Tend.ai, a Bend-based robotics software startup, has pivoted from the original premise of the company to focus on predictive maintenance for industrial manufacturing, says CEO and co-founder James Gentes.

The company started in 2016 with the idea that it was going to change the way people program robots. The original co-founders–James, Robert Kieffer and Mark Silliman–developed software that essentially allowed robot arms to train themselves on tasks, such as minding 3D printers.

However, James says the team realized that while the software is useful, most robots are currently programmed by systems integrators before a company puts them to use. But the experience in the space revealed to the team that many large companies don’t have a way of monitoring robots that were in the factory.

“Many of the robots aren’t connected to a network,” James says. So the team pivoted to create software that helps companies know earlier when a manufacturing robot is going to fail and give them the chance to proactively address the issue. Preventative maintenance on these expensive bots can save manufacturers the time and high costs of responding to a robot after it’s failed in some manner.

The shift represented a big change for Tend, and it was one of a few that the company has navigated over the past six months. During the process, co-founder Mark decided he wanted to pursue his interest in autonomous vehicles and stepped down from his position as CEO. He now works at Zoox, an automative startup that’s developing self-driving technology–and “rethinking the car altogether,” according to Bloomberg.

The Tend team then brought on Stephen Sickler as its new president and COO. James stepped into the CEO position. Stephen has deep experience with B2B software sales, previously leading sales and marketing organizations at early stage startups such as Tivoli Systems as well as helming high growth divisions within larger companies such as SAP, OpenText, BEA, PeopleSoft/Oracle and IBM.

The startup counts GE Appliances as its customer, and is pitching a pilot program within a Toyota manufacturing plant. The startup journey is rarely a straight line from idea to success in the market. James says he’s excited about the company’s pivot and feels optimistic about the future. “We’ve talked to more systems integrators, who are our customers, in the last six weeks than we have in the previous six months,” he says.

He adds that the company has a good set of “customer driven features” that they’re building. They’ve also made some significant tech changes including transitioning to Raspberry Pi to lower the cost of the hardware they were using. James hopes that within the next half year, the company will be piloting inside Toyota and deploying to another dozen customers.

Keep us posted Tend — we’re hoping the same!

Kelly Kearsley

Kelly Kearsley, the co-founder of StartupBend.com, is passionate about startups, entrepreneurship and Bend. In addition to writing this blog, she creates content and manages content projects for global financial companies, tech firms and startups. She began her career as a newspaper journalist and later worked as a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WSJ.com, Money Magazine, CNNMoney, MSNBC and Runner's World. See her work at kellykearsley.contently.com or kellykearsley.com.

You can reach Kelly by email at [email protected].
Kelly Kearsley