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San Francisco-based robotics startup Canvas has raised $24 million in Series B funding. The round was led by Menlo Ventures and included leading construction firm Suffolk Construction. Alumni Ventures Group, as well as existing investors Innovation Endeavors, Brick & Mortar Ventures, Obvious Ventures, and Grit Labs, also participated in the round.
Canvas said it will use the funding to scale its drywall finishing robot. Its robot combines a mobile base, robot arm, multiple end effectors and computer vision to spray and sand drywall mud. Henrik Bennetsen and Maria Telleria, two of the co-founders of Canvas, were on The Robot Report Podcast in January 2021 shortly after coming out of stealth mode. The robot is semi-autonomous and requires a human to be in the loop.
“We know it is just way too difficult to ask for a map of the environment that is accurate or to tell a customer to shut down for a day so that we can create that map. So we have developed a lot of great technology that enabled us to get up and running,” said Telleria. “We do use LIDAR to map the rooms and create an accurate representation of the space. We then break it down into workspaces that a robot can go after.”
Telleria said Canvas uses a combination of off-the-shelf components, such as the mobile base and arm, and custom parts such as the end effectors and software that break down the space. It also trains the vision system using machine learning.
“We often think of it as room-level autonomy,” said Telleria. “The machine can go ahead and do a full wall and move between walls in a room as directed by the operator. The machine will figure out the spray pattern and the sanding pattern that it needs, and the worker can be supervising multiple machines getting a lot of work done.”
She also said Canvas doesn’t see a need for full autonomy in the drywall application. “The workers bring an incredible amount of flexibility and experience. Robots are very good at repeating what they need to do, and humans are very able to adapt to change.”
Of course, mudding is a very dirty job. Canvas said its robots are cleaned regularly by the on-site crew, just like other construction tools. Then it schedules a half a day of maintenance each month on the robots to make sure everything is working properly.
Bennetsen said Canvas considers itself a tech-enabled drywall subcontractor, not a robotics company. “We ended up setting ourselves up as a construction company for go-to-market purposes,” he said. “You hire us like you hire any subcontractor. We just come with different tools.”
“Robotics is one of the most exciting opportunities of this generation, and advancements have finally made it possible to introduce the tech into unconstrained field environments,” said Matt Murphy, partner at Menlo Ventures. “Canvas’ solution dramatically improves the timeliness, safety, quality, and cost of finishing (drywall) in construction, a trade that has been starved for innovation for over 50 years, until now!”
Canvas works with builders and District Council 16 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades to hone its approach. Canvas claims it can consistently deliver better than Level 5 finish — what its calls Machine-Finished Level 5 — and reduce typical finishing times by up to 2.5x.
“At Suffolk, we pride ourselves on redefining what is possible by innovating, investing, and building – we therefore share an aligned worldview with Canvas,” said Jit Kee Chin, Chief Data and Innovation Officer and Executive Vice President at Suffolk. Wan Li Zhu, Managing Director of Suffolk Technologies, added, “We are excited to partner with Canvas in creating a safer and more productive construction process where people and machines work together seamlessly and collaboratively to deliver at the highest quality levels.”
You can listen to Canvas’ interview on The Robot Report Podcast below. The discussion begins at the 24:45 mark.