Universal Robots (UR) has hired 20-plus former Rethink Robotics employees, primarily within engineering and product development roles. In an email to The Robot Report, a UR spokesperson said the company is taking over Boston, Mass.-based Rethink’s old office at 27 Wormwood Street. UR recently opened a Boston office less than half a mile away, but it will no longer stay at that location.
Jim Lawton joined UR as VP of Product Management & Marketing. Lawton spent five-plus years at Rethink, including four as Chief Product Officer and Chief Marketing Officer and the last year as Chief Operating Officer. Other hires include Matt Fitzgerald, who joined UR as Global Director of Product Management. Fitzgerald spent six-plus years at Rethink, the last year-plus as VP of Product. Kurt Reiner, who spent four-plus years at Rethink, nearly the last three as VP of Software Development, joined UR as Senior Director of Engineering – Americas.
When Rethink closed its doors in October 2018, it reportedly had 91 employees, including 71 in Boston. In a separate move, Waleed Farahat, who spent seven-plus years at Rethink, most recently as VP of Technology, joined KUKA North America as VP of Technology Development. Farahat also held mechatronics and control roles at Rethink. If you use LinkedIn, a filtered search will return about another dozen former Rethink employees who joined UR in October 2018. At press time, UR had 31 job openings, the following five of which are located in Boston:
- UX Lead
- UI Architect
- Software Project Manager
- Head of SME Marketing
- Learning Technologist
UR will certainly pick up some positive press for the move, but expanding its Boston office has been part of the plan for months. In March 2018, UR President Jürgen von Hollen told The Robot Report opening the Boston office was the first step in UR’s global expansion plans. At the time, UR has about 470 employees worldwide, and von Hollen said it would hire another 200-plus by the end of 2018.
“Our new colleagues from Rethink have extensive expertise, knowledge and know-how not only about the technology but indeed also about the market conditions and what the customers’ pain-points are. All of this will benefit our customers and partners as we face an increase in competitors due to the huge market potential for collaborative robots,” said von Hollen. “Our ability to secure key members of the Rethink team will have a significant positive impact in meeting market needs and driving innovation.”
Collaborative robots, of course, is the fastest-growing segment of industrial robotics with a forecasted market size of $3.26 billion in 2022. UR claims to have about a 60 percent share of the cobot market, and that won’t be easy to maintain with new competitors regularly entering the market. However, the addition of key Rethink personnel will certainly help UR strategically.
Founded in 2008 by Rodney Brooks and Ann Whitaker, Rethink shut down on October 3, 2018. It raised nearly $150 million in funding, with the last round, an $18 million Series E, coming in August 2017. Former Rethink CEO Scott Eckert said an expected deal for Rethink to be acquired fell through. Just three weeks after it closed, however, German automation specialist HAHN Group acquired Rethink’s IP. HAHN Group said it will further develop Rethink’s technology by “combining it with German engineering and know-how of industrial applications.”
The Robot Report asked if UR ever had interest in acquiring Rethink’s IP, but the spokesperson declined comment. Things have been pretty good for UR of late. It launched its flagship e-Series in June, sold its 25,000th cobot in September, and on October 17 rang the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Not too shabby for the company that was acquired by Teradyne in 2015 for $285 million.
“Rethink Robotics – along with Universal Robots – has been a pioneer in driving and developing the collaborative robotics market globally,” said von Hollen. “The company was always a good competitor, which helped us drive cobot awareness worldwide, and we want to make sure its customers can continue to fulfill their collaborative automation initiatives.”