Categories
ads during pandemic AI Analysis covid-19 data delivery orders Healthcare ReadWrite real-time behavior robotics telehealth

How These 9 Startups are Thriving in the Covid-19 Economy

startups in covid-19

The year 2020 will forever be known as “devastating to all businesses,” but the year has been especially brutal to industries such as hospitality, travel, retail, and restaurants. However, companies in other sectors, such as health and technology, have taken off. Here is how nine startups are thriving in the Covid-19 economy.

These 9 startup companies found ways to grow their business by making needed adjustments and serving the community during the pandemic.

1. Nurx

Nurx is a disruptor in the telehealth industry. It connects patients with providers virtually for consultations and prescriptions for a variety of health services, including birth control, PrEP, HPV tests and migraine treatment.

The company offers patients consulting 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via text. After paying the initial consultation fee, patients can message providers for a full year. Because patients don’t have to schedule in-person doctor visits to get care, Nurx is both a more convenient and safer option during the pandemic.

With telemedicine surging in 2020, and an additional $22.5 million in new financing, the company is positioned for long-term stability and growth. While telehealth is increasing overall, its niche serving women’s intimate health issues gives Nurx a competitive advantage.

The company has the opportunity to continue expanding the services it provides and to grow beyond the 29 states in which it is currently licensed.

2. Databricks

Databricks uses open source coding for data engineering, collaborative data analysis, and machine learning. Its platform offers clients:

  • Options tailored to their individual needs
  • Reduced supply chain operation costs
  • Web content creation based on visitor activity

The company has raised $400 million in new funding and expanded its customer dashboard capabilities by buying Redash. LinkedIn ranks Databricks as the No. 5 U.S. startup company for 2020.

Databricks’ most significant strength is its ability to make complex data analysis easier to conduct. The information gained from these analyses helps its customers save money and offer better service to their customers.

3. Verkada

Verkada provides enterprise building security with both hardware and cloud-based software. Its controls allow users to access its command platform from any browser with an internet connection. Integrated cameras and environmental sensors enable clients to detect changes happening across their locations and take data-driven action.

As the pandemic spread, Verkada adapted its system to highlight when and where crowds were beginning to form. This allows clients to disperse large groups and maintain social distancing. The company also created a heat map of high-traffic areas so clients could mark those for deeper and more frequent cleaning.

Verkada raised $80 million and doubled its workforce this year. The company’s advantage is its ability to see new opportunities and pivot to meet customer needs in new ways.

4. Nuro

Nuro’s goal is to use robotics and artificial intelligence to take over delivery orders.

The company launched the first self-driving delivery car in 2016. It initially partnered with Kroger in Phoenix to deliver groceries to such customers as:

  • Parents with young children
  • The elderly
  • Individuals who don’t drive

During the pandemic, Nuro has also used its driverless fleet to deliver medical supplies to Covid-19 patients in California.

On November 9, 2020, it announced a Series C funding round of $500 million. Nuro’s greatest strength is its bold ambition to bring robotics technology to Americans’ everyday lives, during the pandemic and beyond.

5. Movandi

Movandi is achieving success with innovative technologies that make 5G more widely available. Its 5G repeaters are designed to improve 5G coverage in public spaces and buildings in ways that expand the signal around corners.

Movandi’s achievements have resulted in the following awards this year:

  • AspenCore World Electronics Achievement Awards Startup of the Year 2020
  • CNBC Disruptor 50 for 2020
  • Orange County Business Journal Innovator of the Year 2020

Covid-19 has shown that the need for robust broadband is greater than ever. By finding new ways to overcome earlier technologies’ line-of-sight challenges, Movandi is making a signal contribution (pun intended).

6. FullStory

FullStory is a provider of analytical software that enables its clients to improve their websites. The company employs heat maps and other tracking tools to discover where visitors go on a website. Its software also helps pinpoint where retail sites lose customers in the sales funnel.

FullStory’s software is so effective that one client gained $5.63 million in benefits (increased conversion rates, improved error resolution, etc.) over three years. The result was a 411% return on investment.

LinkedIn ranked FullStory one of the top startups of 2020. The company quadrupled its workforce between 2017-19 and has raised $67 million in funding since its inception.

Allowing its clients to detect pandemic-driven consumer behavior changes helps them respond rapidly and effectively to these shifts. The quality of FullStory’s service to its clients provides a benchmark to copy.

7. Attentive

Attentive is a marketing and advertising company that uses real-time behavioral data to target customers and convert sales. Over 2,000 businesses currently use Attentive’s messaging platform to drive sales.

The company recently raised $230 million in Series D investments and has grown to over 400 full-time employees.

Attentive’s most significant strength is its consistent performance over time and deep client base. The company succeeds because its messaging platform helps its clients reach their own customers so effectively.

8. Modern Health

Modern Health is a digital benefits platform that provides mental health support for its clients’ employees. The company uses virtual visits and text messages to connect employees to certified coaches and licensed therapists.

During the pandemic, the company began offering free mental health resources, including live sessions with its network therapists, to the public at large. Its goal was to help the community as a whole get through this challenging year.

Like other top-performing startups in telehealth, Modern Health’s competitive advantage lies in finding its niche: in this case, mental health. It has raised over $42 million in venture funding and has been named to LinkedIn’s list of top startups for 2020.

9. FIG

FIG was founded as an alternative to traditional agency marketing. Its goal is to be the storytellers of the information age.

Among its honors, FIG has been:

  • Named to the Inc. 5000 in 2019 and 2020
  • Listed on Ad Age’s A-list of standout agencies for 2018, 2019, and 2020
  • Designated one of LinkedIn’s top 50 startups for 2020

The company has achieved a three-year revenue growth of 150%. FIG is an inspired leadership story of how connecting with people on an emotional level can drive success.

In 2020, many startups floundered due to the ultimate “beyond their controlâ€� circumstances — The Global Coronavirus Epidemic.

The startups listed here are thriving despite the pandemic and ensuing recession.

These companies are succeeding by finding niche specialties, excelling through customer and community service, and adjusting their offerings to help the community during trying times.

Image Credit: ketut subiyanto; pexels

The post How These 9 Startups are Thriving in the Covid-19 Economy appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
AI autonomous robots Industrial ReadWrite robot autonomy robotics robots Startups Tech Venture capital

Time to Build Robots for Humans, Not to Replace

robots

Thinking about the future of robots and autonomy is exciting; driverless cars, lights-out factories, urban air mobility, robotic surgeons available anywhere in the world. We’ve seen the building blocks come together in warehouses, retail stores, farms, and on the roads. It is now time to build robots for humans, not to replace them.

We still have a long way to go. Why? Because building robots that intend to work fully autonomously in a physical world is hard.

Humans are incredibly good at adapting to dynamic situations to achieve a goal. Robotic and autonomous systems are incredibly powerful at highly precise, responsive, multivariate operations. A new generation of companies is turning their attention to bringing the two together, building robots to work for humans, not replace them, and reinventing several industries in the process.

Innovation through limitation

New methods of ML, such as reinforcement learning and adversarial networks, have transformed both the speed and capability of robot systems.

These methods work extremely well when:

  1. Designed for well-known tasks.
  2. Within constrained environments and limited variable change.
  3. Where most end states are known.

Where the probability of unforeseen situations and ‘rules’ are low, robots can work miraculously better than any human can.

An Amazon robot-powered warehouse is an excellent illustration of well-characterized tasks (goods movement), in constrained environments (warehouse), with limited diversity (structured paths), and all end states are known (limited task variability).

Robots in a complex world

What about in a less structured environment, where there are greater complexity and variability? The probability of errors and unforeseen situations is proportional to the complexity of the process.

In the physical world, what is a robot to do when it encounters a situation it has never seen before? That question conflicts with the robots’ understanding of the expected environment and has unknown end states.

The conflicted robot is precisely the challenge companies are facing when introducing robots into the physical world.

Audi claimed they would hit level 3 autonomy by 2019 (update: they recently gave up). Waymo has driven 20 million miles yet operationally and geographically constrained.

Tesla reverted from a fully robotic factory approach back to a human-machine mix, the company stating, “Automation simply can’t deal with the complexity, inconsistencies, variation and ‘things gone wrong’ that humans can.�

Yes — this complex issue will be figured out — but the situation is not solved yet.

To solve these problems in the physical world, we’ve implemented humans as technology guardrails.

Applications such as driverless cars, last-mile delivery robots, warehouse robots, robots making pizza, cleaning floors, and more, can operate in the real world thanks to ‘humans in the loop’ monitoring their operations.

Humans are acting as either remote operators, AI data trainers, and exception managers.

Human-in-the-Loop robotics

The ‘human in the loop’ has accelerated the pace of technology and opened up capabilities we didn’t think we would see in our lifetime, as the examples mentioned earlier.

At the same time, it has bounded the use cases to which we build. When we design robotic systems around commodity skill sets, the range of tasks is limited to those just those skills.

Training and operating a driverless car, delivery robot, or warehouse robot all require the same generally held skill sets.

As a result, what robots are capable of today primarily cluster around the ability to navigate and identify people/objects.

As these companies bring their solutions to market, they quickly realize two realities:

(1) Commodity tasks make it easier for others to also attempt a similar solution (as seen with the number of AV and warehouse robot companies emerging over the past few years).

(2) High labor liquidity depresses wages, thus requiring these solutions to fully replace the human, not augment, in high volumes to generate any meaningful economics. E.g., Waymo/Uber/Zoox needs to remove the driver and operate at high volumes to turn a profit eventually.

The result of the commodity approach to robotics has forced these technology developers to completely replace the human from the loop to become viable businesses.

Changing the intersection of robotics and humans

The open question is: is this the right intersection between machine and human? Is this the best we can do to leverage the precision of a robot with the creativity of a human?

Expert-in-the-Loop robotics

To accelerate what robots are capable of doing, we need to shift focus from trying to replace humans, to building solutions that put the robot and human hand-in-hand. For robots to find their way into critical workflows of our industries, we needed them to augment experts and trained technicians.

Industries such as general aviation, construction, manufacturing, retail, farming, and healthcare could be made safer, more efficient, and more profitable. Changing the human’s role of operator and technician to manager and strategist.

Helicopter pilots could free themselves from the fatiguing balance of flight and control management. Construction machine operators could focus on strategies and exceptions rather than repetitive motions.

Manufacturing facilities could free up workers to focus on throughput, workflow, and quality, rather than tiring manual labor. Retail operators could focus on customer experiences rather than trying to keep up with stocking inventory.

These industries all suffer from limited labor pools, highly variable environments, with little technology, and high cost of errors. Pairing robotic or autonomous systems that work hand in hand with the experts could invert from the set of dynamics compared to commodity use cases.

Companies could build solutions that need only to augment the operator, not replace him or her, to meaningfully change the economics of the operation.

Building for an expert-robot generation

The current generation of technology innovation is starting, with a new generation of companies using robotics and autonomy to change the operating experience across industries.

  • Innovative companies such as Skyryse* with complex aircraft flight controls.
  • Built Robotics in the construction.
  • Path Robotics in manufacturing.
  • Caterpillar in mining.
  • Blue River in agriculture.
  • Saildrone in ocean exploration.
  • Simbe Robotics* in retail.
  • Intuitive Surgical in healthcare.

Robot solutions that share many key dimensions:

  • Introduce advanced levels of automation or autonomy that can pair with its human operator.
  • Deliver at least two of the three value dimensions: safer operation, improved cost of operation, high total utilization of assets.
  • Shift the operators’ time to higher-value tasks; eventually to manage across multiple functions in parallel.
  • Primarily software-defined across both control and perception systems.
  • Easily retrofit into customers’ assets base at price points less than 20% of the cost of the underlying asset.
  • Can go to market ‘as a service’ with recurring revenue and healthy margins.

Technology has empowered humankind to be capable of the impossible.

The impossible means we can make more complex decisions at orders of magnitude more precision and speed. Yet so many industries still rely on human labor and operations over human ingenuity and authority.

As the world adapts to social distancing and remote work, it’s more important than ever to leverage technology as our proverbial exoskeletons to maximize what humans are great at, and let technology do the rest.

*Venrock is an investor in Skyryse and Simbe Robotics

The post Time to Build Robots for Humans, Not to Replace appeared first on ReadWrite.

Categories
CIO and robotics COO guiding framework for robotics ReadWrite robotics robots run amok

Avoid Chaos at Scale: How to Prevent Your Robots from Running Amok

prevent robots running amok

Although robotic process automation (RPA) is at the heart of many digital transformation efforts. RPA is all too common for organizations when rolling out their software robots in a piecemeal fashion. For example, finance deploys its own set of bots, while manufacturing rolls out another — without coordination between the departments. A decentralized approach presents a risk for your company — one that leads to problems later. Here is how to avoid chaos at scale and prevent your robots from running amok.

Automated processes often require robots to interact with each other.

You want your robots to access and disseminate data. What this means is that these robots are often dependent on related systems and policies. But what happens when one of those policies change or a system breaks down? Your robots stop working and processes come to a grinding halt.

There’s no shortage of situations in which your robot will stop working.

Think about it: Legacy systems and websites evolve; applications are updated; passwords expire; spreadsheets get modified and security patches get applied.

Without some sort of standard or way of managing and maintaining your army of robots, when a policy is changed, the robots won’t know what to do – and they’ll run amok.

Organizations can prevent chaos by putting in a strong governance program.

A governance program becomes especially important as you scale your RPA initiatives. In fact, a lack of governance is one of the most common reasons that initial RPA projects fail, according to EY. Without a strong governance program and the right robot lifecycle management tools in place, organizations put their automation initiatives at risk.

Robots need guidance, management, and maintenance to continue to work properly and deliver maximum value to the organization. The organizations need to put three essential components in place: a guiding framework, a Centre of Excellence, and robot lifecycle management and analytics tools to support the program.

Lay the Governance Groundwork

To maximize RPA benefits, chief operating officers (COOs) and chief information officers (CIOs) must collaborate. With effective collaboration, the COO and CIO will establish an optimal software robot deployment and operating model.

In designing and implementing a guiding framework, they lay the governance groundwork for how their digital workforce will collaborate. This is very similar to the compliance policies that human talent sign when they start working for a company.

An effective robotics framework requires three elements.

An enterprise robotics council: This team spearheads the program, defines its scope, and sets targets for tracking execution efficiency and outcomes.

A business unit governance council.

This group is responsible for prioritizing RPA projects across departments and business units. An RPA technical council or Centre of Excellence (COE). The team designs standards, formulates working principles and guidelines and compiles best practices. Establish a Centre of Excellence

The Centre of Excellence is a group of core resources and people responsible for guiding everything related to automation, including managing and maintaining standards and vendors. They establish the best practices — training and so much more.

The Centre of Excellence members includes IT as well as subject matter experts from each business unit. With this collection of intelligence, the team is better equipped not only to make decisions on the right RPA tools to deploy. They also process prime candidates for automation.

There are three main CoE models, which differ according to how responsibilities are shared across the enterprise.

Centralized operating model — A single team is responsible for running and controlling all aspects of the program.
Decentralized — operating model: The responsibilities for running the automation program are replicated across separate business units within the organization.
Hybrid operating model — Some aspects of the automation program are run by a single, centralized team, while others are replicated across business units.

Organizations should choose the model that makes the most sense given where they are today and adjust down the road as needed.

Invest in Robot Lifecycle Management Tools and Analytics

Governance is easy to accomplish when RPA tools include management and oversight capabilities like version control. More sophisticated capabilities, such as Robot Lifecycle Management, help teams manage enterprise RPA robot deployments from hundreds to thousands of RPA robots.

For example, the tools help users keep track of changes, compare files and explore changes made. In addition, they also make it easy to store backup files so that if companies have to revert to a previous working version, they can do so effortlessly.

At scale, a strong governance and version control program becomes increasingly important.

When a robot breaks down, if you don’t have governance or digital workforce analytics, it’s almost impossible to track which one among hundreds or thousands is causing an issue or where one may have crashed into another and stopped a process in its tracks.

By leveraging a Centre of Excellence along with sophisticated tools like Robot Lifecycle Management, organizations can take a more business-centric approach to RPA that goes far beyond simple task automation.

Conclusion

A strong governance program is a key RPA success indicator. When it’s supported by Robot Lifecycle Management and digital workforce analytics, you reduce the risk your robots will run amok.

Image Credit: Elina Krima; Pexels -[my thoughts for pic are “crazy robots!” drr]

The post Avoid Chaos at Scale: How to Prevent Your Robots from Running Amok appeared first on ReadWrite.