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Wandelbots raises €6 million funding to ‘democratise industrial robots’

A startup called Wandelbots has raised €6 million in funding which it says it will use to “democratise industrial robots”. 

Wandelbots, a software company which uses what it describes as “demonstration-based teaching”, raised the €6 million Series A funding from Paua Ventures, the EQT Ventures fund and existing investors.

The funding will be used to grow Wandelbot’s team and expand the company’s global presence. One year after launch, Wandelbots is already working globally with automotive and electronics manufacturers, such as Volkswagen, Infineon and Midea. 

Wandelbots was founded in November 2017 by a team from the Technische Universität Dresden, a German university.

Founders Christian Piechnick, Georg Püschel, Maria Piechnick, Sebastian Werner, Jan Falkenberg, Giang Nguyen and Frank Fitzek say they recognised that “the current programming approaches for today’s industrial robots are not suitable for tackling the challenges in the Industry 4.0 era”.

Today, every single robotic task has to be manually hardcoded into its control software by experienced programmers. Every time a task changes, the software has to be re-engineered. This is extremely time-consuming and expensive.

Furthermore, the lack of industrial standards for programming languages and interfaces means specific knowledge is required for a concrete robot platform, such as Kuka, ABB and Fanuc.

To roll out new and more flexible use cases – such as small-batch manufacturing and robots-as-a-service – faster and at lower cost, robots need to be more highly adaptive and easy to use.

The Wandelbox, which is Wandelbots’ first product, enables anyone to program industrial robots with smart clothing.

Sensor-attached jackets and gloves track human motion in real-time and transfer this to robotic movement, so non-experts are able to guide robots through a task by example.

The data gathered from multiple examples is used to generate platform-independent automation scripts using Machine Learning.

In contrast to simple repetition, the software understands the task and is able to generate optimised solutions based on multiple demonstrations.

The scripts ensure the full integration of robots in industrial environments, including external end-effector integration, sensor integration, PLC integration and adaptation.

These platform-independent scripts are automatically transformed into platform-specific robot code, enabling the easy integration of the Wandelbox into existing automation environments.

The resulting platform independence allows robots to learn from each other even if they are not produced by the same robot manufacturer. Based on the first industrial applications, automation of robotic applications can be done up to 20 times faster and is 10 times more cost-effective.

Christian Piechnick, CEO of Wandelbots, says: “In the last 11 months, Wandelbots has grown from just two to 20 employees, industrial adoption of Wandelbots’ technology has happened extremely quickly and we’re now opening our office in China.

“We’re excited to take the next big step with our investment from Paua Ventures and EQT Ventures and achieve our next set of milestones.

“Today, robots are only accessible to companies with long-running low-mix, high-volume production. As more than 70 per cent of costs are directly related to the software controlling the robot, they’re unattractive for the production of small batch sizes.

“We’ve developed a universal language for robots based on smart clothing. Anyone, regardless of their technical or cultural background, can now teach any robot in the most natural, intuitive way – by demonstration.”

Marco Weiß, head of new mobility and innovations at Volkswagen Sachsen, says: “In order to offer competitive products in the face of the rapid changes within the automotive industry, we need more cost savings and greater speed in the areas of production and automation of manufacturing processes.

“Wandelbots’ technology opens up significant opportunities for automation. Using Wandelbots offering, the installation and setup of robotic solutions can be implemented incredibly quickly by teams with limited programming skills.”

Georg Stockinger, partner at Paua Ventures, says: “At Paua Ventures, we’re proud to back the extremely talented Wandelbots team and provide the resources and guidance for the company’s rapid expansion.

“Wandelbots will be one of the key companies enabling the mass-adoption of industrial robotics by revolutionizing how robots are trained and used. Over the last few years, we’ve seen a steep decline in robotic hardware costs.

“Now, Wandelbots’ resolves the remaining hurdle to disruptive growth in industrial automation – the ease and speed of implementation and teaching. Both factors together will create a perfect storm, driving the next wave of industrial revolution.”

Axel Bard Bringéus, international expansion partner and investment advisor at EQT Ventures, says: “Automation is a key driver in the transformation of the global manufacturing industry, particularly electronics and automotive.

“With a strong industrial heritage of the EQT platform, we see the changes taking place in the manufacturing industry first hand. The EQT Ventures team couldn’t be happier to back the Wandelbots team, one of the best global teams we’ve seen in this space and a company at the forefront of the next industrial revolution coming out of Europe.”