Stealthy Startup -- Heartland Robotics -- Receives $7M Financing Round Partially Funded by Bezos Expeditions

Heartland Robotics

I'm really intrigued by the recent announcement (Aug. 21st, 2009) that Jeff Bezos, founder of internet giant Amazon, has participated in a substantial $7 million round of funding via his personal investment firm (Bezos Expeditions) into Heartland Robotics, a stealthy startup co-founded by Rod Brooks -- who left iRobot (which he also co-founded) to launch this new venture.  Brooks is certainly a figurehead in robotics, having effectively "invented" behavior-based robotics (not to mention being my academic grandfather -- the advisor of my advisor).  But his Heartland Robotics remains an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, surrounded by mystery... Below I discuss some of my musings, but your additional speculation and insight would be greatly appreciated.  Most significantly, how will this new relationship affect Kiva Systems -- Amazon recently acquired one of Kiva's largest clients (Zappos) for an impressive $928M!

Heartland Robotics' stated objective, without much elaboration:

Heartland Robotics is combining the power of computers - embodied in robots - and the extraordinary intelligence of the American workforce, to increase productivity and revitalize manufacturing. 

There has been speculation that this will involve humans working side-by-side with robots.  This implies a healthy dose of human-robot interaction, perhaps building upon the "human-safe" series elastic actuator technology that was featured in many of Brooks' past robots (such as Domo and Cog). 

However, there are many unresolved questions...

  • Most robots in this space have been rather rudimentary (such as Kiva Systems'). Will Heartland's solution take humanoid form?  Will the focus be on "learning / programming from demonstration"?

  • Amazon possesses one of the most streamlined warehouse systems in the world.  How does Bezos envision Heartland's technology fitting into the Amazon machine?

  • Kiva Systems has already made significant inroads into the robotic warehouse space (see video below).  Are they worried about this stealthy competition, and are they worried that one of their largest clients (Zappos), which was recently acquired by Amazon, will be poached?

 

I'd like to hear about your thoughts and insights on this issue.  But in the meantime, here is a video showcasing Kiva Systems' robotic warehouse technology.

 

Comments

Well, Bezos might not be expecting any integration with the Amazon machine at all, he might just be investing in a company he likes. Bezos is, for lack of a better word, a nerd... and he also has another company, Blue Origin, an aerospace startup.
JL