Last month, FoldiMate Inc. launched an equity crowdfunding campaign with SeedInvest. The company, which has offices in Oak Park, Calif., and Israel, has been working on a robot for folding laundry, and it provides an example the challenges and options facing developers of consumer robotics.
FoldiMate takes clothing from age 6 to adult size XXL and standard-size towels and pillowcases. The robot can fold up to 25 items in 5 minutes, faster than the average person, claims the company. The startup has been an exhibitor at CES in Las Vegas.
FoldiMate’s campaign ends on Friday, Aug. 16, 2019.
Field trials lead to improvements, new settings
FoldiMate put the first prototype of its laundry-folding robot through extensive initial testing. Not only have company staffers taken it home for testing, but 28 families have also used it for nearly a month, said Gal Rozov, FoldiMate founder and CEO.
“We’ve aggregated feedback from those sessions and improved the prototype,” he told The Robot Report. “First were improvements in folding quality, and the robot can handle less-common items and fold more consistently.”
“Second is building more reliability into the appliance,” Rozov continued. “Last, but not least, our team has worked hard to decrease the dimensions — not just less than the existing prototype, but less than what we have as the specifications for the final product on our site.”
“Granted, it’s not going to be small, but our team of engineers took it one size down,” he said. “We also learned during the pilots that if we focus our efforts on what we’ve learned in the past few years, the robot doesn’t just have to be in the home.”
“Consumers don’t just fold laundry and immediately put it in a closet or drawer,” explained Rozov. “Lots of people fold laundry in a shared location, such as laundromats or apartment laundry rooms. That’s a huge opportunity.”
FoldiMate isn’t immediately pursuing commercial environments such as hotels or hospitals, but charging a few dollars for folding service in shared locations is a good value proposition for consumers, Rozov said.
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SeedInvest accepts only 1% of fundraising applications, stated the company. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, participants are buying shares rather than pre-ordering a product.
“With equity crowdfunding, you have a chance to become an investor rather than get swag or the product,” Rozov said. “It’s a chance for our 350,000 registered fans to get in before an IPO.”
FoldiMate has already raised $9 million, including $8.3 million from Munich, Germany-based BSH Home Appliances Group, the world’s third-largest home appliance manufacturer.
“We researched equity crowdfunding and got a kick in the right direction when talking to people at Knightscope,” recalled Rozov. Knightscope Inc. makes security robots and announced its initial public offering two weeks ago.
“Instead of a few big investors, our fanbase can be brand ambassadors,” he said. “They can do their best to promote our startup and connect us with suppliers and distributors.”
“We also don’t let go of risks — the company can also raise conventional accredited investments, and SeedInvest manages the individual, unaccredited ones,” said Rozov. “Right now, we’re doing a bridge round to raise enough funds to reach the next milestone. We plan to put beta units in the field, start receiving early orders, and reach production. This allows us to raise a Series A round in a more attractive way for potential investors.”
Preparing for production
“We’re trying to use off-the-shelf parts as much as we can. The price point is still a bit higher than what we’re aiming for in the future,” said Rozov. “We’re trying to make it as simple and cost-effective as possible, but it’s a lot more complex than a dishwasher or drone.”
The company hopes to get its robot below $2,000, and it does not yet include machine learning for object recognition.
“There are a lot of sensors, but we wanted to avoid costly solutions, so there’s no image recognition in the first version,” Rozov said. “We wanted a reliable solution that’s cost-effective at scale. We used smart software and proprietary mechanics. The software is not as simple as you might imagine — it demands a lot of experiments and know-how.”
FoldiMate has also had discussions with companies that are developing two-armed robots that could separate items and feed them for folding, he said.
FoldiMate aims to be first to market
“A lot of investors have compared us to iRobot’s Roomba, but that’s not apples to apples,” Rozov said. “Robot vacuum cleaners are still a subcategory of vacuum cleaners. There’s no equivalent category for us today; we’re more like dishwashers in being the only appliance of its kind. Our focus is on practicality, and we’re not taking decades to come to market.”
He acknowledged that other companies are working on laundry-folding robots, including some home appliance makers and Laundroid maker Seven Dreamers Laboratories Ltd., which recently filed for bankruptcy protection.
“If you compare what FoldiMate has achieved in terms of funding and timeline, you can see the challenges that others have had,” Rozov said. “Our vision for a smart closet is just the beginning. I hope we can do the same for laundry that iRobot did for vacuuming. While not everyone has heard of us yet, we expect that Gen Y, which has grown up with technology, will adopt home automation much faster.”