InOrbit Inc., which provides cloud-based software for managing robot fleets, announced today that it has closed seed funding of $2.6 million. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company said it plans to use the investment to grow its product team and continue raising awareness about the need for professional management tools and best practices for robot operations.
InOrbit said its software-as-a-service offering enables robotics suppliers and users to develop, deploy and orchestrate autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) at global scale. The company claimed that its multi-cloud platform can provide secure, real-time analytics and data collection, robot performance monitoring (RPM), incident management, and remote interventions.
“Our goal is to support 1 million robots that positively impact the lives of 1 billion people,” stated Florian Pestoni, co-founder and CEO of InOrbit. “We want to put every robot in orbit around the cloud, combining robots’ ability to handle repetitive tasks with AI in the cloud to orchestrate and humans in the loop to provide direction.”
Scaling robot management in the cloud
As robotics deployments scale to hundreds and thousands of robots, the complexity of operating a growing fleet of robots increases exponentially across the board, including deployment, mission definition and dispatching, real-time monitoring, and incident response, said InOrbit.
“When a robot has an incident in a busy retail store or a warehouse, being able to respond quickly is one of our value-adds,” Pestoni told The Robot Report. “Our users are able to get a real-time view of everything that’s going on, from the executive down to engineering.”
“The platform also provides more fine-grained tele-operation,” he explained. “For example, if an AMR gets too close to a shelf or gets bumped, it can get an assist from a remote operator to get out of that state.”
InOrbit is using its funding to hire more employees. “Now that we have a validated roadmap of things we know customers need, we’re hiring engineers, mainly in U.S.,” Pestoni said. “We welcome talent wherever it is across the country. We live at the intersection of robotics and the cloud, so we need engineers from each side.”
InOrbit users multiply
‘We now have multiple customers who use InOrbit in their daily business,” Pestoni said. “Several hundred locations around the country have robots managed with InOrbit.”
For example, Bossa Nova Robotics has been working with InOrbit to monitor its shelf-scanning robots in hundreds of retail stores across the U.S.
“InOrbit’s platform has helped us meet and exceed the expectations of our customers,” said Sarjoun Skaff, co-founder and chief technology officer of Bossa Nova. “We value this partnership as we take another step towards achieving our mission of powering the transformation of retail.”
“Companies that have been around for a while had some existing tools that they put together; fleet management was not their main focus,” Pestoni said. “In the case of Bossa Nova, it’s inventory management. We’ve gotten actual feedback from big implementations. We’re also working with Savioke, moving materials in hospitals and hotels.”
“Today, our robots are deployed in retail stores, where you have one robot doing inventory management and another doing cleaning,” he said. “Today, they’re separate, but imagine orchestrating tasks and robots optimized for each task in complex environments. The idea of ‘software-defined everything‘ is where the software is agnostic and can dispatch the right robot to the right task at the right time.”
“While our focus has been on AMRs, some customers have used InOrbit for other types of robots,” Pestoni acknowledged. “We’re robot-agnostic, and our platform could work with other platforms, like drones or collaborative robots. It’s pretty amazing how quickly people get used to seeing robot deliveries.”
RaaS and ROS
“Management tools may not get much attention, but our tools are more advanced than what many companies can build in-house,” said Pestoni. “In some cases, InOrbit could replace multiple tools from different vendors.”
InOrbit offers both software or robotics as a service (RaaS) and a “sell-through” model,” he said. “We want to work with whoever wants to operate large fleets of robots and to scale quickly. RaaS allows each company to focus on what it does best, but it’s not for everyone. Buying robots is also a valid model.”
What about the systems operations centers of AMR providers? “Our platform is complementary to those from logistics suppliers such as Fetch or Locus,” replied Pestoni. “Customers don’t have to use everything we offer, but some of them have specific needs for data or teleoperation. The next generation of robotics companies hasn’t built as much infrastructure themselves, and there’s no need to re-create it.”
InOrbit co-founder Chief Technology Officer Julian Cerruti recently gave a presentation at ROSCon in Macau on the Robot Operating System (ROS), said Pestoni. “There’s a lot more awareness of the need for professionally managed platforms for robot operations,” he said. “It’s similar to when Linux or the cloud replaced homegrown solutions.”
“We’re in the Robot Operations Working Group, which is a cross-industry group, with Brain Corp., Amazon Robotics, and others,” he added. “It’s a technology-neutral group trying to raise awareness around the need for better management practices.”
“We now have access to a lot of great data, and we’re building tools in that direction to help companies understand what problems are occurring so they can not just solve them quickly, but also drive continuing improvement,” said Pestoni. “For DevOps for robots, you want operations in the field and data working with developers.”
InOrbit investors interested in robotics operations
ANIMO Ventures led InOrbit’s funding round, with participation from Yamaha Motor Ventures Silicon Valley, Kärcher New Venture, and other institutional and individual investors.
“The founding team at InOrbit combines passion, technical wizardry, and a deep commitment to enable robotics to impact a billion lives globally,” said Antonio Osio, partner at ANIMO Ventures. “The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated what the founders have been thinking for decades — that autonomous robots hold the key to a more resilient and thriving society. We believe the nascent field of RobOps is a key ingredient in building that future.”
“A lot of investors and customers are taking a wait-and-see approach, but we still expect that 2021 will be a breakout year for robotics,” said Pestoni. “Our investors believed in our vision, and their continued support has been huge in the middle of what’s going on.”
The novel coronavirus crisis has led to a “massive shift from brick-and-mortar retail to e-commerce, and supply chains are struggling to adjust,” said Pestoni. “We realize that our supply chains are brittle, and a lot of tasks that used to be dull or dirty are now dangerous as well. We’re working with Kärcher, a German company that builds industrial cleaning equipment.”
An increasing number of companies have expressed interest in cloud robotics, but Pestoni said he isn’t worried about competition. “Anything worth doing is going to attract people,” he said. “Robotics is still in its early days, and we’re starting to see massive growth in response to COVID-19 and the need for social distancing. Our specialization is in running large fleets efficiently.”
“We’re in the Cambrian explosion of robotics,” Pestoni said. “Today, we see pockets of tasks automated with AMRs; five years from now, such value-added robotics will be commonplace.”