later this year, but fundamentally, we think that robotics is reaching an inflection point where you start to be able to do interesting things because of advances in actuators and processors and machine vision that allow robots to work in close proximity to people. I would say that [Fetch has] identified a set of business problems that they’re well suited to approach.
What do you want to see from Fetch in the future?
My hope is that they build an exciting enterprise robotics company, and that’s what Melonee is setting out to build. As a firm, we’re not interested in backing companies that are looking for an early exit. There just aren’t that many talented teams with experience that are available, because so many of them have been acquired. We’re interested in the people that want to build a big business, and in talking with Melonee and her core team, they want to build something that can be their life’s work.
We asked Coneybeer about Unbounded Robotics, and while he wouldn’t comment on what happened, he did say this:
Fetch is a brand new company, has no legacy from any prior company, and no intellectual property from prior companies. An absolutely clean sheet of paper.
We also asked Wise a few pointed questions about the relationship between Unbounded and Fetch, and it’s pretty clear that besides the core team (Melonee Wise, Michael Ferguson, Derek King, and Eric Diehr), there isn’t one:
Is there any relationship between Fetch Robotics and Unbounded Robotics?
No, there is not. The team is very similar, but there’s no relationship between the companies.
Does Fetch Robotics own any Unbounded Robotics IP?
Is there any relationship between Fetch Robotics and Willow Garage?
Is Unbounded’s IP going to be problematic for you in building a mobile manipulator for Fetch?
It’s all new IP. The robots are completely different. It’s not going to be a problem.
You’re the CEO of Fetch Robotics. Are you also a founder? If not, how did you end up there?
Fetch Robotics was originally founded as FYS Systems, which stands for Fetch Your Stuff. It was founded by Steve Hogan at Tech-Rx [a technology incubator], and they founded FYS Systems to try to create a company to go after the robotics market. Since the team from Unbounded was looking for something new to do, we saw a posting on Robotics Worldwide. We applied, and the rest is history.
There was a lot of interest in Unbounded and the UBR-1, and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of interest in what Fetch is working on. It’s not often that companies get second chances like this, and I’m certain that the Unbounded core team (and the rest of the roboticists at Fetch) are looking forward to proving that they can deliver the next generation of mobile manipulators.
[ Fetch Robotics ]
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.