One of Canada's best-regarded robotics firms, Kitchener-based Clearpath Robotics, has received a $14-million cash injection led by U.S. venture capital firms RRE Ventures and iNovia Capital.
The money will be used to expand the company's work force by as many as 50 people, primarily engineers, to meet the demand for contracts it has signed in the resource and mining industry.
"A big focus for us over the last 18 months has been to grow our relationships with Fortune 500 companies," says CEO and co-founder Matthew Rendall. "They operate at a massive scale. We got ourselves into this situation where there were really big contracts on the go, where if one of our other contracts hits we'd start to lose the ability to take on new ones."
Founded in 2009, Clearpath says it reached profitability in just 18 months. Its website is festooned with images of the Grizzly, Husky and Kingfisher drone vehicles, though its primary business is not in selling homegrown units, but rather in roboticizing existing heavy equipment for mining, farming or other dirty, dangerous jobs.
"What you really need is a 40-tonne truck that's been turned into a robot," says Mr. Rendall. The company uses a variety of technologies to make the robots autonomous or self-driving, such as GPS, Lidar and even simple cameras. The company has also developed a "robot brain" or control software algorithms.
For investor Stuart Ellman, who is a managing partner of RRE Ventures, Clearpath's future is in being the dominant operating system for robots. "You can't just develop robot software right now, software is integrated with hardware, you have to sell a full stack," says Mr. Ellman.
RRE has invested in some of the hotter media and finance startups, from BuzzFeed and Business Insider to Venmo, Palantir and another Kitchener startup, Kik Interactive.
In its announcement, Clearpath cited a 2013 report from the McKinsey Global Institute predicting robotics and automation would represent a $4.5-trillion a year economic impact by 2025.