Redwood Robotics: New Silicon Valley Startup by Meka Robotics, Willow Garage, and SRI

Redwood Robotics

Redwood Robotics came out of its year-long stealth mode at today's Xconomy event in Menlo Park, California.  Redwood Robotics is a joint venture between three west-coast robotics powerhouses: Meka Robotics, Willow Garage, and SRI.  Aaron Edsinger, who is CEO of Meka Robotics and is expected to take a leadership / executive role at Redwood, made the announcement and explained the startup's goal: "To enable the personal and service robot markets through a new generation of robot arms that are simple to program, inexpensive, and safe to operate alongside people."  In other words, they're teaming up to create a proper competitor to Heartland Robotics in Boston.  Unfortunately, that's all the public details that they're sharing at this time.  They're being tight-lipped about business and technical details given the amount of secrecy in this market (eg. Heartland is notoriously tight-lipped).  We'll try to keep you updated as we learn more.  In the meantime, check out the brief spotlights of the three joint partners below.

Here is Redwood's stated goal,

Redwood Robotics will enable the personal and service robot markets through a new generation of robot arms that are simple to program, inexpensive, and safe to operate alongside people.

So, their scope is a little more broad (personal and service robots)... but they will essentially be competing with Heartland Robotics -- Rodney Brooks' Boston-based startup that has raised $32 million in venture capital funding since 2008, and who are rumored to be building low-cost robot arms to "increase productivity and revolutionize manufacturing."

With the backing of three of Silicon Valley's biggest names in robotics (Meka, Willow, and SRI), Redwood Robotics should be a real contender.  This is getting interesting!


Meka Robotics


Meka is best known for their hardware prowess: mobile manipulation systems using series-elastic actuatorstactile skin, humanoid legged systems, and even inflatable robots.

Meka Robotics M1 Mobile Manipulator  Meka Robotics bipedal robot  Meka Robotics tactile Skin  Meka Robotics Inflatable Robot

We're good friends with the guys at Meka.  My old lab used Meka's first pair of arms, and I've heard that some of our system integration designs actually influenced later Meka designs.  Plus, Meka is a gracious Hizook sponsor.



Willow Garage


Willow is probably best known as the birthplace (and/or shepherd) for open source robotics software, including: ROS, OpenCV, PCL, and even the new Open Source Robotics Foundation.  They also have a successful history of developing robotics hardware, such as the PR2, TurtleBot, and Texai.

Willow Garage PR2 robot  Willow Garage PR2 Robot  Willow Garage TurtleBot Robot  Willow Garage Texai Robot

This new effort is in-line with Willow's stated goal:

Willow Garage is organized to encourage spin-out companies. We intend for spin-outs to participate in the industry, enabled by projects developed at Willow Garage. These spin-out projects should have broad applications that deliver significant contributions to the robotics community and beyond.

I'm not going to detail their other spin-off efforts right now (a great topic for a future article!), but I'm a big fan of their work!  I used a PR2 from their beta program for my dissertation research on robotics plus RFID, and I contributed quite a few open source ROS packages.



SRI International


SRI, formerly "Stanford Research Institute," is self-described as:

... an independent, nonprofit research institute conducting client-sponsored research and development for government agencies, commercial businesses, foundations, and other organizations. SRI also brings its innovations to the marketplace by licensing its intellectual property and creating new ventures.

SRI brings a lot‚Äč of business experience to the new venture.  They're probably best-known as the birthplace or robotic surgery, having spun out Intuitive Surgical (one of the largest robotics companies) back in 1995.  They've also developed a number of technologies that Hizook has covered in the past: electroadhesive climbers, electroadhesive grippers, and electroactive polymer muscles.  

Intuitive Surgical's Da Vinci Surgical System  Electroadhesive Robot Climber from SRI  Electroadhesive Robot Gripper by SRI



As you can see... these three partners have it all covered: hardware, software, and business.  This is getting interesting!