Sphero Inc., the Boulder, Colo.-based consumer robotics maker best known for its remote-controlled BB-8 and R2-D2 toys, this week spun off yet another company. It said Company Six (CO6) will focus robots and “AI-based software applications” that provide situational awareness to military personnel, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, and others who work in dangerous situations.
CO6 has already raised a $3 million seed round led by Spider Capital, with participation from existing Sphero investors including Foundry Group and Techstars, as well as new investor GAN Ventures. The startups said it plans to use the funds for commercialization and market entry of its initial products.
CO6 is being coy about what it is working on. “We are working on a highly durable, personal situational awareness robot and SaaS-based cloud offering,” Jim Booth, former CEO of Sphero chief operating officer and CEO of CO6, told The Robot Report via email. “We are actively working with members of the public safety sector throughout development to ensure the products we develop improve safety [and] operational efficiency and act as an extra set of eyes to help make good decisions for those out there in harm’s way.”
In attempt to learn more about CO6, The Robot Report found that, as of May 1, 2020, Silicon Valley Bank has a security interest in Sphero and its intellectual property (IP). Typically in these agreements, a company puts up its IP as collateral to receive the loan. If Sphero fails to repay the money, SVB could seize the collateral to make up for the money it lost. Here is a copy (PDF) of the security interest contract between Sphero and SVB.
Included in that agreement are the following patents related to “Sphero Safety Robotics, Inc., a Delaware corporation d.b.a. Company Six:”
Patent Nos. 9,150,263, No. 9,395,725, No. 9,389,612: Self-Propelled Device Implementing Three-Dimensional Control
Patent No. 15/893,152: Magnetic Robot Calibration
Patent No. 10,104,699: Signal Strength Representation and Automatic Connection and Control Upon a Self-Propelled Device
Sphero stopped making its Disney robots in 2018 after the licensing deal ran out. Since then, it has focused on STEM-related robots, including the four-wheel, all-terrain RVR. The aforementioned patents about self-propulsion frequently mention wheels, so perhaps CO6 is developing a more ruggedized version of the RVR for ground-based reconnaissance and surveillance. Of course, this is pure speculation, and we’ll have to wait until CO6 gets closer to its initial launch date to learn exactly what it is working on.
Other companies are already selling similar robots, including FLIR, ReconRobotics and Roboteam. FLIR’s FirstLook, for example, is a throwable, rugged, and expandable robot that provides situational awareness to keep its operators out of harm’s way.
“We believe that the right set of robotic hardware and software solutions can prove to be an effective partner to first responders and others with dangerous jobs,” wrote Booth. “Our objective is to create an offering that is affordable and accessible enough to put them in hands of as many people as possible.”
Booth said CO6 currently has nine employees who all helped Sphero bring more than 4 million robots to market. Booth and Paul Berberian, formerly the CEO of Sphero and now chairman of CO6, both have backgrounds in military service.
CO6 isn’t the only company to spin out of Sphero. In 2017, Misty Robotics split out from Sphero after raising an $11.5 million Series A. Foundry Group also backed Misty Robotics, which is headed by Ian Bernstein, co-founder and former chief technology officer of Sphero. Booth was one of the early mentors to Sphero co-founders Bernstein and Adam Wilson as part of the Techstars Boulder Accelerator 2010 class. He joined Sphero after the Techstars program and helped launch and scale the company.