Robots that cling to hazardous chemical containment tanks might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but Christchurch, New Zealand-based Invert Robotics — a spinout from the University of Canterbury’s School of Engineering — has been selling them for close to a decade. The company’s camera-equipped climbing machines can squeeze into spaces too tight or hazardous for human workers and perform daily inspections of equipment in a range of industries, including food and beverage, dairy, aviation, pharmaceutical, and oil and gas.
To lay the groundwork for its next phase of growth, Invert Robotics today announced that it has raised $8.8 million in a round of venture funding led by Finistere Ventures, with contributions from Yamaha Motor Ventures & Laboratory Silicon Valley (YMVSV) and existing investors Allan Moss, Inception Asset Management, and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund. The fresh capital brings its total raised to roughly $15.9 million, according to Crunchbase, and managing director Neil Fletcher said it will be used to fuel the startup’s expansion to the U.S. and to further develop its hardware platform.
“Our climbing robots go where other robots cannot and people should not,” said Fletcher. “Remote inspection solutions that take into account chemical corrosion and high-pressure processing scenarios can help chemical companies improve worker safety, optimize maintenance, and avoid future tragedies … Finistere and Yamaha have already demonstrated an incredible amount of knowledge and passion, and we look forward to tapping their deep technical and global support infrastructures to help us continue to scale the company.”
Invert Robotics’ remotely piloted machines, which weigh about five pounds and move at a maximum speed of 120 millimeters per second, use a technology akin to suction cups to stick to non-magnetic surfaces such as stainless steel, carbon fiber, aluminum, and glass. Their adhesion mechanism doesn’t require a large vacuum pump, and it’s highly energy efficient — even without power, the robots will remain stuck to surfaces “for some time.”
In addition to camera-based surveillance (at 1080p and up to 30 times optical zoom), Invert Robotics’ robots can perform in-depth scans to measure wall thickness, assess structural integrity, and identify defects using surface-wave detection techniques and ultrasonic probes. Operators get a post-inspection assessment report within 72 hours.
“We give our customers an easier, safer and faster way to inspect the safety and integrity of the most hazardous and toxic environments,” said Fletcher, adding that the robots’ sensors can spot defects as small as 1/16 mm. “Industrial accidents can be costly and sometimes even deadly, but they are often preventable.”
The company says it has already performed over 1,000 inspections for “some of the world’s largest” food and beverage, dairy, aviation, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, and chemical companies, including seven of the top 10 global dairy companies.
“New Zealand has become a hotbed for groundbreaking companies,” said Finistere Ventures’ Dean Tilyard, who will join the Invert Robotics board of directors as part of the funding round, along with board observers Arama Kukutai (Finistere cofounder) and Craig Boshier (Yamaha Motor Ventures & Lab partner). “Innovators like Invert Robotics need to find connected capital with strong international networks to help them scale globally. Finistere and Yamaha are ideal investment partners for Invert to realize its full potential,” Tilyard said.
Invert Robotics has offices “throughout Europe,” in addition to its New Zealand headquarters.