Banking on the idea that helper robots will be as ubiquitous in homes and offices as they are today in factories, Evolution Robotics has raised almost $14 million to continue developing both software and hardware for a variety of self-directed machines.
Evolution, an Idealab startup founded by renowned entrepreneur Bill Gross, hit the stage in 2002 with the ER1, a “personal robot system” that was essentially just a laptop mounted in four wheels. Equipped with a speaker, microphone and webcam, it could understand simple voice commands and carry out tasks like reading books aloud.
But the robot wasn’t exactly a do-it-all butler, and was soon eclipsed in notoriety by iRobot’s floor cleaner, the Roomba. Where the ER1 got its most mileage was with hobbyists, who were able to hack the robot for their own projects. Segue to Evolution’s current business model, licensing out key applications to help researchers and companies build better ‘bots, like Sony’s AIBO, a robotic pup that has received continual attention since it was first released for sale. The ER1 also has a modern-day successor, WowWee’s Rovio, which also incorporates Evolution’s technology.
Adding to the mix are alternate uses for Evolution’s visual recognition software. One clever use is a cell phone camera-based search that allows users to take a picture of something and come up with standard search results from the image alone.