Countless startups are trying to solve difficult robotic problems in the industry. But few are looking to bring technology into homes.
Well, few, except Matique.
A relatively new company founded by Navneet Dalal, a former Google research scientist, Matic, formerly known as Matician, is developing robots that can move around homes to clean “more like a human,” as Dalal puts it.
Matic today revealed it has raised $29.5 million, including a $24 million Series A led by a who’s who of tech luminaries, including GitHub co-founder Nat Friedman and co-founders John and Patrick Collison of Stripe, Adam D’Angelo, CEO of Quora, and Twitter co. -Block founder and CEO Jack Dorsey.
Dalal co-founded Matic in 2017 with Mehul Nariyawala, previously a senior product manager at Nest, where he oversaw Nest’s security camera portfolio.
Dalal and Nariyawala met while working at Like.com, a computer vision startup that Google acquired in 2010, and ended up co-launching the webcam-based gesture recognition platform Flutter together. (Flutter also ended up being acquired by Googleby chance.)
Dalal and Nariyawala dove into the indoor robotics space after realizing the terrain lacked 3D maps for precise navigation – at least from where they were.
“Just as autonomous vehicles need GPS and Google Street View Maps to navigate, fully autonomous indoor robots require a precise understanding of their location on high-fidelity 3D Street View-like maps of the ever-changing indoor world” , Dalal told TechCrunch in a statement. email interview. “We concluded that indoor robots need on-device mapping capabilities to manage privacy, latency, and changing indoor environments. »
At first, Matic focused on building robot vacuums — but not because Dalal, who is CEO of the company, saw Matic competing with the iRobots and Evocavs of the world. Rather, floor-cleaning robots were a practical way to carefully map indoor spaces, he and Nariyawala thought.
“Robot vacuums became our initial focus because of their need to cover every square inch of indoor surfaces, making them ideal for mapping,” Dalal said. “Additionally, the market for floor cleaning robots was ripe for innovation. »
Amazon’s $1.7 billion purchase from iRobot last year highlights just how valuable this indoor map data is perceived to be. iRobot, whose latest robot vacuums capture detailed maps of the homes they clean, would have has already considered sharing map data with tech companies to develop more context-aware smart home devices and AI assistants.
Ambitious, Matic sought to design a “fully autonomous” robot that could patrol a home, automatically adjust how it cleaned based on different types of floors and stains, and “remember” the routes it took to continually improve.
Years of R&D resulted in the eponymous Matic vacuum cleaner, which relies on camera-based AI to map and navigate homes (apparently with 1.5 centimeter accuracy), recognize objects, and switch between vacuuming and cleaning based on what he observes.
Matic is not yet available for purchase. But Dalal and Nariyawala took it to friends and family starting in April, and then launched a small number of customer field and beta trials.
“Matic was inspired by busy working parents who want to live in a tidy home, but don’t want to spend their limited free time cleaning,” Dalal said. “It is the first fully autonomous floor cleaning robot that continuously learns and adapts to users’ cleaning preferences without ever compromising their privacy.”
There are a lot of bold claims in this statement. But when it comes to privacy, Matic actually guarantees – or at least claims to guarantee – that data does not leave the customer’s home.
All processing is done on the robot (on hardware “equivalent to an iPhone 6,” says Dalal), and mapping and telemetry data is saved locally, not in the cloud, unless users accept sharing. Matic doesn’t even require an Internet connection to be operational: all you need is a smartphone paired to a local Wi-Fi network.
The Matic vacuum cleaner includes a set of voice and gesture commands for precise control. And – unlike some robot vacuums on the market – it can pick up cleaning tasks where they left off in case they’re interrupted (say, by a wayward pet).
Dalal says Matic can also prioritize which areas to clean based on factors such as time of day and nearby rooms and furniture.
“Like a human, a fully autonomous floor cleaning robot must remember which areas are dirtiest and clean them first,” Dalal said. “We should be aware that after cooking and eating our meals, the kitchen and dining room are dirty – and clean these areas automatically when we are finished eating. Be aware that children and dogs are in and out of the garden all the time, so maybe cleaning near the garden gate five times a day, but under the bed once a week is fine.
Can all this navigation work be accomplished with cameras alone? Dalal insists it’s possible, despite the fact that many of the most capable robot vacuums on the market rely on lasers, lidar, or both to simultaneously locate and map spaces.
“In order to run all the necessary algorithms, from 3D depth to semantics to… controls and navigation, on the robot, we had to vertically integrate and hyper-optimize the entire code base “, Dalal said, “from modifying the core to building a first-of-its-kind iOS app with live 3D mapping. This allows us to offer our customers an affordable robot that solves a real-world problem with complete autonomy.
Whether or not the technology works as well as promised, Matic costs a pretty penny.
The robot starts at $1,795; it will be available at the discounted price of $1,495 for a limited time when pre-orders begin on November 2. And each purchase requires a $75-per-month subscription, which includes hardware upgrades, repairs, and maintenance, but cannot be canceled without forgoing vacuum in favor of Matic (pre-order customers get the first year free ).
For comparison, iRobot’s most expensive vacuum costs $1,399. The Roborock – a high-end rival – costs $1,600. There are also no membership fees – or onerous cancellation policies attached to those fees.
To sweeten the deal somewhat, Matic offers a one-year supply of HEPA bags and “consumable refills,” as well as an extended warranty. But even if the startups meet their March 2024 shipping goal, there are a lot of unknowns — and risks — involved in home robotics.
This year again, the robot vacuum cleaner start-up Neato close after failing to meet internal sales goals. Mayfield Robotics, which hoped to sell a home robot in partnership with Bosch, ceased operations before shipping a single unit to the first customers. Meanwhile, Amazon is struggling to Astroits first attempt at a robot for the home, which, several months after being unveiled, is still not accessible to the general public.
Dalal and Nariyawala try to keep overhead costs reasonable by maintaining a modest team – around 60 people (although Dalal says Matic’s headcount will likely be between 65 and 70 by the end of the year). And, for what it’s worth, they’re confident enough in Matic’s ability to succeed that they’re already planning a “next round” of robotic products.
“In the short term, we will be competing with the first generation of ‘robot disc’ manufacturers,” Dalal said. “But our main competition is anyone building fully autonomous indoor robots, including humanoids… We have solved the bottlenecks in making fully autonomous indoor robots ubiquitous and have built a software stack that can be applied to any indoor robotics application.”
Time will tell whether this optimism was misguided or well-informed.