What exactly is the “future of autonomous manufacturing?” According to venture capitalist and AutoLab AI cofounder Lior Susan, stealth startup AutoLab AI is building it, but isn’t defining it yet, at least not publicly.
That kind of cryptic chatter doesn’t usually get Silicon Valley talking—more likely yawning, or at most mumbling about vaporware. But AutoLab AI, according to Axios, already has 400 employees and some serious funding. It’s not clear where those employees are hiding; the Palo Alto address for the company points to a small suite of offices at best. And the breadcrumbs the company has left to date are remarkably sparse.
But some dots are starting to connect.
SEC filings indicate that manufacturing giant Flex is a major funder, along with Eclipse Ventures; the company closed a Series A round of $163 million. Axios took that information and information from its sources to suggest that Autolab AI is actually a spinout of Flex.
SEC data lists Amar Hanspal as CEO; his most recent gig was as co-CEO at Autodesk, where, according to his LinkedIn profile, he was involved in investing “in cloud-based business opportunities in construction, additive manufacturing and VR/AR,” not a bad resume for someone who just might be building the factory of the future. Former Autodesk CEO Carl Bass is on the new company’s board—when he stepped down in 2017 he said he intended to spend his time “playing with robots.” Could this be what he meant?
The company’s trademark covers “cloud-based non-downloadable software; software as a service (SAAS); design and engineering of automation and manufacturing systems; and computer operating systems for use in the field of automated manufacturing technology” and a variety of computer control systems.
What does that add up to? Industrial robots controlled from the cloud? Large-scale additive manufacturing as a service? This story, clearly, is to be continued.
Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.