“Danger, Will Robinson!” was one of the catchphrases of Robot Model B-9, mostly known simply as the Robot, in the 1960s TV Series Lost in Space. More than half a century later, we have plenty of industrial robots toiling away in factories and warehouses, but whatever happened to robots that are out and about in the world, reshelving in stores, harvesting, or even cleaning up or cooking in our homes? Sure, there’s the Roomba, but that’s been around since 2002 with very little happening since. This is all the more surprising given many of the recent advances in machine learning.
As it turns out, building a robot is still really difficult. Way more difficult than it should be. Even one of the most basic interactions we might want for an “out and about” robot, such as picking up an object, requires the interaction of many components, all of which are pretty much bespoke. This stands in stark contrast to modern software development where we can leverage web services for common tasks (e.g. Stripe/Dwolla for payments, Twilio for communications, Shippo for shipping).
The team at VIAM is setting out to rectify this situation. Their goal is to make building and programming a robot as simple as assembling web services. To this end they are developing a series of core components, such as object recognition, navigation and gripping. In addition VIAM is making available an online testbed where new robot applications can be tested in an on-demand fashion available to any developer (instead of requiring costly upfront acquisition of robot hardware).
We are excited to be backing Eliot Horowitz again, who previously co-founded MongoDB and was its CTO until recently. VIAM is building an incredible team and they are actively hiring! You can read more from Eliot as well.