It all started as a work of love. A love for robotics. As if patiently teaching your toddler how to pick up round pegs and fit them into round holes, Tom Galluzzo, founder and CEO of IAM Robotics, found himself at Carnegie Mellon’s famed National Robotics Engineering Center teaching robots with arms, hands and eyes to look for and find objects, pick them up and move them from point A to point B. All of this autonomously, without adult supervision.
While at NREC, Tom was working alongside some 150 robotics research engineers in the aforementioned project for DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) who do all the research for the DoD. “We worked there for three or four years and got a lot of confidence in our progress. We figured there’s gotta be some low hanging fruit in industry where autonomous manipulation can be really interesting technology and have applications for some industry problems.” And it would be an Amazon acquisition that would give him the final push. Around 2012 they bought out a company called Kiva Systems (now Amazon Robotics), a warehouse robotics company for almost $800 million.
“Wow, this was huge in robotics! So we started looking into ecommerce and warehousing and talking with warehousing operators and fulfillment centers and CEOs of logistics companies. They said ‘if you guys can build a robot that could drive around my warehouse and find objects and pick them up and collect them to get ready for shipping, that would be a no-brainer for us because that’s a huge labor sink. We can’t find enough people to do that kind of work, especially on the third shift.’”
This was the Eureka moment for the business opportunity. “Having a robot that could do that would be really amazing. We looked at some business cases, we looked at costs, what the robot would need to do, and we started pitching some folks in 2013. We approached Innovation Works, one of the local seed organizations, and they gave us some funding. It took six months of pitching but we eventually proved to them that we had enough of a business case and interest from the market and they gave us funding to build a prototype robot. So we did, and that was the start of IAM Robotics.”