Grishin Robotics Pours $250,000 into RobotAppStore

Grishin's second investment of a quarter million dollars goes to an app store for robots

3 min read
Grishin Robotics Pours $250,000 into RobotAppStore

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.

[ RobotAppStore ] via [ Grishin Robotics ]

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Robot with threads near a fallen branch

RoMan, the Army Research Laboratory's robotic manipulator, considers the best way to grasp and move a tree branch at the Adelphi Laboratory Center, in Maryland.

Evan Ackerman

“I should probably not be standing this close," I think to myself, as the robot slowly approaches a large tree branch on the floor in front of me. It's not the size of the branch that makes me nervous—it's that the robot is operating autonomously, and that while I know what it's supposed to do, I'm not entirely sure what it will do. If everything works the way the roboticists at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Md., expect, the robot will identify the branch, grasp it, and drag it out of the way. These folks know what they're doing, but I've spent enough time around robots that I take a small step backwards anyway.

This article is part of our special report on AI, “The Great AI Reckoning.”

The robot, named RoMan, for Robotic Manipulator, is about the size of a large lawn mower, with a tracked base that helps it handle most kinds of terrain. At the front, it has a squat torso equipped with cameras and depth sensors, as well as a pair of arms that were harvested from a prototype disaster-response robot originally developed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory for a DARPA robotics competition. RoMan's job today is roadway clearing, a multistep task that ARL wants the robot to complete as autonomously as possible. Instead of instructing the robot to grasp specific objects in specific ways and move them to specific places, the operators tell RoMan to "go clear a path." It's then up to the robot to make all the decisions necessary to achieve that objective.

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