Bend-based Tend.ai made a big splash in TechCrunch Wednesday, introducing the world to its new software, which lets you train robots to run and monitor machines such as 3-D printers without human intervention. The company is the newest venture for serial entrepreneur Mark Silliman, who sold his most recent company, Smartwaiver, late last year.
He’s joined by co-founders James Gentes, founder of Startupcommunity.org and the Social Business, which was also acquired last year, as well as co-founder of this very blog; and Robert Kieffer, a well-known Bend developer and tech community supporter who was part of Zenbe, which sold to Facebook in 2010. They’re currently working out of BendTECH — it’s the office with the giant robot. For reals.
If you’ve got more than a handful of 3D printers or other devices running at a time, it’s a full-time job keeping them going — removing and packaging products, tweaking settings, pushing “OK” after minor errors, that sort of thing. Why not have a robot do it for you?Tend.ai is a new company that helps you train collaborative robots to perform machine tending, something generally reserved for bots serving heavy industry.
Silliman notes that he conceived the venture after he noticed that his friend’s wife had dozens of 3-D printers and was having to mind them every few minutes. Maybe a collaborative robot could do it instead? But these robots aren’t that easy to configure, primarily because they’re made for assembly lines, not DIY type work, according to TechCrunch.
More from the story:
Working with an “integrator” to customize the platform, and getting the special hardware for computer vision or web monitoring can cost tens of thousands on top of the robot itself.
“We basically spun up this system that moves all this data to the cloud,” said Silliman. “Now you can use a $100 webcam to do OCR and the whole nine yards, AI and machine learning, without having any of these resources in-house. And you can do it without modifying the machines or voiding their warranties. You can use any robot, any webcam, and it’s just plug and chug.”
The Tend.ai system consists of a small computer, provided for free, that acts as a thin client, passing data to and from the robot and webcam, which you attach to its arm. All the configuration data and instructions are stored in the cloud.
Tend.ai is using a SaaS business model. Its database will include info on common machines such as 3-D printers and laser cutters. If your machine is less well-known, then you can actually use the system to train the robot yourself.
And a bit more on why this is a big deal, even if you don’t have 17 3-D printers …
… if it works as advertised, Tend.ai’s system could allow machines to run 24/7 without human intervention — lowering costs, increasing productivity or both.
Silliman says he’s been bombarded by interest since the TC story posted. The Tend.ai crew anticipate launching a beta product in July and raising somewhere around $2 million after that to fund further development. Congrats Tend.ai — it’s exciting stuff.
You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].