It’s an age-old, or at least decades-old, story. A startup company, based on exciting technology and full of enthusiasm, comes roaring out of the gate ready to set the world on fire. They garner tons of media attention, recruit some of the top people in the industry, attract healthy amounts of venture capital, and proceed full speed ahead. Then at some point, often three or four years into their evolution, they are forced by the realities of product and market development to “select and focus”. They realise that they can’t develop a viable, sustainable business trying to do too many things at once.
Rethink Robotics, one of the most exciting and innovative robotics companies to appear over the past six years, apparently reached that stage this week and has announced significant layoffs amounting to almost a quarter of their estimated headcount.
According to a report on Boston.com, Rethink Robotics CEO Scott Eckert said that -
"...the layoffs are the result of Rethink deciding to focus on the market segments that have been most receptive to Baxter since its launch, including plastics manufacturing, consumer goods, and warehousing and logistics. Rethink has also been selling Baxter to academic and corporate research labs in the U.S. and overseas."
A restructuring of this magnitude, while certainly a concern, isn’t that unusual for high tech startups during this phase of their development. In fact, if managed properly, it can be quite healthy and could put the company in a much stronger position in the long term.
At the same time there is a significant risk that some customers may have a degree of trepidation about committing to the Rethink Robotics design approach, especially for robot implementations that are mission critical for their companies. Robotics, unlike software applications or consumer electronics, are used in critical parts of their customers manufacturing and supply chains.
Rethink represents a dramatic shift in the way that companies think about and implement robotics, and can potentially yield significant benefits. But before companies adopt the Rethink approach they have to be extremely confident that Rethink as a company will be around to support them.
In many ways it’s a chicken/egg problem, and one that we hope and expect will play out well for Rethink. Restructuring and refocusing is absolutely the right move at this point. They have the right technology at the right time in the right market. The opportunity is their’s to win, or to lose.
Robosavvy founder Limor Schweitzer was featured on Fox Business discussing the impact of 3D printing on robot design and manufacturing.
Schweitzer compared the cost of some well known research robots, which can run from $30k to over $1 million, versus much more accessible 3D printed humanoids in the $1,000-$3,000 range.
To illustrate his points, Schweitzer brought along two robots - Franky, a surprisingly complex and capable humanoid (closeup below), and Fonzie, a dancing and entertainment humanoid featuring the 3D printed head of Jason Bradbury - host of the UK Gadget Show program.
Here’s the full interview:
I’m not sure why, especially since the product was just announced a couple months ago, but the Maker Shed currently has a super sale deal running for the Makerbot Digitizer. The standard list price of $1399.99 is discounted by 32% to $949.99 until New Years Eve.
The new scanner isn’t for everyone, as I mentioned in previous posts, but if you have the need to create 3D printable models from existing figurines or small items, this is a great deal.
One surprise that I wasn’t previously aware of is that the Makerbot Digitizer isn’t available for shipment to Japan, along with many other countries, due to restrictions on the laser used by the digitiser. Hopefully Makerbot will be able to sort that out soon.
King Kizer Z shows off its power with the classic karate brick breaking demonstration:
Even Chuck Norris would have trouble dealing with this super metal behemoth.
Nippon TV is gearing up for the Real Robot Battle program, scheduled for broadcast here in Japan on Friday, December 13th starting at 7:00 pm. The humanoid robot competitors have been designed, and will be piloted by several of the top ROBO-ONE and university teams on the scene.
To generate more interest and enthusiasm, two of the life sized robots are currently displayed in Nippon TV’s 2nd floor lobby along with the championship belt. It’s hard to get a feel for the robots size from the photo. They are actually around 2 meters tall and weigh over 200 Kg (440 lbs).