Built Robotics closed a $33 million Series B round for its autonomy stack that turns construction vehicles into autonomous robots. The round was led by Next47 and raises the San Francisco startup’s to-date funding to $48 million. Additional investors include Building Ventures and existing Built Robotics backers Founders Fund, NEA, Lemnos, and Presidio Ventures.
Built Robotics’ autonomy stack is retrofitted onto existing construction vehicles. The robots can then autonomously perform functions such as digging trenches, excavating foundations, and grading building pads. The autonomous fleet can be managed via a web-based platform, which allows remote equipment operators to supervise the robots. The vehicles can still be operated manually if needed or desired.
Built Robotics tells The Robot Report it uses a combo of cameras, LiDAR and GPS for the autonomy stack. The GPS is used for location and elevation information, while the LiDAR, camera and on-board machine learning handle real-time obstacle detection and job completion status.
“Especially on bigger job sites, we feed some of the blueprint metrics into the machinery,” Built Robotics’
Erol Ahmed told The Robot Report. “Our software communicates with the data back-end and remote operators to understand how far along the project is, how much needs to be dug, and where to dig. “We do our own verification checks to make sure it lines up well.”
Built Robotics uses some off-the-shelf technology, but it builds a lot of custom technology. “A lot of the relevant technology that exists right now is for consumers or automobiles,” said Ahmed. “That doesn’t translate into heavy equipment.
Dirt and weather conditions often come up in discussions about autonomous vehicles. It’s no different with Built Robotics’ robots, which obviously operate in dirty environments.
“What’s great about construction, the job sites are contained and well-defined. It’s not as crazy as self-driving cars on an open road,” said Ahmed. “We’re focused on being good at tasks. But the robots have eyes, just like a person. If the robots have trouble seeing, it waits for a human operator to fix the situation.”
Built Robotics said it has signed more than $100 million in customer commitments. Its robots are working in the US at the moment, many times in remote places where its tough to find labor. Built’s current fleet has excavated 100,000 tons of material at wind farms, housing developments, and utility solar installations. There have been no incidents in 7,500-plus operating hours, Built said.
“The shortage of qualified labor is an industry-wide challenge right now, and finding skilled workers is even more difficult on large-scale remote infrastructure projects,” said Noah Ready-Campbell, CEO of Built Robotics. “Our robotic equipment is able to shoulder some of the load by assisting with basic, repetitive tasks, freeing up human operators to focus on more complex activities.”
Ahmed said it has been challenging introducing new technology into the construction industry; it’s an established industry accustomed to doing things a certain way.
“In many ways, that’s been more challenging than creating the technology,” said Ahmed. “We’re finding tasks that can be automated within these spaces. Robots are great at precision and working long hours with no fatigue.”