Kicking off a new year is always a great opportunity to look back at what transpired over the last 12 months. We passed along the top robotics stories and most-funded robotics companies of 2018. Now it is time to look ahead of what to watch in 2019. Stay tuned for trends to and startup companies to track, but 2019 is also a pivotal year for major companies working in robotics, too.
Below, in alphabetical order, are major companies in the robotics space to watch in 2019. Certainly there are other companies to watch, such as Google, which is launching a cloud robotics platform, but we decided to limit the list to 10. Why did we choose the companies below? Well, they are either:
- Developing or expanding essential tools for robotics developers
- Trying to do something yet to be done: finding real-world applications for legged robots or rolling out autonomous vehicle services
- Working on something secretive
Please share in the comments some major companies in the robotics industry you will be watching in 2019. We will also soon share a list of startup robotics companies to watch.
10 major robotics companies to watch in 2019
Headquarters: Seattle, Wash.
Reasons to watch: Bloomberg reported in April 2018 that Amazon Lab126, the hardware research and development division of the retail and cloud computing giant, was working on a domestic robot. There have since been no updates on the project, called “Vesta,” but the robot reportedly could be an Alexa on wheels. Bloomberg reported that prototypes of the robots have computer vision software and can navigate through homes. Bloomberg said Amazon hoped “to begin seeding the robots in employees’ homes by the end of , and potentially with consumers as early as 2019.”
Amazon is also rolling out its AWS RoboMaker cloud robotics platform that helps developers build robots, add intelligent functions, simulate and test robots in a variety of environments. RoboMaker runs on top of the Robot Operating System (ROS) and extends the framework to AWS services for machine learning, monitoring, and analytics.
Headquarters: Waltham, Mass.
Reasons to watch: With its viral videos, Boston Dynamics will always be a robotics company to keep an eye on. But that is not why we will be watching in 2019. During keynote at the Robotics Summit & Expo, Raibert announced plans to commercialize SpotMini in 2019. This is the first robot Boston Dynamics will commercialize in its 27-year history. We already saw a glimpse of SpotMini inspecting construction sites in Japan, providing insight into potential real-world applications. Not only is 2019 an important year for Boston Dynamics, it is for legged robots in general. ANYbotics and Ghost Robotics are two other companies trying to find real-world homes for legged robots.
Headquarters: San Francisco, Calif.
Reason to watch: Cruise raised a measly $1.65 billion in 2018 thanks to the Softbank Vision Fund and Honda. Now it is time for the GM-owned company, which has been testing self-driving cars in San Francisco since 2016, to put its money where its mouth is. And just last week we received the first glimpse of potential real-world applications for Cruise, which partnered with DoorDash to deliver food and groceries to select customers in San Francisco. Details on the partnership are pretty scarce, but the trials are supposed to begin early in 2019. GM has said it will commercialize self-driving cars in 2019, and although that it highly unlikely, this Cruise-DoorDash partnership should shed a little light on how far along Cruise is.
Headquarters: Menlo Park, Calif.
Reason to watch: The social media giant is not a household name when it comes to robotics (yet), but increasing moves in the space – hiring robotics talent, researching soft robotics, making public a patent for a telepresence robot – show Facebook is interested in more than dipping its toes in robotics. Facebook has publicly said one of the reasons for upping its robotics game is to attract top AI talent. Facebook is the most powerful company on the planet. As of September 2018, 1.49 billion people used Facebook on a daily basis. I cannot imagine attracting talent is a major issue. There has to be something bigger, robotics-wise, going on at Facebook.
Harvard Biodesign Lab
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
Reason to watch: The Harvard Biodesign Lab might seem like an outlier on this list. But anytime a business attracts the attention of Bill Gates, it is automatically a must-watch. Gates recently visited the Harvard Biodesign Lab and wrote about his visit with Conor Walsh, founder of the lab, and the team, who are doing incredible work with soft robotics. They have created a soft exosuits and soft robotic gloves to augment and restore human performance. They developed RoboBee, a flying microbot that’s half the size of a paper clip and weighs less than one tenth of a gram. And that just scratches the surface of the team’s research. Keep an eye on them in 2019.
Headquarters: Seattle, Wash.
Reason to watch: Official ROS 1 and ROS 2 support for Microsoft Windows 10 is coming early in 2019. The ROS community has built workarounds for Windows, but Microsoft is working with Open Robotics and the ROS Industrial Consortium (ROS-I) to officially support ROS Melodic Morenia. ROS for Windows 10 will be great exposure for Microsoft’s cloud products, so lets see if Microsoft has anything else in store for 2019.
Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.
Reason to watch: NVIDIA introduced late in 2018 its Jetson AGX Xavier Module, a new chip the company hopes will become the go-to brain for next-generation robots. And the specs are pretty impressive. Here is an in-depth look at AGX Xavier Module, but to summarize: it has more than nine billion transistors, delivers 32 deep learning TOPS, is 10 times more energy-efficient and 20 times more powerful than its predecessor, Jetson TX2. NVIDIA said the module will enable robots to understand the world around them thanks to six high-performance processing units – a 512-core NVIDIA Volta architecture Tensor Core GPU, an eight-core Carmel ARM64 CPU, a dual NVDLA deep learning accelerator, and image, vision, and video processors.
Headquarters: Shenzhen, China
Reason to watch: Building capable humanoid robots is extremely difficult. And it does not help that Boston Dynamics has set the bar so incredibly high with Atlas. UBTech, a Chinese company known for its toy robots that has raised nearly $1 billion with a $5 billion valuation, turned its Walker bipedal robot, which was introduced at CES 2018, into a full-blown humanoid this week at CES 2019. UBTech said its Walker robot “has the intelligence and capabilities to make a helpful impact in any home or business in the very near future.” That is unrealistic, of course, but it is good to see a well-backed consumer robotics company working on a humanoid robot.
Headquarters: Odense, Denmark
Reason to watch: In 2018, Universal Robots (UR) introduced its e-Series at Automatica, sold its 25,000 cobot and celebrated the 10-year anniversary of selling its first robot. So it will be hard for the collaborative robotics pioneer to have a better year than it did in 2018. But cobots are the fastest-growing segment of industrial automation, according to the Robotic Industries Association (RIA), and are expected to jump ten-fold to 34% of all industrial robot sales by 2025. UR is facing more competition from lower-cost players, but the company’s reputation is rock-solid and should help it maintain its lead in the market well beyond 2019.
Headquarters: Mountainview, Calif.
Industry: Autonomous Vehicles
Founded: 2009 (began as Google’s Self-Driving Car Project)
Reason to watch: The plan for all self-driving companies has always been to initially roll out services in geo-fenced areas. If you believed anything other than that, your expectations were out of whack. But a lot of folks are disappointed with the rollout of Waymo’s self-driving taxi service near Phoenix, Ariz. There are multiple reports about the limited drop-off and pick-up locations, limitations of the technology, and the fact Waymo’s self-driving vehicles still have safety drivers on board. Perhaps Waymo has lost confidence in its technology, or it is being extra cautious due to the fatal Uber self-driving car accident in 2018. Either way, this has played a role in slowing down the self-driving hype as people are re-setting their expectations. How will that impact funding in 2019? We will see. Waymo is still by far the autonomous vehicle leader, and the growth, or lack thereof, of its self-driving taxi service will give us a good barometer of where the industry is at.