InOrbit joins the Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund 2024

InOrbit offers Copilot to manage and scale robot operations.
Copilot uses LLMs to enable users to manage and scale robot operations. Source: InOrbit

InOrbit Inc., which provides software for robot operations, or RobOps, last week announced that the Google for Startups Latino Founders Fund 2024 chose it among the companies focused on artificial intelligence. Participation in this year’s program includes funding, mentorship from Google and industry experts, and interaction with a community of entrepreneurs.

“As robotics and AI are converging, InOrbit is at the center of a growing ecosystem of companies, from robotics startups to big tech companies developing the latest AI models,” stated Florian Pestoni, co-founder and CEO of InOrbit. “This endorsement from Google, together with their mentorship and resources, will help us accelerate our investment in AI-powered RobOps at scale.”

As fleets of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) grow in warehouses and other facilities, the need to effectively manage complex operations is also growing, according to InOrbit. At Automate in May, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company unveiled the InOrbit RobOps Copilot. It uses large language models (LLMs) to provide insights to users, regardless of their technical expertise.

Google carefully picks AI startups to support

The 20 startups that Google Inc. selected for funding include companies working on smart homes, precision agriculture, cybersecurity, sustainability, and manufacturing, among other AI applications. Google is providing each startup with $150,000 in non-dilutive funding and $100,000 in Google Cloud credits.

“This year, the program was all about AI,” Pestoni told Automated Warehouse. “Hundreds of companies applied, and it was a strict process, with multiple layers of selection, interviews, and presentations.”

“We were already working on Copilot when we applied,” he recalled. “One thing that resonated is that we’re using AI in a very practical and direct way. Robots can generate massive amounts of data, and we’ve created a novel mechanism for discovering the data and getting the right insights.”

While InOrbit uses Google Cloud, among other cloud technologies, the funding did not come with any requirements, said Pestoni.

“This is a natural continuation of our relationship, taking it to a new level,” he said. “We’re still finding ways in which we can work together, leveraging its foundation models.”

InOrbit was working on RobOps Copilot when it entered Google's selection process.
InOrbit was working on RobOps Copilot when it entered Google’s selection process. Source: InOrbit

InOrbit part of community of innovators

“We get access to technical experts and the insider track,” said Pestoni. “The original article about transformers came out of Google Research, so we’re talking to the right people.”

InOrbit also benefits by being part of a community of startups that can compare notes across domains, he added.

“Aside from the obvious benefit of name recognition being chosen by Google, InOrbit connects regularly with other companies building AI-centered products,” said Pestoni. “We get to learn from one another.”

Selection sends signals to the market

Robotics startups have had difficulty raising funding in the past year or so because of high interest rates. Venture capital firms (VCs) are increasingly looking for demonstration of value, even as AI providers proliferate.

“The bar of returns has been raised for everyone. What we’re seeing is more rational investment, with some exceptions,” noted Pestoni. “VCs look for signals for the right investment — financial performance, the team, and vision. It really helps when Google selects you out of hundreds of companies. This signal to investors can only help this cohort.”

At the same time, thanks to the open-source Robot Operating System (ROS) community and large players such as SICK and NVIDIA, starting a robot company is not the challenge — scaling is, he said.

“It’s easier to get started than it was 10 years ago; you can get a product to market within a year,” Pestoni observed. “Where a lot of companies struggle is with scaling. In the Robot Operations Group (ROG), we talk about how to get from five robots to 5,000 robots.”

“A proof of concept with five robots is validation, but it’s not sustainable. InOrbit is a catalyst, saving robotics companies a lot of time to market,” he claimed. “Instead of VCs investing in a robot, they can invest in infrastructure companies.” “

“It like what someone said about picks and shovels. They can invest in the people selling the picks and shovels to the miners so they succeed, no matter who hits it big,” explained Pestoni. “To take a longer view, robots are inevitable in every industry; you can’t really measure growth in quarters.”

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AI is the new electricity, but robotics is maturing, says InOrbit

The evolving software stack for AMRs and other automation is worth investing in because it combines AI with hardware, Pestoni asserted.

“Now there’s an opportunity to build a foundational technology as essential as mobile computing,” he said. “AI is the new electricity, but at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can get out of ChatGPT. We still need AI and robots to actually make food, move items in a warehouse, build a house, or move you in a hospital — InOrbit has customers in all these supply chains.”

“The other factor is that a lot of robotics companies were started by technical founders who love robots,” commented Pestoni. “We need robots who have real market value. Even founders who started companies that couldn’t make it work have valuable experiences. A lot of them say, ‘I wish I had spent less time building and more time talking to customers.’ This reflects a growing market maturity.”

Out of Google’s latest startup funding cohort, HireHenry was the only other robotics startup. The St. Louis, Mo.-based company is developing industrial robotic mowers. Why was that?

“We’re used to doing things a little ahead of the market, which is why I’m not surprised,” Pestoni said. “When InOrbit started talking about orchestration to end users and AMR developers, they said, ‘Why would I ever need that?'” Now, they say, ‘We have exactly that problem.’ I think this market will be huge.”

Eugene Demaitre
Written by

Eugene Demaitre

Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of the robotics group at WTWH Media. He was senior editor of The Robot Report from 2019 to 2020 and editorial director of Robotics 24/7 from 2020 to 2023. Prior to working at WTWH Media, Demaitre was an editor at BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, TechTarget, and Robotics Business Review.

Demaitre has participated in robotics webcasts, podcasts, and conferences worldwide. He has a master's from the George Washington University and lives in the Boston area.