Techstars, Qualcomm spin up a robotics startup accelerator

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Credit: Signe Brewster

Robots are no longer just the business of university laboratories and secretive corporate divisions. Falling costs and improving technology have given rise to startups reinventing what exactly it means to be a robotics company, and corporations (and money) are noticing.

Qualcomm and Techstars announced a robotics accelerator today that will include about 10 projects in its first class, which begins in May in San Diego. Qualcomm will give $120,000 to each startup, each of which will spend four months developing their product with Techstars’ team.

Techstars has sent robotics startups, including Brewbot and Rise Robotics, through its program in the past. Robots have slowly been trickling into other startup accelerators as well; depending on your definition of a robot, HAXLR8R had around four among its May 2014 graduates. But a program dedicated exclusively to robots is still pretty rare.

The Modbot robot at a Highway1 demo day. Photo by Signe Brewster.

The Modbot robot at a Highway1 demo day. Photo by Signe Brewster.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see a very broad definition of a robot reflected in the first startups Techstars and Qualcomm select. A robot doesn’t necessarily walk (or roll) around and perform multiple tasks. It might simply control the temperature of your home or mow your lawn. The internet of things, in which Qualcomm is very interested (come see for yourself at the Gigaom Structure Connect conference next week), has given rise to a whole slew of robots that look very far from what most people expect.

As robotics venture capitalist Dmitry Grishin told me earlier this year:

“People usually call something robot, but they don’t know what it’s doing. Once the robot starts to solve some particular task, they stop calling it a robot. They call it vacuum cleaner, they call it machine or car.”

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Mark Norton

“Once the robot starts to solve some particular task, they stop calling it a robot.”

This is a variation of the statement made about AI in general. Once it becomes useful, it’s no longer AI. Even the whole field of robotics was once a sub-study of AI. Now it just … robotics.

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