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Stealthy Startup Aims to Reinvent AI for Manufacturing

Some 400 engineers are working under the radar at AutoLab AI with former Autodesk CEOs leading the pack

2 min read
Illustration of industrial robotic arms.
Illustration: iStockphoto

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.

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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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