Robotics & Automation News

Market trends and business perspectives

Left Hand Robotics raises $3.6 million for ‘transformer’ robot

Left Hand Robotics has raised $3.6 million for its “transformer” robot, which can be used as a commercial field mower and then reconfigured to be used as a snow clearing robot.

The funding round was led by Catapult Ventures to build out its team and expand distribution of the world’s first state-of-the-art, fully autonomous outdoor robot designed as a scalable platform that allows customers to complete multiple tedious outdoor tasks.

The company says the robot transforms from a large-scale field mowing robot to a snow clearing robot by “simply switching out attachments”.

Left Hand Robotics has been shipping their commercial robot for several months now, allowing customers to autonomously mow baseball fields and open spaces in cities like Longmont, Colorado and on university campuses.

Jeremiah Saier, GIS analyst at MSU, says: “Michigan State University has had a mowing robot on campus this summer. We place it at its starting point and select that location’s path program from the smartphone app, and then it takes off on its own.

“In the future, we can imagine multiple robots serving double duty for us by both mowing and clearing snow.”

Terry Olkin, Left Hand Robotics CEO and Co-founder says: “We looked at labor-intensive industries to see where robots could dramatically reduce the workload and where labor was scarce.

“The landscaping industry is second only to construction in terms of the high demand for workers that’s unmet. Now workers can focus on complex tasks and offload the most repetitive, labor-intensive tasks to a robot.

“One of the most physically taxing chores is snow shoveling – a robot can clear snow much faster with no risk of worker injury.”

As a smart mowing robot, it excels at large scale mowing at sports complexes, parks, campuses and open spaces. Today a sod farm customer has a robot mowing hundreds of acres a week completely unattended.

As a snow clearing “Snowbot”, it clears a sidewalk in a single pass. The robot does the work of industrial mowers and snow blowers, yet it’s agile and compact – about the size of an ATV.

It operates autonomously using GPS RTK technology to follow a pre-programmed path with accuracy down to the inch.

The robot is always connected to the cloud and is controlled by a smartphone app that provides real-time monitoring.

Sophisticated safety features leverage RADAR and LIDAR technology to detect people and obstacles, and six onboard cameras provide a real-time view and capture photos of work completed.

In 2019, the Mountain View-based firm Catapult Ventures announced a $55 million fund with a focus on robotics and AI technologies, and Catapult has already invested in self-driving trucks, autonomous drones, fruit picking robots, and now Left Hand Robotics’ multi-purpose outdoor robot.

Rouz Jazayeri, co-founder and managing director at Catapult Ventures, says: “We like to identify the biggest market opportunities and then figure out how to fill those gaps with a focused technology solution.

“Left Hand Robotics is spot on with their focus – they’re taking the lead to bring robotic automation to the commercial landscaping industry where it’s needed most.

“The robotic solution they’ve built is both elegant and practical, and we love the fact that they are already shipping commercial products.”

A Left Hand Robotics robot costs $55,000 to get started, with an annual subscription of $4,250 a year that includes automatic software updates, as the team constantly enhances systems.

Olkin says: “By doing the work of one riding mower and operator, the breakeven point for a robot is often less than one year.

“We have dealer relationships with MTE Turf Equipment Solutions and Lawn and Golf Supply Co., who are bringing our robot to the commercial outdoor equipment market. They already have customers clamoring for them.”

While small, lightweight consumer mowing robots for the yard have been around a few years, existing industrial lawn mowing companies have yet to venture into the industrial-class, fully-automated mowing market, and no one has a snow clearing robot of this caliber.

Olkin says: “We’re the first to build an autonomous, multi-tasking outdoor robot to automate large scale mowing and snow clearing because it requires robust equipment and fine-tuned technologies that work together reliably without fail, and this is difficult to do.”