Humatics, a Waltham, Mass.-based startup building microlocation technology for manufacturing, warehousing and other commercial environments, raised $28 Million in Series A1 financing. Humatics said this was the “culmination” of its acquisition of 5D Robotics and Time Domain Corporation in 2018. The Series A1, which was led by Tenfore Holdings, brings Humatics’ total financing to more than $50 Million.
A 2015 spinout of MIT, Humatics introduced at IMTS 2018 its Spatial Intelligence Platform that combines RF beacons and software that can be used for human-robot interaction, self-driving cars, drones and more. The technology can currently track things down to two centimeters with a 500 meter range. Humatics is also developing a product, the KinetIQ 1000, that it says can pinpoint multiple sensors wirelessly down to 1 millimeter using RF technology.
Humatics will use the funding to scale production of its KinetIQ 100 peer-to-peer ranging product and accelerate time to market for its KinetIQ 300 product for 3D positioning. The funding will also help expand operational capacity at Humatics’ new 25,000-square-foot headquarters.
“With its strategic focus on industrial applications, Humatics microlocation can unlock tremendous value by driving greater efficiency and safety in factories, warehouses, ports, and logistics centers,” said Dan Levine, Tenfore managing partner and new Humatics board member. “Humatics has shown its KinetIQ products to be highly precise and robust, with deployments in some of the harshest industrial environments like Tata Steel’s steelyards in India.”
Here’s one of the first examples of how Humatics’ technology is being used. At IMTS 2018, Humatics and Eckhart demonstrated an automatic guided vehicle (AGV) capable of changing routes on the fly. It features the KinetIQ 300 that communicates with beacons placed around the ceiling of a factory. It can also travel outside where beacons are placed on poles. Humatics wants its technology to be the successor to GPS as the technology becomes challenging to use in certain environments, including indoors, underground and in cities.
“Maps are infrastructure and they don’t work well. In fact, we targeted places where this technology has trouble,” Humatics CEO David Mindell told The Robot Report at IMTS. “Dynamic environments with a lot of inventory moving around in a typical factory. Plus indoor-outdoor scenarios – AGVs suddenly have to stop at the borderline between inside and out. Our technology is also tape-less. Users won’t need magnetic tape laid down anymore. Tape-less means flexibility. We turned the magnetic tape guidance problem into a software problem. We have seen very simple trajectories laid out, with no intelligence in the navigation.”
Mindell continued, “This is also lower cost than a huge laser suite. Laser suites have problems as well. Although we don’t really think of ourselves as competing with those technologies – we think of ourselves as augmenting them and making them better. Navigation is a hard problem. It’s always going to be a systems problem. You’re always going to solve it in layers. We’ve solved it one unique way that happened to be very valuable, simple, and robust.”
Humatics going beyond the factory floor
Humatics is only scratching the surface of industries it intends to target. For example, self-driving cars had a massive year in 2018 and show no signs of slowing down. But there are still many software challenges that need to be addressed.
“Driverless cars are a huge challenge. We see the factory as the leading edge of what the city of the future is going to look like from the point of view of mobile robotics. But look around, you don’t see mobile robots driving around on the floor of this show [IMTS]. We can’t collaborate today with mobile robots yet,” said Mindell at IMTS. “If people think they’re going to do this in cities, you’d better be able to do it here or in a factory first.”
Navigation challenges outside the factory floor will require many systems working together. In an outdoor environment, navigation is still hindered by variables like GPS limitation, underground environments, and other unforeseen edge cases.
“I understand how [GPS] works and yet I am still astonished that it works. It lays a coordinate framework, a single coordinate framework, with only three shortcomings. It doesn’t work indoors, doesn’t work in cities, doesn’t work underground. Guess where most people live and work these days,” said Mindell at IMTS. “So the successor to GPS that works in this environment is not going to be the same global coordinate frame that everyone shares all the time. It has to have smaller, more local, high-performance interactions that are going to stick together via network. The indoor, underground, urban navigation problem is only going to be solved by these thousands of triangular interactions that are being managed by a larger software. That’s where we’re going with this technology. Some of them will be proprietary, some of them will be public.”