The Robot Business is Hard - Rethink Robotics Shuts Down
With all the noise around AI and robotics these days, you'd think this is a great time to be a company that makes robots. And in many ways, it is. According to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry body,...
With all the noise around AI and robotics these days, you'd think this is a great time to be a company that makes robots.
And in many ways, it is.
According to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry body, worldwide sales of robots increased by 31% in 2017.
But it turns out the robot business is tough and making money isn't easy.
Because of this, robotics pioneer Rethink Robotics recently shut down.
Rethink made two robots - Baxter and Sawyer - that were designed to be safe for humans to work around and easy to program. They were also relatively cheap by robot standards, starting at about $22,000.
They raised $150 million and for awhile Rethink was considered a sure bet to be a winner. For example, we featured Baxter in our 2013 article The Rise of Robo Sapiens because we were so impressed by the company.
Their pitch was their robots were "cobots", meaning they could work along side and collaboratively with humans. It obviously helped their pitch that Baxter and Sawyer both looked cute - including facial expressions.
But as the Boston Globe's Businesses want robots that are problem solvers stated:
"While robots may be a big part of the future, building and selling them in the present can be exceptionally difficult."
According to the article, Rethink's robots simply didn't solve business problems as well as robots from competitors. The article also pointed to some business missteps, especially around distribution channels.
That Rethink was forced to shut down instead of being acquired means demand for their robots was at best modest and the business not financially sound.
Rethink's demise shows how hard it is to build and sell robots. But it also shows the robotics industry is maturing - Rethink failed in large part because their competitors were better.
And Rethink did play an important role in moving the robotics industry forward.
As the IEEE Spectrum article Rethink Robotics, Pioneer of Collaborative Robots, Shuts Down (which is where we got the sad Baxter picture above) points out, Rethink "developed a new class of factory robots that could safely work alongside people."
Expect to see more cobots in the future.
Published on 15 Oct 2018 at 08:00AM