Humatics, $18M Richer, Aims to Equip Robots with Microlocation Tech

A Boston-area robotics firm is starting to make its first big moves. Cambridge, MA-based “microlocation” startup Humatics announced this week it has completed an $18 million Series A funding round.

Detroit-based Fontinalis Partners led the investment, with participation from Airbus Ventures, Lockheed Martin Ventures, Intact Ventures, Tectonic Ventures, Presidio Ventures, Blue Ivy Ventures, and others. Since its inception in 2015, the company has raised a total of about $22 million.

Humatics’ technology revolves around “location and navigation at the millimeter level,” says co-founder and CEO David Mindell. Traditional Global Positioning Systems (GPS) rely on satellites and only give a person, place, or thing’s general location—its actual position could be up to 10 meters away. That’s not precise enough for the automated, connected future, Mindell adds, plus it doesn’t work indoors.

Humatics has developed microlocation and analytics software that Mindell describes as “the millimeter version of GPS.” The company calls it a spatial intelligence platform that aims to “revolutionize” how people and machines navigate and collaborate. By using radio-frequency technology, Humatics says it can pinpoint multiple, moving targets whose locations are broadcast via transponder, with a range of up to 30 meters. The transponders can be networked together—strung throughout a factory, for example, or mounted on an autonomous vehicle—to provide more precise positioning at what Mindell says is a fraction of the cost.

“Robots would be able to collaborate with humans with exquisitely precise movements,” Mindell explains. “In many cases, where you are relative to the robot is more important than where you are in the world. GPS is not accurate enough to get an autonomous vehicle through an intersection, but we could put a beacon on a traffic light that could get a brief but high-precision fix on what’s happening. The transponders have all the characteristics of Internet of Things devices.”

Mindell says the company’s system has potential applications in numerous sectors—including industrial, automotive, sports and fitness, gaming, defense, and healthcare—which is reflected by the variety of investors the company has attracted so far.

Humatics aims to have a product on the market by mid-2018, and will go after the industrial manufacturing sector first, partly because factories and warehouses provide a perfect environment to test the company’s platform.

“If you look at the advanced factories of today, that’s what a city will look like in 10 years,” Mindell says. “There’s a mix of humans and robots, autonomous and semi-autonomous technologies, and a lot of collaboration. We think of Humatics as the glue that holds that system together.”

Mindell says the company’s relationship with lead investor Fontinalis began after the Motor City VC firm heard that Humatics was working on “mobility-relevant technologies. We hit it off quickly. Their vision for their firm matches the spaces we’re in, and a lot of their portfolio companies are our potential partners.”

But Humatics also wanted to have an official connection to Detroit and its transportation and manufacturing ecosystems. The 22-person company’s CTO, Greg Charvat, also happens to be a Detroit native.

“We don’t have plans yet for a Detroit office, but many of our initial customers are in Detroit,” Mindell says. “Nothing would thrill me more than participating in the revitalization of American manufacturing.”

Mindell says Humatics plans to spend the next six months running pilots and demonstrating its technology to potential customers, incorporating feedback along the way. The company has “brought in incredible people to lead us,” he says, and is planning a big announcement later this fall. (He declined to share details.)

The next revolution in robots—defined here as anything automated, even a vehicle—will involve them interacting with and working alongside humans, Mindell says.

“To do that, humans will have to feel robots are safe, trusted partners, and that’s a lot of what we’re working on,” he says. “There are other systems people use to position things, and they work well in research labs, but they don’t scale well. Our solution is unique, we have protected intellectual property, and nobody comes close in terms of precision.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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