The race for automation is well underway, with millions of robots doing the heavy lifting in industrial settings. Robots have recently become cheaper, safer, and more efficient, which makes it easier for businesses to justify the initial investment, because they know it will save labor costs. Consumers, on the other hand, still don't have robots to handle a variety of chores around the house.
In fact, we've been waiting for robots to do our household chores ever since the Jetsons introduced us to Rosie the robot maid in the 1960s. A new company called Misty Robotics, Inc., however, will focus specifically on building personal robots. The company, which is a spin-off of robotic toy company Sphero, launched with $11.5 million in Series A funding from Venrock, Foundry Group, and others.
So far, consumers haven't embraced robots beyond an automatic vacuum cleaner. Tim Enwall, CEO of Misty Robotics, says now is the right time for robots to start handling more of our household chores.
He tells us, "Today, the personal robot market is very small and nascent -- the world has not had a mobile, hearing, seeing 'robotic being' moving around its normal living and working spaces. It's like every other major technology disruption before it: small and exciting to those at the very innovative end of the adoption curve."
Not surprisingly, several robotics companies are starting to expand by using their expertise to design robots for homes. German industrial robotics giant Kuka acquired Chinese appliance maker Midea last year and recently announced plans to build personal assistant robots.
Kuka CEO Till Reuter told the Financial Times in a June: "Midea is not doing any robotics or automation, so Kuka is automation for Midea." He continued, "And they are very well connected to the consumer industry. So together we want to do consumer robotics."
The worldwide number of domestic household robots is expected to rise to 31 million between 2016 and 2019, according to the International Federation of Robotics. This translates to a sales value of about $13 billion. We asked Enwall how Misty will succeed in this emerging market.
"Misty Robotics is the same giant step function for robotics as Apple was for computers," he says.
Enwall's plans are ambitious. He says:
Before Apple, developers were building the foundation (the computer). After the introduction of Apple, developers are now building applications. Right now, everyone is building robots and Misty Robotics is that same step-function for robotics. We're focused on developing robots for everyone. While the market is in early days, we believe the time is right for Misty Robotics to lead the charge in bringing the idea of "Rosie from the Jetsons" to reality.
The company's first offering will be geared toward developers and enthusiasts, but eventually, the goal is to sell a robot that can handle household chores, which Enwall says could include "watering the plants, playing with cat, reading to your child, keeping an eye on your house, and even keeping us safe."