“What a lot of people tell me is ‘the material is difficult,'” says Eliot Horowitz. “I have a very big problem with that statement.”
Viam Robotics CEO and MongoDB co-founder describes buying an UR5 robot arm from Universal Robotics and programming it to play chess. “I don’t think the material is difficult. I think the material is not so difficult. But if I ask my hardware designer to go build something, in three months, it will work.
The New York-based startup’s approach to the subject is that software is where things start to fall apart, and for lack of a better term, get difficult. Viam is certainly not alone in this thinking process, and recent years have seen a surge in the number of companies hoping to solve the robot software problem. Notable among them are names like Instrinsic, the offshoot of Alphabet X that seeks to create a kind of universal software layer for industrial systems.
Fittingly, Viam’s space is littered with gear. It’s a big office, with a great view of Lincoln Center. Corners and cabins house all sorts of different robotic projects in various stages of disarray.
Today, the company announces the release of a public beta version of its robotics platform. It’s an effort to create a sort of single, cloud-based repository for the kinds of tools needed to prototype, code, deploy, and scale systems. And like some of the competitors that have emerged in recent years, Viam has developed its system with a kind of hardware agnosticism in mind.
But unlike many companies that have focused on a low- or no-code solution designed for non-programmers/robotics, Horowitz says the industry just isn’t there. It points to an analogy with web design software.
“Dreamweaver was, in some ways, ahead of its time. If you look at Webflow or Squarespace, they sort of do what Dreamweaver used to do, but Dreamweaver came out at a time when the backends weren’t ready for a product of its nature. It was really just a product ahead of its time. The e-commerce space was not ready for no-code. I think robotics is in the same place. The benefit of a low-code solution, if it worked, would be great. I just think it’s not practical.
Horowitz adds that, in his vision, Viam’s software replaces the robotic operating system in common, non-academic use. “ROS was designed for academic research, and it is good for academic research. It’s not a great production system. It’s not great for people who want to get started quickly.
The beta version of the service is currently offered free of charge. It promises hardware-independent cloud robotics tools, development APIs, and enterprise security. If generally available, the company will offer “consumption-based pricing” for the service. The beta comes about eight months after Viam’s $30 million Series A, which itself followed $12 million in seed funding the previous year.