Hadrian Automation, a startup developing automated manufacturing plants for the aerospace and defense industries in the Los Angeles area, has raised $36.4 million in new funding, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
Hadrian, which is based in San Francisco but has operations in Hawthorne, secured the funding from a total of 28 different investors, according to the SEC filing. The identities of those investors were not disclosed. The startup previously raised a $9.5 million seed round last spring from the likes of Lux Capital, Founders Fund, and Construct Capital.
Hadrian aims to create highly efficient, completely automated factories that produce parts for aerospace applications including rockets, drones, satellites, and jets. Inspired by SpaceX founder Elon Musk—who once said of Tesla that “The factory is the product”—Hadrian founder and CEO Christopher Power told TechCrunch last year that he believes the space industry needs to overhaul its manufacturing setup if it wants to reach its full growth potential.
“If you look at the sheer number of people that we need to train and hire on our new technology and new systems, that people problem and that training problem is part of growing our business,” Power said. He noted that it would be faster and cheaper for firms to produce precision space parts if they invested in automated factories.
Automated aerospace manufacturing is now on the rise, with the likes of Long Beach-based firms Relativity Space and Rocket Lab deploying 3D printing to build rockets. Hadrian believes it can court some of these newer space players to use its robot-staffed factories.
Representatives for Hadrian declined to comment on the raise.
Hadrian’s team includes alumni from aerospace heavyweights like Lockheed Martin and SpaceX. Its head of quality assurance, Matthew Mueller, held several senior manufacturing roles at SpaceX over nearly three years. It also hired former Oculus head of mechatronics Simon Hallam as its head of engineering in June, and appears likely to use part of this funding to continue expanding its small team. As of last April, the startup reported a staff of eight people including Power, and its website indicates that it is actively hiring for jobs in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
As robotics technologist Mike Dooley saw his aging mother go from using a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair to move around, he noticed something. “Once you start using that cane or walker, your hands become your extra pair of legs,” he told dot.LA. “You're using them to stabilize yourself.”
Dooley, who had a hand in developing popular robots like the Roomba vacuum cleaner, co-founded Calabasas-based Labrador Systems in 2017 to help people with mobility issues eat, do household tasks and live independently at home. On Tuesday, the startup announced that it raised an additional $3.1 million in seed funding led by Amazon and iRobot Ventures, bringing its total amount raised to date to $5.5 million. The funding will go toward growing the company’s engineering team and accelerating its manufacturing efforts.
Additionally, Labrador introduced two personal robots, the Retriever and the Caddie, that it is unveiling at this week’s CES 2022 trade show in Las Vegas. The robots are small, height-adjustable machines that can carry food, laundry and other household items weighing up to 25 pounds. They can also be commanded through an app on a user’s smartphone or through voice commands via an Alexa-enabled device.
“A lot of these things that we take for granted—that we think are simple, that we forget that we do—become really challenging,” Dooley, who serves as Labrador’s CEO, said of his company’s mission to make life easier for those in need of household assistance. “They basically become parts of losing your independence.”
The startup joins an ever-growing ecosystem of firms developing home technology for aging and disabled populations. Amazon’s Alexa division launched an elder care subscription package in December that aims to help families keep track of elder relatives remotely. Kinova, a Canada-based robotics company, offers robotic arm products that help those with mobility issues pick up objects and eat independently.
“Any of these technologies are good even if they’re not applicable right now,” said Ramin Ramezani, the chief technologist at the UCLA Center for SMART Health. “It’s one more step towards having better assisted-care technology. Our world is aging, and we need to come up with better technologies to help people who are aging.”
Labroator leverages consumer-facing technology traditionally applied to AR and VR applications to train its robots to map out and navigate a single-level space. Sensors on all four sides of the robots, facing downwards and at eye level, help it maneuver through spaces at least 28 inches wide.
“We have a robot that's basically able to retrieve things in a structured way and bring them to you,” Dooley said. “And the whole goal is, if we can bring it within 12 or 18 inches of you, just keeping it within that range is a world of difference.”
The company began trialing its technology in peoples’ homes in 2021 and is now accepting reservations for its robots, with the goal of reaching full production next year. The price of a Labrador robot starts at a $1,500 flat fee, plus a monthly subscription of $99 a month. The company eventually hopes to leverage insurance buy-in to make the cost of its technology cheaper for consumers.
Relativity Hires Microsoft’s Scott Van Vliet to Boost Its Factory Operating System for 3D-Printed Rockets
Relativity Space, the startup that was founded in Seattle and is now building 3D-printed rockets in Southern California, has brought in a Microsoft executive to lead its growing software engineering team and expand upon its AI-powered “Factory Operating System.”
Scott Van Vliet, who headed up the team behind the Microsoft Teams collaboration platform as a corporate vice president, will oversee more than 150 of Relativity’s employees on its Integrative Software and Additive Manufacturing teams as senior vice president of software engineering. He’ll be based in the Los Angeles area.
Before his four-year stint at Microsoft, Van Vliet played a leading role in the development of Amazon’s Echo devices and Alexa voice-assistant platform. He told GeekWire that he’s looking forward to helping Relativity Space revolutionize industrial applications for 3-D metal printing, just as he helped Microsoft and Amazon blaze trails for collaborative software and AI assistants.
Scott Van Vliet has left Microsoft to become the senior vice president of software engineering at Relativity Space.
Image via Twitter
“Thinking about where we’re going with our Stargate family of printers, and the technologies that we’re building across the stack, we can apply similar models of machine learning to transform the way we do predictive modeling, predictive printing, and build the products that we’re going to build,” Van Vliet said.
Relativity CEO Tim Ellis, a veteran of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture who co-founded the company in a Seattle co-working space in 2015, said software will be key to the future of Relativity Space — and the future of the launch industry.
“Scott’s really the most senior hire the industry has made in software,” Ellis told GeekWire. “That’s exciting to me, because I very much do believe the quote from Andreessen-Horowitz that ‘software is eating the world.’ … Everything that Relativity is doing, transitioning manufacturing to more software- and data-driven approaches, is inevitable. We’re just the farthest along.”
Relativity is betting that automation and 3-D printing will dramatically reduce the cost of building rockets, resulting in far cheaper access to space.
The Factory Operating System is a key concept in Relativity’s approach: Van Vliet said he and his team will aim to boost the capabilities of a software platform that knits together all the processes involved in building rockets from piles of powdered metal. He compared the FOS to the platforms provided by Microsoft Windows, or Microsoft Teams, or Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant software.
“Frankly, it’s going to be the platform that enables things we haven’t even thought about yet — capabilities that the engineers and designers on our team will start to unlock as we think about an end-to-end integrated experience that can apply to any purpose,” Van Vliet said. “That’s the most exciting thing for me: building this platform that will accelerate the vision of Terran 1 and Terran R as well as other industries.”
Ellis acknowledged that the operating system he and Van Vliet have in mind could be applied more widely to other manufacturing markets — for example, planes, trains and automobiles. But at least for the time being, he insists that everything Relativity Space does will be focused on building the infrastructure needed to get to Mars, and eventually get industry going on the Red Planet.
Like SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Ellis is fond of saying that Relativity Space’s long-term goal is to make humanity a multiplanetary species. “We’re still only the second company in the world that has this core mission of wanting to make humanity multiplanetary,” he said. “And I do hope that there’s more. I hope we inspire dozens to hundreds of companies to be ambitious and go after these big plans.”
But unlike Musk, Ellis isn’t planning to build satellites.
“We see the opportunity for doubling down on our own platform and making our own better end products,” Ellis said. Focusing on software-optimized additive manufacturing is “an investment in that approach,” he said.
Ellis said Relativity Space’s fourth-generation Starbase 3-D printers are already theoretically capable of turning out a Terran 1 rocket in six days, and turning out a Terran R rocket in 30 days.
“There are other parts of the factory process — downstream processing, machining, inspections — and really, Scott and his team are going to be accountable for achieving that rate,” Ellis said.
Relativity seems likely to have the required wherewithal: Last June’s $650 million Series E funding round for Terran R sent total investment past the $1.3 billion mark, and total valuation is said to be in excess of $4 billion.
The company now has more than 600 employees, roughly double the workforce it had a year ago. Those workers aren’t just at the headquarters in Long Beach, Calif.: There are teams working in Washington, D.C.; at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi; at Vandenberg Space Force Base in California; at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida — and even in Kent, Wash., not far from Blue Origin’s HQ. (Relativity says its Seattle-area office has four employees.)
“We were at a little over 100 at the beginning of the pandemic,” Ellis said. “I believe we’re the fastest-growing launch company in history, in terms of headcount growth and rate of growth over that period.”
And Relativity is still growing: Its career website lists more than 100 job openings. “This is an investment in hiring far more software engineers, data scientists, computer vision, machine learning,” Ellis said. “It’s really a kind of doubling down on a very different type of team that hasn’t existed in aerospace before to this level.”
Van Vliet said he’s long dreamed of working in the space industry, and he can hardly wait to jump in.
“I definitely have a lot to learn, getting involved with the company and starting, but I think there’s just such an incredible footprint already,” he said. “That’s what’s most exciting for me — there’s the experience that I have scaling up and leading large teams, and there’s an incredible set of assets that exist already.”
This story originally appeared on GeekWire.
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