Robot Ramp-Up

Venture Capital

Over the past two decades, a good way to scare away venture capital was to tell investors you wanted to build robots. Earlier robotics companies typically flopped when it became clear the computational power didn’t exist to drive the fine sensory and motor capabilities required of even the simplest devices. But with companies now producing robots that do things like paint ship hulls or remotely stroll the office, bankers at Chicago-based Olympic Cascade Financial believe the technology has finally caught up with the promise.

Cascade has established what it says is the first-ever venture-capital fund created exclusively for robotics. So far the fund, Robotic Ventures, has raised an initial $5 million from investors and identified a dozen potential recipients, all companies ready to bring robotic devices to market.

“You’re going to see a lot of robots,” promises Brian Friedman, co-director of the fund with Rodney Brooks, director of MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. “The revolution that people conceptualized in the 1970s and ’80s is now a reality in the year 2001.”

Friedman said the company Brooks co-founded, iRobot, will likely receive Robotic Ventures funds to refine and market products like its flagship iRobot-LE-an Internet-ready communications robot that can, among other things, roll around the house and check on the cat while you are on vacation. Other potential recipients include robotics companies serving the shipping-, oil- and gas-services industries.

If the fund proves profitable, Robotic Ventures plans to set up a second, larger fund that will focus on early-stage robotics companies.

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