How the Columbus startup wants to dispel misconceptions about robots and their users
When you sit down at a new computer, chances are you have some idea of how to get started. Whether it’s a Windows machine or macOS, computer operation has been normalized to the point that almost everyone is familiar with parts of each operating system. When it comes to robotics, however, almost every machine and manufacturer is different, each requiring specific knowledge and experience. But what if one platform could operate them all, enabling users to learn multiple platforms quickly and efficiently? That’s the mission of Columbus startup Ready Robotics.
“We build software solutions for industrial robotics,” said CTO and co-founder Kel Guerin. “We primarily focus on technology that makes robots significantly easier to use. The robotics space is very fragmented, so you have a lot of robots and a lot of programming languages that are all very different. That means any time anyone wants to use a robot, they have to learn whatever language that robot is programmed in. We provide software that makes it much easier. Instead of having to go to a training course for weeks, we can teach you to use our software, which works on a variety of robots, in a matter of hours.”
Ready Robotics was founded by Guerin and co-founder and CEO Ben Gibbs in 2016. Their original home was in Baltimore, where the two went to Johns Hopkins University. But for a company interested in the manufacturing space, the coast wasn’t the best option. So when Ready Robotics received venture capital funding from Drive Capital in Columbus, they decided to move to Ohio. The move has unlocked their user base and presented the company with a variety of new opportunities.
“We really recognized the opportunity of the Midwest, in terms of the number of manufacturers that were based here,” said Guerin. “Columbus has really been game-changing for us, not only because of our proximity to our investors but because of our proximity to our customers. That’s what sets it apart from other areas — you not only have this very high-tech hub with lots of innovative companies and capital, but you have an accessible customer base. For us in manufacturing, that’s a big deal.”
For some, talk of automation can be scary. But Ready Robotics wants to do the opposite. Their goal is to empower workers by giving them the ability to work with equipment that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. They strive to take someone who’s never worked with a robot before and have them operating the machine in an hour. In the past, they’ve worked with employees who could barely use a smartphone and have had them reprogramming a robot by the end of the day. For Guerin, it’s about enabling those hands-on employees, not replacing them.
“What I really find meaningful about this work is the way it affects people,” said Guerin. “Automation is a tenuous subject, and a lot of that is a fundamental misconception about automation. What’s exciting about our technology is that it’s so easy to use, the people who are actually doing the work — the men and women actually putting pieces of metal into the machine — get to be a part of that automation process. They’re the ones programming the robots, it’s not someone from the outside. That means they’re invested; it’s something they’re doing to empower themselves and get better at what they’re doing. That type of ownership really speaks to how we envision automation working alongside people.”
Like every company, COVID-19 has shifted the world for Ready Robotics. But for this startup, it’s shown the importance of their work. Guerin said the pandemic has shown the weakness in some areas of manufacturing, reinforcing that their approach can make a major impact.
“What the pandemic has really shown us is the cracks in the world’s manufacturing and supply chain,” said Guerin. “The resiliency that we thought was there is not really there, and we’ve seen that very clearly. For us, because we’re trying to make automation easier to use, we’re excited about this opportunity for change. We need to change how the supply chain works and how manufacturing is done. The only way that you do that in a cost-effective way is through automation, and we can make that easier to do. We think that can transform the world, and how we build and make things, for the better.”