In This Pasadena Garage, Robots Are Preparing To Take The Next Step in Manufacturing

Samson Amore

Samson Amore is a reporter for dot.LA. He holds a degree in journalism from Emerson College. Send tips or pitches to samsonamore@dot.la and find him on Twitter @Samsonamore.

​GrayMatter robotics working
Andria Moore courtesy of GrayMatter

GrayMatter Robotics, a startup based in Gardena (and definitely not a “Breaking Bad” reference, the founders assure us) is looking to disrupt the industrial finishing and sanding industry by programming robotic arms with artificial intelligence software to automate this labor.


At first look, the company’s manufacturing setup in Gardena looks like an unassuming warehouse. It’s sterile, with minimal decoration except a massive American flag on one shop wall. It’s reminiscent of an engineering lab, but still has the feel of a startup since, well, it’s literally in a garage for now.

GrayMatter employee programming a robot Courtesy of Samson Amore

Ironically, my arrival comes shortly before the headquarters will drastically change its look. Co-founder and CEO Ariyan Kabir has big plans for his modest space, and is planning a remodel in coming months that will add some flair to the currently minimalist, efficient setup.

On one wall, boxes of guitar bodies, still in their skeletal state, await sanding and finishing. GrayMatter co-founder and CTO Brual Shah points out that musical instruments are just one of the products his company’s robots are being enlisted to work on. Additionally, there’s faux marble sinks, a metal lamp post, and parts of a Metro bus: all parts GrayMatter’s either sourced itself or been given by clients to test sanding on.

“A single robot [is] typically two to four times faster than a single human,” Kabir says, noting that most of GrayMatter’s clients use multiple robots at a time. He and Shah both say their enterprise is building “brains for robots” and said that while their robots don’t have an official name, some customers have been calling it – of course – Sandy.

The robot arms can take care of an array of tasks, from sanding to buffing, polishing or spraying. Kabir said the robotic cells vary in size from under a foot to up to about three feet tall. The larger arms are busy practicing sanding techniques on sizable projects – including a bathtub and the hull of a boat.

Typically, it takes a human being an hour to finish sanding one of the large bathtubs GrayMatter's robot is diligently scrubbing away at. But at max capacity the bot is able to sand the surface in less than half the time.

CTO Brual Shah (left) and CEO Ariyan Kabir of GrayMatter

Photo by Samson Amore

Kabir notes two key factors have helped GrayMatter’s business grow – first, the cost of sensors like the ones used in its robots has been steadily falling since 2016; Microsoft noted in a 2019 report that the price of a sensor plunged to an affordable $.44 each. Second, high labor turnover is prompting manufacturers to rethink using robots.

Which helps explain how GrayMatter has been able to raise roughly $24 million, most recently $20 million Series A last month. It also aims to expand its workforce from 17 to 40 people, Kabir said.

In the back of the shop, Shah points to a football helmet the robots have been practicing on. He says one of GrayMatter’s clients is a manufacturer that reconditions and restores helmets for re-use.

“High school up to the NFL, all teams send their helmets to this one [original equipment manufacturer], and the robot sands them or cleans them, polishes them, puts the decal [on] for the next year. It’s recession-proof,” Shah continues.

Shah and Kabir were adamant that their technology isn’t trying to put humans out of work. The idea being that instead of risking carpal tunnel syndrome or inhaling potentially toxic dust and residue from the finishing process, people who usually work the production line are trained to oversee the robots. Shah says once a human is trained on the software, they’re equipped to manage up to 10 robots at a time.

To that end, many industries are pushing to add automation to their factories. One Manufacturer’s Alliance’s 2021 manufacturing workforce trends survey found that 30% of plant managers were implementing some kind of automation.

“For humans, it's a life changer,” Shah says. “At one of our customer sites, the guy who used to sand by hand before, after introducing the robot, he now became the robot operator.”

But there’s likely going to be hurdles in training these workers. A study published in Oxford University Press last year found that low-skilled workers in these types of factory jobs often faced difficulty in using new technology due to lack of training.

“With the increased prominence of job automation and technological advances in the workforce, low-skilled workers are at risk for fewer opportunities within the labor market,” the study’s authors noted, and emphasized the importance of continuing adult education.

In his 2020 paper on robots replacing humans in the workforce, MIT professor of economics Daron Acemoglu wrote that adding one robot replaces 3.3 human jobs.

GrayMatter robot sanding courtesy of Samson Amore

While GrayMatter’s software at first glance seems pretty point-and-click, workers still will need comprehensive training on how to operate, troubleshoot and oversee the robots safely. It’s possible then that the barrier to entry is unlikely to be as straightforward as Shah and Kabir suggest.

Worse still, research suggests that companies that are quick to add robots also tend to ask more of their human workforce. Another MIT study conducted by Acemoglu found that from 2010 to 2015 firms that brought on robots saw employee hours also increase by nearly 11%.

Still, the same study found that a 20% rise in industrial robot use during that same time period led to a 3.2% decline in overall employment.

When asked about this, Kabir told dot.LA, "we design the systems for the shop floor workers with a very simple [interface]. Our [user interface] for the shop floor operator has only three buttons and the system runs pretty autonomously." He added that GrayMatter also trains factory managers to troubleshoot common hardware and software issues.

For manufacturers, however, the draw of being able to get more done by using robots is an obvious one. Kabir wouldn’t disclose how much clients pay to access the subscription that gives them access to GrayMatter’s robots (which are pre-built and sourced from Japan), software, and any necessary updates or maintenance. He referred to one customer that in a single year, “lost $5 million in a single production line, just for scrap, repair and rework costs for human mistakes.”

Adding that, “The robots are consistent in quality. They're good for humans.” Which humans he’s referring to, however, remains to be seen.

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🏰 Disney's Epic Investment Stands Out Amidst Gaming Industry Layoffs

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

🔦 Spotlight

In the midst of widespread gaming industry layoffs, a glimmer of positive news emerges as Disney announces a significant move: a $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games. 🏰💰🐭

Image Source: Disney

Disney's $1.5 billion investment in Epic Games, disclosed late Wednesday, signals a strategic alignment aimed at expanding the success of "Fortnite." The deal enhances Epic's growth prospects after financial setbacks, including layoffs, and strengthens the partnership between the two companies. With Disney gaining a larger equity stake in Epic, the collaboration will broaden the integration of beloved Disney franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar, and Avatar into the game, potentially boosting its appeal and longevity. This significant investment underscores Disney's commitment to interactive entertainment and signifies a shift towards games as a primary revenue stream, aligning with the growing trend of digital engagement among younger demographics. Moreover, the potential for crossover sales of physical Disney products within "Fortnite" and the exploration of new content distribution channels are just some of the opportunities arising from this partnership.

For LA tech, the Disney-Epic Games partnership represents a validation of the region's burgeoning tech and gaming ecosystem. The substantial investment in Epic, who maintains a large Los Angeles office with 1,000+ employees (according to LinkedIn), reflects confidence in the LA’s talent pool and innovation potential. Additionally, this partnership between two industry giants fosters an environment for further collaboration, investment, and growth within LA's tech sector. As Disney and Epic Games deepen their ties and explore new avenues for content integration and distribution, it not only elevates the prominence of LA as a tech hub but also stimulates economic growth and job creation in the region. This partnership highlights LA's unique position as a hub where technology and entertainment converge. With its ability to integrate diverse industries, LA is driving innovation and expansion in digital entertainment. 🚀💸🎮

🤝 Venture Deals

LA Companies

  • ProducePay, a financing and marketplace platform for the fresh produce market, raised a $38M Series D led by Syngenta Group Ventures joined by Commonfund, Highgate Private Equity, G2 Venture Partners, Anterra Capital, Astanor Ventures, Endeavor8, Avenue Venture Opportunities, Avenue Sustainable Solutions, and Red Bear Angels. - learn more
  • Blush, an invite-only dating app that drives users to local businesses on dates, raised a $7M Seed Round from individuals like Naval Ravikant. - learn more
  • Mogul, a startup founded last year that provides an overview of an artist's royalty earnings and identifies areas where money is owed but has not yet been collected, raised a $1.9 million seed round from Wonder Ventures, United Talent Agency, AmplifyLA, and Creator Partners. - learn more
  • Avnos, a hybrid direct air capture startup, raised a $36M Series A led by NextEra Energy and joined by Safran Corporate Ventures, Shell Ventures, Envisioning Partners, and Rusheen Capital Management. - learn more
  • AI.fashion, startup whose mission is to help retailers enhance the online shopping experience by providing consumers with virtual try-ons and personalized fashion recommendations, raised a $3.6M Seed Round led by Neo. - learn more
  • Suma Wealth, startup that aims to demystify financial topics and provide culturally relevant content, virtual experiences, and resources to help Latino users navigate financial challenges and opportunities, raised a $2.2M Seed Round . Radicle Impact led, and was joined by Vamos Ventures, OVO fund and the American Heart Association Impact Fund. - learn more
  • 222, a startup that helps users discover their city and meet new people through unique social experiences, raised a $2.5M Seed Round. Investors included 1517 Fund, General Catalyst, Best Nights VC, Scrum Ventures, and Upfront Ventures. - learn more
  • LimaCharlie, a security operations cloud platform, raised a $10.2M Series A led by Sands Capital. - learn more
  • Polycam, an app that uses a smartphone’s sensors to capture 3D scans of objects, raised an $18M Series A co-led by Left Lane Capital and Adjacent, and joined by Adobe Ventures and individuals like Chad Hurley and Shaun Maguire. -learn more.

LA Venture Funds

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a startup building software to decarbonize logistics for logistics businesses and goods business through a vetted marketplace and optimization software. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $1.5M Pre Seed Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

Venture Waves, Climate Tech Wins, and Silicon Beach's Ongoing Evolution

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Anduril Seeks $1.5B in VC Funds

Defense company Anduril Industries Inc., based in Costa Mesa and founded by Palmer Luckey, is seeking to raise $1.5 billion in fresh funds to boost its valuation to $12.5 billion or more, according to sources quoted by The Information. This fundraising effort, if successful, would mark one of the largest venture capital rounds of the year.

Image Source: Anduril

Anduril recently secured a contract to develop and test small unmanned fighter jet prototypes under the Air Force’s Collaborative Combat Aircraft (CCA) program, beating out major defense companies like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. Alongside General Atomics, Anduril will design, manufacture, and test these aircraft, with a final multibillion-dollar production decision expected in fiscal year 2026. This program aims to deliver at least 1,000 combat aircraft to fly in concert with manned platforms and is part of the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance initiative. Central to Anduril’s success in this contract is the Fury autonomous air vehicle, acquired through the purchase of Blue Force Technologies. This victory underscores Anduril's rapid advancement in the defense sector, aligning with Luckey's vision of building faster and more cost-effective defense assets. - learn more

Los Angeles Ranks Number 1 in Emerging Climate Tech Hub

The 2024 Emerging Climate Tech Hubs Report by Revolution highlights Los Angeles as a burgeoning center for climate tech innovation. LA's growth in this sector is driven by its diverse talent pool, strong research institutions, and a culture of environmental consciousness. The city's unique mix of legacy industries, such as entertainment and aerospace, alongside emerging tech companies, positions it as a pivotal player in the climate tech landscape. This shift reflects a broader trend of decentralized climate tech funding across the U.S., reducing the historical dominance of California's traditional hubs. - learn more

Silicon Beach: Looking Back, Moving Forward

Assessing the overall health of the startup market is challenging, especially as venture capital funding has decreased by an average of 61% from 2021 to 2023 across the top VC markets in the US. Markets with robust ecosystems in AI, SaaS, Biotech, Healthtech, and Fintech appear to be weathering the downturn better than those focused on Consumer and Gaming industries, areas where Los Angeles traditionally excels.

Percent Change In VC Funding By Region

CB Insights

LA Times paints a rather bleak outlook on the Los Angeles tech scene noting venture capital funding in Greater Los Angeles plummeted 73% from 2021 to 2022. Silicon Beach, once a vibrant tech corridor, currently faces high vacancy rates and lacks late-stage financiers, especially in the AI sector. However, there are positive signs, including growth in aerospace startups and increased venture capital investment in early 2024, suggesting a potential rebound for LA's tech ecosystem.

While LA may not be exceeding expectations during this period, its tech ecosystem warrants a nuanced evaluation, given the broader market dynamics and its strong performance in specific sectors. Reach out to us with your thoughts.

🚀 SpaceX gears up for another stellar year, active raises, and more

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Happy Friday Los Angeles! You made it through the first week of 2024!

🔦 Spotlight

Elon Musk may be a divisive (albeit entertaining) figure, but the continued success of SpaceX is pivotal for the aerospace industry in Los Angeles and more broadly around the world.

Image Source: SpaceX webcast

What happened with SpaceX in 2023?

  • Elon Musk challenged Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg to a cage fight.
  • SpaceX launched 96 successful missions with its Falcon series of rockets, a 57% increase over its previous annual record.
  • SpaceX conducted two test flights of the largest and most powerful rocket ever built, Starship.
  • Roughly two-thirds of SpaceX's launches in 2023 were devoted to building out Starlink, the company's satellite-internet megaconstellation.
  • Isaacson’s Elon Musk biography was published in September including everything from Musk’s tumultuous relationship with his father to his work ethic and “demon mode”.

Moving forward what can we expect from SpaceX and its controversial founder? Continued innovation pushing the aerospace industry to new limits? Yes. More drama? Without a doubt.

Here is some of what is to come in 2024:

🤝 Venture Deals

Just Announced

Check back next week!

LA Exits

  • CG Oncology, an Irvine, CA-based developer of immunotherapies for bladder cancer, filed for a $100M IPO. It plans to list on the Nasdaq (CGON) with Morgan Stanley as left lead underwriter, and has raised around $317m in VC funding. - learn more
  • McNally Capital agreed to sell Advanced Micro Instruments, a Costa Mesa, CA-based maker of gas analyzers and sensing technologies, to Enpro (NYSE: NPO). - learn more

Actively Raising

  • ReelCall, Inc., an entertainment technology company focused on powerful apps and platforms that help build and maintain the professional network of connections vital to career growth, is raising a $850K Pre-Seed Round. - learn more
  • CZero, a hard-tech startup that is developing a technology for decarbonizing natural gas, is raising a $1.5M Seed Round. - learn more
  • Couri, a technology startup addressing last-mile delivery issues, is raising a $450K Pre-Seed Round at a $2.2M post money valuation. - learn more
  • Sweetie, a marketplace to help people plan date nights, is raising a $250K Angel Round. - learn more
  • StartupStarter, an investment platform that provides real-time data and analytics on startups, is raising an $850K Angel Round. - learn more

If you’re a founder raising money in Los Angeles, give us a shout, and we’d love to include you in the newsletter!

📅 LA Tech Calendar

Sunday, January 7th

Wednesday, January 10th

  • Startup Cafe: Networking with a Kick - Entrepreneurs, Startups, and Tech Enthusiasts join together to meet and connect with like-minded people, industry professionals and investors, while enjoying a nice cup of coffee in Venice at The KINN. This week’s interactive discussion about AI’s evolution in entertainment will feature Dr. Sam Khoze and Rachel Joy Victor.
  • Venice Tech Happy Hour- Join Startup Coil and FoundrHaus Wednesday evening and enjoy the sunset from the rooftop, grab a bite overlooking Abbot Kinney, and mingle with other tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs by the bar on the patio.

Have an awesome event coming up? Reach out to be featured on next week’s Newsletter!

📙 What We’re Reading

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