Benjamin Joffe
Apr 18 · 7 min read

It’s been a while! A bunch of news in no particular order, with lots of robots and a few gadgets.

Note: those are personal comments and do not reflect whether HAX would invest or not in similar projects.

Companion Robot Keecker Kicks the Can

Another ‘companion robot’ startup, after Jibo and Kuri, Keecker closed shop. It had raised $8M and deployed about 1,000 units of its mobile projector/assistant/videoconference robot.

The CEO said:

Maybe we were too early, maybe we were too expensive, maybe we didn’t try all possible ways to make money, maybe we weren’t good enough’

He also mentioned how consumer electronics are David against Goliath: Here those companion robots didn’t die because a giant company built a better or cheaper one. They died because too few people wanted one.

While building anything is hard, the problems might have been value and utility rather than price, business model, or skills.

At HAX we’ve seen the companion robot wave come and go, and have not been convinced by any of the ones we encountered (and frankly surprised by how much Jibo and Kuri raised). The reasons were that:

  1. They were at best ‘nice to have’ and didn’t do anything very useful.
  2. The combination of things they could do wasn’t a daily convenience either.
  3. The ‘robot’ aspect (especially mobile ones) often seem to be more of a hindrance than a benefit.

Eventually, the $50 Echo Dot wiped everyone out. Simple, affordable, hands-free, and able to help people do what they already do, more easily (play music, set an alarm, know the time or weather and listen to news).

Will China Rule Electric Vehicles?

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2019-04-16/the-world-s-biggest-electric-vehicle-company-looks-nothing-like-tesla

China already has more EVs than any country. All of Shenzhen’s 20,000 taxis and about as many buses are electric, and it’s not slowing down. Now foreign brands are also pushing into China with EVs.

Robots in the (Ware)house

Yet another robotics startup to automate warehouses further. After Amazon acquired Kiva the sector has seen more and more sophisticated robots. And they’re not all in SV or around MIT. To name a few: Grey Orange (India), Exotec (France), Balyo (France), and more.

Amazon also just acquired another named Canvas, and Boston Dynamics (owned by Softbank) showed a video of its first robot that seem to make commercial sense (able to stack boxes on a palette).

Digital Therapies: Startup Offers Remote PT

If you strained a muscle after spinning on your Peloton, here is the latest digital therapy for you!

Digital Diagnostic: Remote Monitoring for Respiratory Diseases

Of course with A.I.

The range of devices able to complement doctors will help either reduce costs, or improve healthcare (including prevention / early diagnostic). HAX has invested in over 30 medtech startups for various diagnostics or therapies.

Space Ads

Space stuff is always a head turner.

Using cubesats (=10cm cubes) to deploy mylar sails to make a pixel matrix to display ads on demand, from space (low-earth orbit).

I doubt a bit the orbit wondering:

  1. Whether those sats can orientate properly without micro-thrusters that they’re unlikely to have
  2. How visible it will really be from Earth
  3. Whether it will be visible from the right spot on earth (those things move)
  4. How commercially viable

Looks like a publicity stunt whose novelty might wear off even before it reaches orbit.

Robot Saves Notre Dame

Or at least it helped! And maybe avoided roasting a few firefighters.

Now, it’s mostly a mobile base to hold a high-pressure hose (not autonomous afaik). We have to get rid of the word ‘robot’ and its sometimes negative image. Let’s call this a remote-controller hose-holder?

Here is another one.

Drone Disturbs Planes

And it avoided the anti-drone systems. The novelty compared to a bomb threat is that the perpetrator doesn’t need to come close to the site in person at any time.

Robot Does Wedding Photos

Don’t expect fancy shots you will frame. It’s more of a novelty selfie stick with a printing option.

Breast Pump Raises $42M

Femtech is gaining attention. Among those, HAX has invested in:

Robot Farmers

A great piece by The New Yorker on how robots can help face the labor crisis on farms. HAX also invested in a few AgTech companies.

Robot Makes Smoothies

It’s robot season! This one uses a Universal Robot arm (a Danish startup acquired by US’s Teradyne some time ago). Such arms cost 20k-30k.

Our perspective is generally that instead of ‘doing things like humans’ it’s often better to design a purpose-built machine to optimize both economics and ergonomics. But there is more than one way to do things. Time will tell.

Make Cheese at Home

You’ve shelved the bread machine? Time for something new! As both a Frenchman and investor in hardware startups, I am of two minds about this.

Proactive Car Suspensions

It’s a bit surprising to see car tech coming from Bose, but if you consider it’s related to noise cancelling, then it makes sense. It looks like the time for this tech has come!

3D Printed Sushis

This looked like a joke (April Fool). While the technologies described make sense, it is unlikely to work at such a small scale, and even less so with food. In the unlikely event it did work, do not expect a great taste.

Let’s Talk Deep Tech

It took us a while, but we finally realized that SOSV / HAX had been investing in deep tech for years!

Flying Motorcycle

Call me a skeptic but safety and commercial viability are in question. Will this startup find an early B2B market (multi-millionaires might not be suicidal enough) or fundraise enough until it clears all obstacles? My bet is that flying cars will be on market first.

Brick Your Shoes

Kudos to Adidas for making a BTTF dream come true. Now, sleeping with your sneakers wasn’t part of the dream.

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SOSV: Inspiration from Acceleration

Insights from The Accelerator VC—including our programs (HAX, IndieBio, RebelBio, Chinaccelerator, MOX, Food-X, dLab) & our startups.

Benjamin Joffe

Written by

Partner @ HAX & SOSV — Investors in 200+ Hardware Startups | Digital Naturalist | Keynote Speaker | Angel Investor | 18 years in Asia | Addicted to airports.

SOSV: Inspiration from Acceleration

Insights from The Accelerator VC—including our programs (HAX, IndieBio, RebelBio, Chinaccelerator, MOX, Food-X, dLab) & our startups.

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