San Francisco start-up turns ordinary diggers into autonomous robots

A San Francisco company has raised $33m to develop a system that can retrofit ordinary construction earthmoving machines with smart technology.

The series B funding, which was led by Next47, the investment arm of Siemens, follows $15m of series A investment, obtained in 2017. This has allowed the company to double staff to around 40 over the past few months.

Built Robotics, which was founded in 2016, fits earthmovers with an AI guidance systems that turns them into autonomous robots. The technology combines GPS, cameras and Lidar (light detection and ranging) with a software application that enables the machine to operate on its own.

According to Built Robotics, its package can be installed on standard excavators and bulldozers from any equipment maker.

Noah Ready-Campbell, the company’s chief executive, says on the Built Robotics’ website: "My dad was a carpenter and contractor, so I grew up around construction. In high school I worked for him renovating old houses, then went to work at Google after college.

"When I first started Built, he told me I’d better learn to operate equipment before I tried to automate it, so I rented a Deere 135G excavator and dug a pond in my family’s back yard. Soon after, I met Andrew, my co-founder, and six months later we got our first prototype up and running."

The aim is to improve the construction industry’s poor record of productivity improvement and its skills shortage.

Customers can buy the conversion boxes, then pay for their use whenever a machine is switched to autonomous mode.

The company says its robots, which are designed to carry out basic digging and earthmoving tasks, have so far worked for more than 7,500 hours without an accident.

Image: Some of Built Robotics’ 40 employees (Built Robotics)

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