Micropsi raises $30 million to recycle industrial robots using human demonstrations

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As the pandemic places increasing pressure on the supply chain, manufacturers and warehouse operators are testing — or increasing their existing investments in — robotic technologies. According to a 2020 Automation World survey, 44.9% of operators said their assembly and manufacturing facilities currently use robots as “an integral part of their [workflows].” Global X’s Jay Jacobs told CNBC in a recent interview that industrial robots could grow from 16 billion to 37 billion over the next 10 years, with 2022 being the key inflection point.

But the deployment of robotics faces many obstacles, as a 2021 study from MIT points out. Among them are the high costs of integrating robotic hardware into the existing supply chain and the lack of standardization, as well as inflexibility; current robotic technologies cannot always be quickly repurposed to perform new tasks. Perhaps that’s why only 23% of companies responding to Automation World’s survey said they planned to add robots to their operations in the coming months.

New startups claim to simplify the implementation process with products that address some of the most challenging technical aspects of robotics. One is Micropsi Industries, a Berlin, Germany-based company that trains industrial robots to perform actions through human demonstrations. Reflecting investor enthusiasm for the robotics sector, Micropsi today announced that it has raised $30 million at a valuation of approximately $93 million, bringing its total raised to approximately $45 million.

Learn from the demo

Founded in 2014, Micropsi, which has an office in Brooklyn, develops industrial robot control systems. Its first product, MIRAI, is designed to attach to existing robotic arms, allowing them to “perceive [their] workspace” through cameras and correct their movements as they complete tasks.

“We and everyone around us – it’s us, the AI ​​providers, but also the robot and tool makers, and the system integrators – are working hard to lower the barriers of entry for the robotics,” CEO Ronnie Vuine told VentureBeat via email. “Robots are now mainly deployed in large companies. They can afford to build the know-how, they can afford to pay the system integrators, they can afford to fail and learn. Small and medium-sized companies have to be much more careful, and yet the potential is so much greater there. Robots are generic machines, AIs that can learn what to do are generic machines, so this combination is a good fit for a fragmented landscape of small manufacturers making a million different things.

Micropsi claims that using AI, MIRAI can generate robot movements in real time, processing variations in position, color and lighting conditions. According to the company, it can also be formed and recycled for various stages of the process, including detecting leaks in machinery, fastening screws and inserting cables into products, and sorting objects on the production line. Assembly.

“The data is generated by doing demos, the rest is done by MIRAI in the background – you have to [about] 30 minutes of demonstrations and between one and three hours of numerical calculation in the cloud to create a new skill from scratch,” explained Vuine. “Users learn to create good datasets by iterating their skills: record data, see the robot perform, add additional data to address weaknesses, and after three or four iterations, a very[‘s] skill was created. Nobody at Micropsi Industries needs to understand the use case, and nobody on the client side needs to understand machine learning.

Micropsi’s approach is a form of “learning by imitation”, which aims to imitate human behavior in a given task. In imitation learning, a system is trained to perform a task from demonstrations by learning a “mapping” between observations and actions.

Micropsi technology deployed on a robot.

For one customer, Siemens Energy, Micropsi – which claims to have sold 50 systems to date to around 30 customers – automated one step in the gas turbine blade refurbishment process. For ZF, a German technology company, Micropsi helped program robots to pick up metal rings from a crate and place them on a conveyor belt.

Upcoming challenges

Although the pandemic has not accelerated the adoption of robotics as some analysts had predicted – 75.6% of companies responding to the Automation World survey said the pandemic has not resulted in any new purchases robots in their facilities – that hasn’t stopped investors from pouring capital into the industry. From March 2020 to March 2021, venture capital firms invested $6.3 billion in robotics companies, up nearly 50% from the $4.3 billion they had invested over the course of the year. of the 12-month period a year earlier, according to a Forbes analysis of Pitchbook data.

Beyond Micropsi is automation-as-a-service startup Rapid Robotics, which provides out-of-the-box automation solutions for manufacturing companies. In a similar category is Symbio Robotics, a startup developing technology that automates repetitive assembly tasks. Other direct and indirect competitors to Microspi include industrial robotics company Elementary Robotics, robotics deployment company SVT Robotics and robotic safety systems developer Fort Robotics.

Vuine claims that MIRAI has an advantage over its rivals in that it is a “proven” and “independent” technology that “works 24/7 in customers’ factories”. “Most customers will start with one system and then add more as they validate its reliability and performance in a real production environment,” he added. “Our product, MIRAI, is not just a tool for setting up a production line — it is an integral part of the factory and controls the robots 24/7. [C]Customers need us to be as reliable as any other industrial equipment they use.

Metaplanet led Micropsi’s latest funding round, consisting of 45 employees, with participation from Vsquared, Ahren Innovation Capital and Project A. to develop features that will use AI to reduce integration costs[s].”

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Mavis R. Bernier