Ten years ago this December, Google acquired Bot & Dolly and about a dozen other robotics companies. San Francisco-based firm known for special effects work on films like “Gravity,” was merged into a new portfolio with ambitious industry-changing plans. Things didn’t go as planned for many reasons we won’t discuss.
Formant was founded by Bot & Dolly co-founder Jeff Linnell after years leading robotics for Google and Alphabet X. According to , he learned that hardware is not the issue at the company. It’s software. Second, there are so many applications that are 95% happening or 95% possible that humans may pick up the slack.”
Linnell wasn’t alone in realizing this. Google has mostly focused on software since those salad days in robotics. Alphabet X graduated Intrinsic, while Much of Everyday Robotics joined Google DeepMind.
Formant is a data collection and assessment platform for complex sensor data, not a no-code robotic programming/deployment platform like Intrinsic and Viam.
“In recent years, people realized they can buy infrastructure and data platforms. They don’t have the experience or expertise to build it, so we’re doing it, says Linnell. “We’re humanizing field-deployed asset management. These assets should be scaled. People on the platform have tens of thousands of robots. That was different three or four years ago.”
Today Formant announced a $21 million funding round led by BMW i Ventures and including Intel Capital, GS Futures, SignalFire, Hillsven, Pelion Ventures, Holman, Ericsson, Goodyear Ventures, PICUS Capital, and Thursday Ventures. It follows a $18 million Series A announced in January.
This latest funding will accelerate the company’s market entry. Formant has had success there. The company started with underserved sectors like agriculture rather than mature categories like warehouse and manufacture (though those are coming). BP, Blue River, and Knightscope are clients.
“We’re radically hardware agnostic,” says Linnell. “We have flying, underwater, mowing, delivery, quadruped, and biped robots. Whatever you want, the platform has it. We see them all as the same. You can install software on a Linux computer somewhere in the chain. We have never met a robot we couldn’t play with.”