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Tech startup Veo Robotics gets ready to roll out factory robots

Tokyo

VEO Robotics Inc, a startup developing sensor technology that lets industrial robots work safely side-by-side with humans, closed a funding round as it prepares to roll out the product in May.

The company raised US$15 million late last month, bringing total financing to around US$28 million, co-founder and chief executive officer Patrick Sobalvarro said in an interview. Veo's proprietary technology uses lidar sensors to create real-time maps of factory work spaces, so that robots can slow or stop completely when human workers get too close.

There are more than two million industrial robots in operation worldwide, mostly toiling inside metal safety cages. The seclusion is fine for repetitive tasks that can be done entirely by machines, such as arc welding, but the majority of work even in the most automated factories requires involvement of people. Embedding force sensors into industrial limbs is one way to prevent them from plowing through obstacles, but the same technology that makes the arms safe also makes them weak. Most so-called cobots cannot handle weights heavier than 10 kilogrammes. Computer vision offers a way to get robots into more complex environments without compromising their strength.

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"Where you see a lot of robots, that's just the beginning of assembly," Mr Sobalvarro said. "Those welding robots make for flashy pictures, but what you don't see is another 250 to 500 process steps that are entirely manual."

Another obstacle is that manufacturers increasingly have to make multiple products on the same assembly line and are constantly retooling their production to accommodate shifting consumer tastes. BLOOMBERG