Pioneers in AI Robotics: 10 Companies Driving the Future

Artificial Intelligence (AI) promises to revolutionize automation across every industry. As machines gain the ability to see, reason, interact and make decisions inspired by the human brain, a new generation of "smart" robotics offers immense potential to enhance productivity, safety, creativity and more in our everyday lives.

Leading technology firms at the vanguard of this AI robotics movement demonstrate just how far these intelligent systems have already come – and where they still may take us in the future. This article profiles 10 trailblazing companies to illustrate the tremendous innovation, opportunities and progress shaping the AI robotics landscape.

Outrider: Automating Distribution Yards with Self-Driving Trucks

Outrider, founded in 2017, develops fully electric autonomous trucks purpose-built to operate 24/7 within the confined spaces of distribution yards for industrial facilities and logistics hubs. Their yard trucks integrate a suite of sensors like cameras and radar with Outrider’s proprietary AI software to continuously monitor hundreds of objects simultaneously in order to navigate safely.

The startup has attracted $118 million across investment rounds from VCs like NEA and Koch Disruptive Technologies. Outrider is currently working with distribution leaders like Georgia-Pacific as well as Fortune 500 firms in grocery retail and other transport-intensive sectors.

Outrider‘s zero-emission, self-driving systems offer immense efficiency advantages. According to CEO Andrew Smith: "We are focused on a future where distribution yards are run exclusively by software, removing people from dangerous and repetitive manual tasks. Our technology increases safety while unlocking vast efficiency gains – a win for both workers and business operations."

Funding: $118 million

Key Partners: Georgia-Pacific, Multiple Fortune 500 Firms

Vehicles Operated: 75+ Yard Trucks Across 4 Commercial Facilities

Miso Robotics: Welcome to the Kitchens of the Future

Miso Robotics develops collaborative cooking robots designed to work in tandem with human chefs to transform commercial kitchens. Their flagship product is Flippy – an adaptable robotic arm equipped with sensors, cameras and Miso’s proprietary AI software to automatically cook foods like fries, chicken wings, burgers and more to perfection.

Unlike proposals for fully automated “robotic kitchens” that aim to replace human staff entirely, Miso Robotics embraces a hybrid model where AI-enabled systems handle tedious, repetitive tasks like frying and grilling to enable human chefs to focus more on high-value creative work like recipe innovation and plate presentation.

So far Miso Robotics has raised approximately $50 million in funding, including from investors like CaliGroup and Acacia Research Corporation. The startup has also inked high-profile partnerships across major restaurant chains like White Castle, stadium concession groups like Levy Restaurants and universities looking to overhaul campus dining operations using cutting-edge technology.

Funding: $50 million

Key Partners: White Castle, Levy Restaurants, universities

Robots Deployed: Commitments for over 3,000 robot installations

Neurala – The AI Software Putting Robots in the Driver’s Seat

Founded by former MIT researchers, Neurala develops AI-as-a-service software focused on enabling drones, household robots, toys and other devices to see, perceive and understand their environment. The company’s flagship product is The Neurala Brain, a platform that uses computer vision and deep learning algorithms to give machines the ability to continuously adapt to new scenarios in real-time without needing traditional hand-coded instructions.

As of 2022, Neurala has raised $26 million in VC backing to support its goal of embedding adaptive intelligence into commercial and consumer robotics applications across a diverse range of verticals – from manufacturing to energy to construction and more.

Rather than compete directly in building robots, Neurala licenses its software “brains” to established drone and robot makers looking to enhance autonomy and functionality. Recently the firm has focused heavily on toys, partnering with Nikko Toys to develop cognitive abilities for RC cars, while also enabling household robot systems to support two-way interactions.

According to Max Versace, Neurala‘s founding CEO: "The power of AI for robotics lies in its ability to unlock autonomous learning without explicit rule-based coding. Our bio-inspired algorithms help robots truly understand 3D spaces, objects and behaviors so they can navigate intelligently like a self-driving car."

Funding: $26 Million

Key Partners: Nikko Toys, Industrial Robot OEMs

Platform: The Neurala Brain

Robot Software Licensees: Automated Drone Makers

Hanson Robotics: Pioneer in Hyper-Realistic Social Robots

Hanson Robotics, founded by former Disney theme park designer Dr. David Hanson, focuses on building exceptionally lifelike humanoid robots enabled by artificial intelligence software. The company’s robots integrate proprietary material composite called Frubber (flesh + rubber) to achieve stunningly realistic facial expressions alongside machine learning algorithms that allow the bots to see, converse and interact much like humans do.

Hanson Robotics’ dozens of character robots can respond intelligently to questions, form cogent arguments, and demonstrate coherent personalities that evolve through ongoing interactions. The team’s superstar robot, Sophia, captured global headlines as the first non-human AI system granted citizenship by a country – Saudi Arabia in 2017 – based on her fluid discourse on technology ethics and humorously clever responses to public interviews.

Collectively, Hanson Robotics has raised over $150 million, including large investment from Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing to drive ongoing innovation across entertainment applications as well as use cases in healthcare, therapy and education enabled by empathetic robot assistants.

"Sophia and our other character robots operate more like a person than a machine thanks to AI algorithms that bring them to life," explained Dr. Hanson. "As this empathetic technology continues progressing, smart robots may evolve to become useful assistants, companions and educators."

Funding: $150+ Million

Key Investors: Hong Kong Billionaire Li Ka-shing

Social Robots: Dozens of Character Bots & Humanoid Robots Including Celebrity Robot Sophia

Brain Corp: The AI Brains Behind Thousands of Robots

At first glance, Brain Corp seems to fly under the radar without flashy robots that capture public attention. Yet the San Diego-based startup, founded in 2009, provides the essential AI "brains" to power robots across massive Fortune 500 companies and major manufacturers.

Brain Corp specializes in AI software including computer vision, machine learning, data analytics and more tailored for robots across industries from retail to airports. Their systems enable machines to map environments, detect hazards, plan motions and navigate spaces without colliding into people or objects.

Brain Corp’s flagship product is BrainOS, a cloud-connected operating system deployed in thousands of autonomous mobile robots across different form factors – from industrial machines to automated floor cleaners. By licensing BrainOS to appliance makers, the company efficiently scales its technology across key markets.

For instance, you‘ve likely seen (or unknowingly stepped over) a BrainOS-enabled robot cruising the aisles of major retailers like Walmart scanning for spills and hazards during open hours. Brain Corp also provides the "smarts" for airport cleaning bots, industrial transport vehicles in manufacturing hubs and self-driving trucks from trucking leader PACCAR.

Funding: $110+ Million

Key Partners: SoftBank Robotics, Walmart, Airport Operators

Robot Platforms Running BrainOS: Thousands of Robots Across Form Factors & Industry Verticals

Skydio: Setting Drones Free with AI Piloting

Founded in 2014 by former MIT, Google and Apple engineers, Skydio builds fully autonomous drones equipped with AI “co-piloting” skills beyond any human controller. Their quadcopters and flying cameras integrate proprietary self-flying software that leverages breakthrough computer vision and deep learning techniques.

Rather than rely on GPS waypoints or manual piloting, Skydio drones can actively perceive 3D environments using multiple cameras. This allows the drones to navigate dense spaces safely at speed while tracking dynamic objects. Significantly, Skydio’s technology enables non-experts to capture cinematic video footage from creative aerial angles without any prior drone flight experience.

Skydio has raised over $100 million to-date from top VCs including Andreessen Horowitz and Levitate Capital. The startup sees strong demand from public agencies, the military and enterprises across media, energy, insurance and other sectors exploring drones for inspection, security, mapping and emergencies.

“Our AI software lifts the burden for manually controlling drones while enabling new levels of creative expression,” said Adam Bry, Skydio CEO. ”We are just scratching the surface of what autonomous flight platforms can achieve for enterprises and consumers.”

Funding: $100+ Million

Key Investors: Andreessen Horowitz, Levitate Capital, Playground Global

Autonomous Drones: Consumer, Public Safety & Industrial Models Running Skydio AI Software

Starship Technologies: Robots on Wheels Take to the Streets

Estonia-based Starship Technologies captures attention for its growing fleet of rolling delivery robots now deployed commercially in dozens of cities across Europe and the United States. The startup’s six-wheeled, electrically powered rovers can carry packages, groceries and food orders autonomously over short distances ranging from 2-3 miles leveraging AI navigation and computer vision.

Founded in 2014, Starship has raised over $100 million to develop and expand services. The robots operate commercially for partners including food and retailer brands Domino’s, Walmart, FedEx and local restaurants to explore various autonomous local delivery models. Starship’s long-term vision is mainstream adoption where delivery bots become ubiquitous across metropolitan areas and college campuses.

As described by CEO Lex Bayer: “Our vision is for delivery robots to become part of everyday life, transforming local commerce and neighborhood services with zero-emission transport. AI and automation will enable a new era of convenience, efficiency and sustainability.”

Funding: $100+ Million

Key Investors: Shasta Ventures, Matrix Capital

Partners: Domino’s, Walmart, FedEx

Operational Markets: 200+ Cities Across US and Europe

Diligent Robotics: AI Assistants That Lend a Helping Hand

Robotics startup Diligent, founded in 2017, produces AI-powered service robots tailored for healthcare settings. Their robot Moxi taps into technologies like 3D vision and machine perception to navigate autonomously through hospital corridors on routine delivery runs – dropping off lab samples, restocking medical supplies, fetching medications and more.

Thanks to $28 million in funding, Diligent is focused on freeing overtaxed hospital staff from these basic logistical tasks for more meaningful patient care. Clinical pilots already demonstrate up to two hours per shift recouped for nurses previously saddled handling mundane deliveries.

Meanwhile for patients, Moxi provides a friendly face who can respond to requests like water refills while giving the ability to communicate needs on-demand rather than waiting indefinitely for busy personnel. Early research further suggests patient satisfaction improves thanks to the responsive, personalized interactions compared to call buttons alone.

"Healthcare assistants like Moxi represent an entirely new category of service robot made possible by AI," noted Andrea Thomaz, Diligent‘s CEO. "This technology promises to enhance care quality, consistency and dignity for patients while making clinicians‘ lives easier."

Funding: $28 Million

Investors: Mori Trust, UPS

Partners: Several Leading US Hospitals

Pilot Programs: Robot Assistant Moxi Improved Nurse Efficiency Over 20%

iRobot: Pioneer of Practical Home Robotics Gets Amazon Backing

Of all the companies profiled, iRobot enjoys the strongest brand recognition thanks to its famed Roomba robot vacuum launch back in 2002. Yet while the IoT-connected Roomba autonomously cleaning floors seems commonplace now, the product dramatically expanded public imagination about the potential for practical robots in the home.

Today, iRobot produces a range of home robots beyond vacuuming including the Braava robotic mops and newer Root coding robots for education. Over 30 years since the MIT spinout firm’s founding, the company continues pushing AI-enabled automation into wider home environments.

iRobot‘s promising growth trajectory and technology strategy recently secured a major endorsement after ecommerce titan Amazon announced blockbuster plans to acquire the robot maker for $1.7 billion. The deal demonstrates Amazon‘s commitment to expanding smart home automation and could give iRobot vast resources to advance ambitious next-generation robots in development.

As Colin Angle, iRobot‘s CEO explains: "Our vision has always been making robots an everyday reality that help consumers save time on tedious chores so they can focus on what matters most. With Amazon‘s backing plus over 20 million home robots sold to-date, we are accelerating our mission to build an interconnected ecosystem of intelligent assistants."

Funding: $1.7 Billion Acquisition by Amazon

Total Home Robots Sold: Over 30 Million Units

Key Product Lines: Roomba, Braava, Root Coding Robots

Artificial Intelligence is Pushing Robots Into the Future

While debates continue around if and when fully autonomous AI robots may emerge, the incredible innovations showcased already position these companies at the leading edge of possibilities. As algorithms and data grow even more powerful for handling complex real world scenarios, smart robotics adoption will only continue permeating across consumer and industrial domains.

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