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Marta Portales

How to accelerate robotics companies? We explained everything at ICRA 2020!

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On 10 June, the successful live session was organised by Fundingbox together with ISDI, BLUMORPHO, Mobile World Capital Barcelona and KEWAZO in the frame of the 2020 edition of the International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

Project partners shared the success recipe of the RobotUnion acceleration programme in front of an audience of 372 viewers from 38 countries.

To begin with, some keys figures related to the first startup batch (10 companies) that finished the programme:

  • More than €8 million of private investment raised during the acceleration.
  • RobotUnion startup teams nearly doubled their workforce in a year.
  • Their revenue increased by more than 60% in the same lapse of time.
  • The Technology Readiness Level* of all companies grew by 3 extra levels on average!

So what were the main ingredients of the RobotUnion acceleration recipe?

The presentation included an introduction and results for all the main aspects of the programme (technical mentoring, business support, fundraising strategy), the various RobotUnion partners – Izabela Zrazinska (FundingBox, the coordinator), Xianshu Zeng (ISDI), Régis Hamelin (Blumorpho) – as well as Ekaterina Grib from Kewazo, a construction startup accelerated by RobotUnion, expanded on their main learnings.

Presentation made during ICRA 2020

Regarding for instance technical mentoring, several crucial aspects were underlined:

  • It was highly beneficial to startups to externalise basic technical services that would help them save time and eventually deliver high-quality products with the help of specialised providers.
  • Guidelines relative to Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) should be prepared in advance especially since hardware products, obviously including robotics, are not as easily protected compared to software products.

Business support managed by ISDI appeared to be very important to startups (9.5/10 satisfaction rate!). The Master Training Camp in Madrid allowed them to refine their internationalisation ambitions. Does it make sense to establish oneself in a country where the cost of entry and market culture are different? Many questions in addition to this one were dealt with during that week. Another very useful and maybe less visible advantage was tapping in the mentors’ networks. Their knowledge of the robotics market came handy for startups to make their business development strategy more concrete.

Finally, the classes on fundraising led by Blumorpho enabled accelerated companies to sweep away many common preconceptions related to access to investment, a generally fundamental step to go from startup to scaleup. By way of illustration, thinking that investors do not understand technologies, or that your product will just sell by itself is often at odds with reality.

With an overall impression of the programme reaching the excellent score of 8,75 out of 10, the RobotUnion recipe has proved to be effective! Check out the summary of the first startup batch’s story to know more:

*TRL, a standard scale to evaluate the maturity of a technology

Aether Biomedical raises seed round to make bionics accessible to all

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Poznan, Poland – Medical robotics company, Aether Biomedical, has raised a seed round of EUR 750,000 from Sunfish Partners, Chiratae Ventures India, and Joyance Partners. Aether Biomedical’s goal is to build data driven rehabilitation robotics devices starting with bionic limbs.

“The investment will help the company launch its first flagship product Zeus, a bionic limb for upper limb amputees, onto the market. We had a very specific goal in mind while building Zeus – Reduce the price without compromising on the efficiency. To do so we have heavily relied on advancements in additive manufacturing, signal processing, as well as machine learning and continue to do so in the development of future products. ” Says Dhruv Agrawal, CEO of Aether Biomedical.

Specifically, Zeus is a multi-action bionic aiming at improving the accessibility of bionic products to the amputee population. Zeus provides more than 150N of grip force, one of the highest on the market, combined with a smooth, elegant design, while being 30 – 40% more affordable than competitors. One of the key features that Aether Biomedical has focused on while building Zeus is robustness. Zeus has an innovative impact resistance mechanism protecting against daily life stresses, and has a static holding capacity of 35 Kgs on its fingers (Like carrying a bag).

“We want Zeus to be acting as a support system for amputees, spending minimal time in the repair and servicing. What makes Zeus unique is the modular structure, allowing for repair at a local service center level.” Says Dr Faith Jiwakhan, CTO of Aether Biomedical.

“Over 10 million people in the world are reported to be living with upper limb amputations. Aether aims to address this large market globally, and the ever-rising amputee population. The robotics prosthetic market is to witness significant innovation and product need from around the world. The unique features of the product which make it state of the art design and accessible have the potential to create life changing and hence life-enabling solutions for a number of people, especially in emerging economies.” Sudhir Sethi, Founder and Chairman, Chiratae Ventures India.

Aether Biomedical has conducted extensive internal testing for Zeus and is moving ahead with the completion of the medical certification process and launch of the product. The first geographies covered will be Europe and India. Zeus V1 is only the beginning. Aether Biomedical plans to strongly expand its R&D operations and the development of its core IP in biosignal processing aimed towards data driven rehabilitation. Aether Biomedical has already started shipping the demo kits to prosthetic centers for demonstration to patients..

“Data-driven rehabilitation has the potential to make life better for millions of people, and Aether Biomedical has a real shot to help us get there. What got us interested in the team was its bold vision; what made us invest was its relentless drive, day in and out, to make this vision a reality.” says Dr. Marcus Erken, Partner, Sunfish partners.  

Aether Biomedical was founded by Dhruv Agrawal and Dr. Faith Jiwakhan and has grown to 12 employees. Initially started in India, Aether Biomedical was invited to be a part of the Poland prize program, organized by Brinc and PARP in 2018. The company chose to stay in Poland and raised its pre seed round from Shape VC and subsequently became a part of the Robotunion program and was awarded a grant as one of the most promising robotics startups in Europe.

Maciej Frankowicz, Partner @ Shape.vc says “It takes a lot of courage to move to a foreign continent to start a business, especially if you’re in your early 20-ties. I am very happy that from all the available options the founders have chosen Poland for starting the company.”

Aether Biomedical has also received the Fasttrack accessibility plus grant from the National Center of Research and Development, Poland (NCBR). The grant funding is being utilized for continuing the development of Zeus hand by adding even more advanced features and developing accessory products such as wrist rotation unit and powered elbow system.

“We are thrilled to support Aether Biomedical in their groundbreaking work in rehabilitation robotics,” said Joyance Partners’ Managing Director Paolo Pio. “Dhruv assembled a great team, and they have a huge potential to empower amputees worldwide to live fuller, happier lives.”

Aether was advised by Jedrzej Szymczyk and his team from LLW for the successful completion of this transaction.

See Zeus in action in the below clip –

About Aether Biomedical –

Aether Biomedical is a medical robotics startup with its focus on building bionic limbs for upper limb amputees. Aether Biomedical’s product Zeus is a low cost – high efficacy multi action bionic limb for upper limb amputees.

About Sunfish Partners –

Sunfish Partners is an early stage VC that invests in Polish deep tech startups. Sunfish Partners has offices in Warsaw and Berlin. To learn more, go to www.sunfish.vc and follow them on Twitter @sunfishpartners.

About Chiratae Ventures India –

Launched in 2006, Chiratae Ventures India Advisors (formerly IDG Ventures India) is India’s leading technology Venture Capital funds advisor. The funds advised by Chiratae Ventures India Advisors collectively have over $700 M under management and 80+ investee companies across Consumer Media & Tech, Cloud/Software, Health-tech and Fin-tech. Notable portfolio companies include Bounce, Curefit, FirstCry, Flipkart, Forus, Lenskart, Manthan, Myntra (acquired by Flipkart), NestAway, Newgen (NSE: NEWGEN), PolicyBazaar, Rentomojo, Unbxd and Yatra (NASDAQ: YTRA) among others.

About Joyance Partners –

Joyance Partners is a $20M venture capital partnership that invests in companies with the capacity to deliver, or contribute to the delivery of, Delightful Moments.

HOW TO OBTAIN EFFECTIVE MAINTENANCE OF MACHINES IN YOUR COMPANY

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“If your planning is based on an unenlightened foundation then it is just a change. If we want to make improvements, we must base the decision processes on data,” an expert from the Danish Technological Institute explains. A new study provides valuable insights on how companies obtain effective maintenance of machines.

In this video Palle Grøndahl Department manager for Digitalization, Productivity and Quality at the Danish Technological Institute explains why maintenance needs to be on the companies’ agenda. English subtitles are available in settings.

A new study by the Danish Technological Institute on behalf of MADE provides valuable insights on how companies obtain effective maintenance of machines.

“Maintenance needs to be on the agenda because it actually has a fairly significant economic effect for businesses. Even if you have tuned your system and fine-polished everything to just run, it can all crash if you have an unstable system,” says Palle Grøndahl Department manager for Digitalization, Productivity and Quality at the Danish Technological Institute.

The way to effective maintenance is via a risk screening. A risk screening where you evaluate your system. The system is divided into several categories which depend on how significant the subsystem is.

“If your planning is based on an unenlightened foundation then it is just a change. If we want to make improvements, we must base the decision processes on data. So therefore, I encourage companies to obtain a foundation of data and to structure their database so that they can see the effect of their maintenance efforts,” says Palle Grøndahl.

SELF-PROPELLED ROBOTS IN VOLA’S NEW FACTORY: “IT’S NOWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD”

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Source: MADE

The Danish manufacturer of quality bathroom and kitchen fixtures VOLA has opened an innovative factory of the future enabled by a large number of collaborative robots.

Volas factory of the future is a unique solution to factory automation, where the robots support Volas employees by automating the many logistical processes, ensuring productivity and product quality.

MADE had the pleasure of inviting companies to visit VOLA’s factory of the future, where participants could see the new robots working side by side the factory employees.

VOLA chose to invest in mobile robots to address the need to increase production capacity and flexibility, as well as the desire to create a world-class production environment.

This has resulted in collaborative working environment between employees and robots.

VOLAs Factory Director Peder Nygaard speaks about the new robots at the MADE company visit.

The robots are improving productivity at VOLA, by automating the internal logistics. This enables VOLA’s employees to focus on production and ensuring product quality, says Peder Nygaard, Factory Director.

Furthermore, the robots help to manage VOLA’s rising demand for quality fixtures and taps.

VOLA already plans to buy even more robots to meet future demand and to further develop their new factory.

HOW DO YOU TEACH A ROBOT TO FIND SCRATCHES? WITH ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

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Source: MADE

With the help of artificial intelligence, a new robot will automatically find scratches and errors on components and provide quality control that is more effective than the human eye. In a MADE research project, VOLA and B&O are developing a prototype in collaboration with the Danish Technological Institute (DTI).

Get an insight into how you can improve the maintenance of machines and equipment in your business (English subtitles are available in settings).

Stainless taps and aluminium-coated hi-fi equipment are all products with glossy reflective surfaces that must not be scratched.

VOLA manufactures kitchen taps, which have exactly this type of shiny surfaces. VOLA has always concentrated on quality and consistency. Today, quality control is performed by operators who manually inspect the items produced by the company.

– It is crucial for us to be part of such a project because we focus on quality and design. The challenge is that quality control is manual today, says Peter Krogh, Technical Manager at VOLA.

– We give people guidelines for inspecting items, but it will still always be an individual interpretation. We hope that we can achieve greater consistency on the issues once the solution is automated. There is great potential.

That’s why the Danish Technological Institute’s robot vision specialists are now trying to develop a method that can reliably detect scratches. This work is part of a MADE project together with VOLA and B&O and originates from MADE researcher Anne Juhler Hansen’s work at AAU.

Due to the shiny and reflective nature of the products, you have to go beyond traditional inspection methods with simple camera technology. DTI therefore makes use of a very special vision technology called deflectometry.

Lights, cameras and robots

Deflectometry is a way of effectively inspecting glossy and reflective items. Here, lights, cameras and robots are used to handle the item precisely during the inspection.

– Conceptually, it involves projecting a known pattern of light onto the item and then filming with a regular camera how that pattern appears, says Thomas Giselsson, consultant from DTI.

– If there are small recesses, holes, notches or scratches, you will be able to see them by processing the data you generate, he adds.

Deflectometry is a way of effectively inspecting glossy and reflective items. Here, lights, cameras and robots are used to handle the item precisely during the inspection.

Deep learning to automate quality assurance

The benefits of the new system do not stop here.

Not only does deflectometry make it possible to identify defects that you would otherwise find difficult, you can also automate the whole process of finding defects and evaluating the quality. One of the methods for this is ‘deep learning’.

– Initially, the operator helps the system by highlighting where the problem shows. When you have done this for a large amount of data, you will at some point be able to create a deep learning system that can make the same annotations on new items that the system has not seen before, says Thomas Giselsson.

– We should not have to tell the computer how to build the system. It can figure it out for itself. The system will then be able to see many of the problems we get people to identify today, he adds.

– This process is still in the experimental stage – and quality control is part of VOLA’s development and implementation of new automation solutions, as are our new self-driving robots, which now manage parts of the internal logistics at the Horsens factory, explains Peter Krogh, Technical Manager at VOLA.

The project with VOLA, B&O and DTI is part of MADE research within the theme Sensor Technology and Production Data, funded by the Innovation Fund. In June 2020, a meeting has been agreed with VOLA, where DTI will discuss the options for introducing an automation plant in VOLA’s factory in Horsens.

When is something a fault?

The project originates from MADE researcher Anne Juhler Hansen from Aalborg University (AAU), who researches visual quality control for B&O, VOLA and LEGO.

– There are many aspects to this work that crop up repeatedly across industries, but there are also many things that are different. It is about creating a common language and looking at what standards are in the area, explains Anne Juhler Hansen.

In her PhD thesis, she studied how to quantify faults and create boundary values. In other words, when is something a fault that is ugly enough that the item should be discarded?

– We humans are flawed and we have different opinions. Maybe we can see a scratch today that we would not see tomorrow. Therefore it can be a major challenge to define when a fault is significant.

The project with VOLA, B&O and DTI is part of MADE research within the theme Sensor Technology and Production Data, funded by the Innovation Fund. In June 2020, a meeting has been agreed with VOLA, where DTI will discuss the options for introducing an automation plant in VOLA’s factory in Horsens.

An interaction between humans and machines

The system initiated by Anne Juhler Hansen is intended as an interaction between humans and machines.

We are not aiming for fully automated solutions initially, but to provide visual quality control staff with assistance in making decisions and improving quality control.

The researcher at Aalborg University is excited that RTOs and production companies are now furthering her ideas and methods so that more people can benefit.

– It will be extremely exciting to follow how companies will try to implement this. We call it aesthetic quality control and it’s really hard to define.

In future, computer must learn to think like humans and experience mistakes just as we do.

– I have worked in this area for several years, so I am very excited to see where it will lead. There is great potential to spread the solution to others. Automated quality control can ensure uniformity and take on tedious, repetitive work that requires sharp focus all the time, says Anne Juhler Hansen.

ROBOTUNION FIRST BATCH COMPANIES RESULTS!

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We are proud to share the results on how the robotics start-ups that entered our acceleration programme a year ago have grown.  

What it takes to accelerate 10 robotics companies

A lot of money… 

Within the last 16 months (November 2018 – February 2020), more than €2 million equity-free were invested in direct funding paid to the 10 selected companies from the first batch.  How was this money used? 10% of this amount was invested in technical vouchers. These vouchers allowed the start-ups to request additional capabilities or facilities that were not available within the consortium helping them access services fundamental for their specific development.

As a result of their new scaleup status, the supported companies raised more than 8M € in private funding and the overall companies’ valuation was multiplied by 2!

…And even more mentoring 

40 researchers from 5 RTOs involved in the consortium were engaged in technical support. Each researcher was allocated to individual technical tasks according to individual mentoring plans and provided to the companies specialized support in order to boost their product acceleration. 

While 26 business mentors participated in support for a total of 181 hours invested in mentoring, allowing the participants direct access to international top-notch mentors, trainers, investors and experts in different strategic fields, with exposure to a custom made ‘Funding Journey’ for each of the selected Scaleups that included up to €223K EU equity-free initial funding, with a customized support to fundraise up to €1M of private funding for the 4 Super Stars.  

Some significant progress made on the tech side 

The Technology Readiness Level (TRL, a standard scale to evaluate thmaturity of a technology) was increased by 3 levels in average for all companies. 

The most popular core technologies supported were: 

  • System development: process of defining, designing, testing and implementing a new software application or program for the automation of the robot. 
  • Human interactionis the study of interactions between humans and robots. It is often referred as HRI by researchers. 
  • Mechatronicsis an interdisciplinary area of engineering that combines mechanical and electrical engineering and computer science. 

In the case of system abilities, the more requested from the index of the Multi-Annual Roadmap’s (MAR for Robotics in Europe) were: 

  • Configurability: parameter that defines the ability of the system to be customized to different tasks 
  • Perceptionmonitoring and data acquisition through sensors of the environment where the robot is placed. 
  • Adaptabilitycapability of going beyond static automation due to the robot’s capacity to adapt to changing environmental conditions and material features while retaining a degree of predictability required for collaboration (e.g. human-robot collaboration). 

Promising business perspectives

As a testimony of the development of their activity, the scaleups doubled their headcount during the last year. A recent survey we made even highlights the fact they are looking to hire more team members with 25 open positions currently open! 

This encouraging business outlook was not only made possible thanks to the aforementioned mentoring sessions that helped the selected companies better find the coveted product/market fit but also through the sponsored attendance at 8 of the top worldwide technology events that allowed them to communicate on their solution to a relevant audience. Among the events: 4YFN, Global Robot Expo, DLD Tel Aviv, Viva Tech Paris, Automatica, Odense Investors Summit, Robotex and Slush.  

But why not asking directly the scaleups that took part in RobotUnion’s acceleration programme how useful it was for them? The overall impression of our programme reached the excellent score of 8,75 out of 10!  

Congratulations to all companies, partners and mentors who made this possible! 

RobotUnion is future of Robotics

The RobotUnion project funded under Horizon 2020 has reached ambitious numbers and became a perfect example of the technical acceleration for robotics start-ups, and that is why the consortium has decided to continue supporting more European robotics SMEs and startups in next open calls in 2021 after the EU funding is finished.

Our future model is based on close collaboration with corporates and regional authorities, please contact us by info@robotunion.com if your institution is interested in the future of robotics.

How RobotUnion partners and startups fight against coronavirus

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In light of the latest developments of the Coronavirus pandemic and its impact on public and private entities across Europe, activities of Robotics companies might be affected in different ways, especially those with international and distributed nature. RobotUnion mentors, companies and partners are spread all over Europe and our events, meetings, customer relations are moving to a solely digital dimension.

Many partners and startups who are part of the RobotUnion program have launched initiatives to support the fight against the pandemic in these difficult times. Below the list:

OUR CONSORTIUM PARTNERS

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented health and social crisis. We can all contribute to limiting COVID-19’s transmission and impact. BLUMORPHO, EuroScan international network and co-operation partners has decided to offer their resources in the call #unitedagainstcovid19.

We are encouraging you to showcase your solutions to contribute to help citizens and health organizations in the fight against COVID-19. Your solutions will be evaluated by EuroScan international networks members and cooperation partners from  Health Authorities and experts to disseminate and facilitate their use. All solutions that will contribute to limit COVID-19 transmission and impact are expected. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has created an unprecedented health, social and economic crisis all over the world. To participate in the fight against the virus, Governments are calling for help and several initiatives have been launched to limit its transmission and impact.

Fundingbox has prepared the list with the public funding opportunities like open calls, campaigns and hackathons to contribute in the Coronavirus fight

Moreover, 136 teams from 17 research projects across the European Union will soon receive €47.5 million to make the most of their expertise and technologies to detect the disease, treat and protect patients. Discover the research projects and initiatives to tackle the spread of coronavirus and preparedness for other outbreaks.

Other organisations are contributing to the fight of the Coronavirus too: the World Health Organization (WHO), the UN Foundation and partners have launched the first-of-its-kind COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund

From ISDI we want to join all those who are offering help to those small and medium enterprises to help alleviate the problems they may be facing. As you all know, Coronavirus is a global pandemic that affects the most important thing, everyone’s health, but also many startups, SMEs and freelancers who will be forced to take on debt, lay off or even close down.

That’s why we bring you our own initiative and a couple of links that may be useful for you. Entrepreneurship and technological perks:

  • If you are interested in offering a free or discounted product or service to help others cope with the Coronavirus.
  • If you are having problems with your startup, SME or as a self-employed due to Coronavirus and you want to see the services that have been offered.

The community is mobilizing and there are free or highly discounted service offerings everywhere to help the people and businesses who need it most in these complex times. But they are not always being picked up and displayed in a common place to help those who want to use them. 

OUR STARTUPS

Nido Robotics wanted to contribute to the defeat of the COVID-19, by using their technology and producing protective screens for Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

NIDO Robotics has partnered with the Digital Craftsmanship Laboratory in San Pedro del Pinatar, Makers in Alicante and the CoronaMakers group in Murcia, in order to produce the largest number of PPE items in the most efficient, fastest way possible. The goal is to produce between 500 and 2000 PPE per day to be delivered to the health services in Murcia and Alicante. In addition to the Guardia Civil, local and national police forces, etc.

 After a great effort, they delivered 150 protective screens to the Hospital de la Arrixaca and another 150 to the Hospital Reina Sofía in Murcia (Spain). With hope and commitment, at Nido they continue to work for a greater contribution and to be able to stop this situation. 

The BotsAndUs team put their workshop to good use, by joining a nationwide initiative  as one of the volunteers across the UK who are producing 3D printed Face Shields to help address the shortage of PPE in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Do you help to fight the coronavirus outbreak with robotics solutions? Share it with us by email or directly in RobotUnion Community.

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