On EQT Ventures’ investment in Wandelbots — demonstration-based training of industrial robots
Today, Wandelbots, the company that is democratising robotics with demonstration-based teaching, announced its €6M Series-A investment co-led by Paua Ventures and EQT Ventures.
The huge glass cathedral that’s Berlin’s central station is like something out of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film masterpiece Metropolis. And, when Anton, Ashley and I first met Christian, the founder of Wandelbots, at a noisy café on the ground floor of the Hauptbahnhof, I was half expecting someone like Rotwang, the creator of Maschinenmensch — one of the first robots ever depicted on screen. Instead, we met a visionary, bold entrepreneur with the ambition to take a big bite out of the growing industrial automation and robotics market.
Industrial robots are nothing new. First introduced into ‘General Motors’ factories in 1961, the automotive industry pinned high hopes on the productivity gains to be had by replacing humans with robots. The clunky and expensive pneumatic machines of the 60s were soon followed by European-built electronic robots equipped with microchips in the 70s.
The early 80s saw a veritable robotics boom. Robots were a symbol of the future and saw huge interest from politicians, the media and industry alike and became part of popular culture. Fuelled by growing concerns that it would be outcompeted by lean-production from Japan, the automotive industry in the West in particular invested billions in robots. Then, when GM’s robots started smashing cars and painting each other, it seemed hype was over and many assumed the lights-out fully automated factories were nothing but a fantasy. The robots simply weren’t there yet — too limited, too expensive and too complicated to program and integrate to fulfill their promises.
Fast forward to 2018 and industrial automation, and robots in particular, are back with a vengeance, fueled by the convergence of a couple of mega trends. The advancement of sensor and machine vision technology, artificial intelligence and the falling cost of hardware and computation power have all played a part. So to has the rising cost of labor in China, leading the world’s manufacturing superpower to embark on huge investments in automation for the sake of productivity gains.
In 2017 output of industrial robots rose by almost 30%, and, in the last five years, the annual sales volume has doubled, after decades of of being more or less flat.
Being part of EQT, EQT Ventures sees this transformation of the manufacturing industry — particularly automotive and electronics — firsthand.
However, many bottlenecks still remain. in areas such as robotics programming and integration. In spite of the many advancements on the software side since the turn of the century, most industrial robots are still programmed in old-school 1980s programming languages. This is not only expensive and complex, but also hugely limiting as they can’t deal with many of the complex inputs and skills of modern robotics.
Anton, Ted, Ashley and I were amazed by the power of the Wandelbots demonstration-based training offering. In a world where talent in robotics programming is in increasingly short supply and new tasks are often hard-coded into control software by highly skilled engineers, the Wandelbox, Wandelbot’s first product, is nothing less than a revolution. Robot training is drastically simplified and democratized thanks to massive cost savings. Via Wandelbot’s sensor attached wearables, virtually anyone can teach industrial robots new skills. Platform independent scripts are generated via Machine Learning and automatically transformed into easy to integrate platform-specific code.
We sat for quite some time with Christian at that café in Berlin’s central station and listened to him outline the vision for his young company. Just a year since inception, Wandelbots is already working with the crème de la crème of global electronics and automotive manufacturers. When Christian left us to jump on the late night train back to Dresden, the EQT Ventures deal team looked at each other in silent agreement that this could be the start of something very big.
It’s rare that the stars align as beautifully as they have done with Wandelbots. A huge, dynamic and transforming underlying market, a product and offering that solves some of the major (economic) pain points of that market with great simplicity, and last but not least, an exceptionally talented, visionary and big-thinking founding team.
As strong supporters of the European ecosystem, it makes us particularly happy to announce today’s €6M series-A investment in a true global frontrunner in such a core market, based in the European heartland. We’re investing together with Paua Ventures and joining seed investor Atlantic Labs, as well as a set of formidable early angels. We’re proud and humbled to be on this journey with Christian and his team.
Maybe I’ve caught a bit of robot fever — but I urge you to watch one of the videos of a robot trainer using the Wandelbox to teach a robot a skill — there is something powerful, intrinsically beautiful and almost magical about it!
The Wandelbots deal team