Orangewood wants to build a cheap, programmable robotic arm for manufacturing

In late 2017, three entrepreneurs — Abhinav Das, Aditya Bhatia and Akash Bansal — came to the mutual realization that the final steps of building furniture — specifically painting and sanding — were incredibly time-consuming, not to mention costly. Often, painting and sanding will take weeks compared to the mere hours it takes for assembly and, depending on the furniture, can’t be automated with traditional robotics.

So Das, Bhatia and Bansal co-founded Orangewood Labs, a company creating a remotely operated robotic arm designed to paint furniture. A member of Y Combinator’s Winter 2018 cohort, Orangewood recently raised $4.5 million in a funding round tranche led by Y Combinator with participation from 7percent Ventures, Schox Ventures, VentureSouq, KSK Angel Fund and several angel investors.

Robotics is hardly an easy market to break into. Hardware’s expensive, after all. In 2022 alone, a number of high-profile robotics startups shut down, including buzzy, DoorDash-owned food tech Chowbotics and Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon spinout Fifth Season.

Orangewood, based in San Francisco, aims to take a more sustainable approach than its competition. Das, Bhatia and Bansal explain that the company uses more affordable parts compared to conventional robotic arm manufacturers, enabling Orangewood to drive the price down to a range that’s palatable for small- and medium-sized businesses.

“We believe that the market is still too huge for most robotics companies to fully tap,” the trio told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Our robots are helping bring power back to the small enterprises.”

Orangewood Labs

Image Credits: Orangewood Labs

Orangewood also touts the broad programmability of its robots, which it sees as another key differentiator. The startup developed RoboGPT, a platform that allows users — think roboticists as well as factory floor workers — to program Orangewood’s robotic arm with text or their voice. RoboGPT, engineered to be adaptive, attempts to account for edge cases, continuously learning from and about its environment.

With the launch of RobotGPT, Orangewood hopes to take its robotics beyond furniture construction and into other use cases, like quality inspection, powder coating and picking and sorting packaged goods.

“Robotic arms have been traditionally hard to program, which is why most small businesses don’t do it,” Das, Bhatia and Bansal said. “Any change in the environment or conditions requires reprogramming. For example, if you wanted to pick a red triangle instead of a blue square, it’d take time to make that change. We’re changing that with RoboGPT.”

Can these innovations help Orangewood stand out in a crowded field (see other robotic arm startups such as Ally) — and, perhaps more importantly, avoid the fate of its less-fortunate predecessors? It’s too early to tell. But the company already has a fairly large team — 50 contract and full-time workers, with plans to grow headcount by 20% by the end of the year — and 500 deployments of its robotic arm. Committed and booked revenue stands at $750,000 — a healthy figure, to be sure.

“For the technical decision maker, it’s simpler to deploy the technology on our flexible financing terms, hence easier to sell the business case to management,” Das, Bhatia and Bansal said. “The pandemic only has made our prospective clients realize the need for automation and move faster on demand, as well as greater localization of competitive supply chains.”

Orangewood says it won’t need to raise working capital for at least a year, thanks to the recent funding round — and a debt financing line. But it’s in the process of securing another equity raise between $6 million and $7 million to fulfill its backorder of robots, build out a service and spare parts network and expand its manufacturing facilities.

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