In robotics, the remarkable often feels at odds with the practical. The Cassie robot captured the imagination of the internet (including ours) when it debuted in 2017 through a series of YouTube videos from Oregon State University. It was one of the most exciting examples of robotic engineering since Boston Dynamics came along.
Commercial applications, however, are an entirely different conversation. In a world of purpose-built systems, that’s not the first thing you see when you look at the skinny legs of the ostrich-inspired bipedal robot. When Agility Robotics came out of OSU’s College of Engineering, Cassie was being produced for research facilities. It’s a commendable mission, but not exactly a cash cow.
On a recent episode of TechCrunch Live, Agility Co-Founder and CTO Jonathan Hurst and Playground Global Founding Partner Bruce Leak joined us to discuss the robotics enterprise’s journey from the lab to the commercial sector – and the role a good venture capital firm can play in this journey. The conversation lasted 30 minutes and includes a preview of Agility Robotics’ first pitch deck. The deck and video are embedded below.
“If you’re building a company that’s building something really new and different, where are you going to hire engineers with experience in highly dynamic, physical interaction in the world with force-sensitive behavior?” Hurst asks. “It’s just not common. Having students using the bots and a whole pipeline of people not only helps us, it helps the whole infrastructure.
From lab to launch
Playground Global, a Palo Alto-based startup investment firm, found out about the robot like most of us have – by watching cool videos online.
“We were surfing the internet like any good venture capitalist, and we came across the video posted by Agility,” says Leak. “We were super impressed. This product, on one level, was just an amazing pair of legs. But he could walk for hours and even run over rough terrain very conveniently. Seeing something like this, which we even thought was impossible, we knew we had to meet the Agility team.
Agility/Series A’s pitch deck did not focus on things like the addressable market, and its information on practical business applications of robots was superficial. What it did, however, was smash the startup’s impressive technologies. Hurst points to a shift in tone between the presentation’s first slide, reading “Dynamic robots for human environments,” and his penultimate, “Designed for work.”