We're used to seeing robots on the screen—but now they've moved into the real world, in our factories, offices, and even our homes. With innovations in robotics moving at breakneck speed, it isn't always easy to keep up-to-date. Follow these 10 robotics companies for a deeper look into what's happening in the machine universe.
Founded in 1990 by a group of creative thinkers from MIT, iRobot, most famous for its invention of the Roomba, is one of the biggest names in robotics today. For more about the history of iRobot, check out TechRepublic's profile of Joe Jones, one of iRobot's first employees and our gallery of the history of the Roomba, which Jones invented.
Robonaut is the official humanoid robot of NASA, currently residing at the International Space Station. Robonaut has proved to be a pretty witty Tweeter, spouting out jokes and comebacks. Sample tweet: "Hey @ESATelerobotics after the Thanksgiving meal the humans had, I think we all need to stretch our circuits a bit."
Harvest Automation: @harvestai
Harvest is one of the biggest agricultural robotics companies, using robots in large-scale warehouses. When Amazon bought the warehouse robot maker Kiva Systems for $775 million, Joe Jones (original iRobot employee and founder of Harvest) said that the demand for warehouse robots became apparent. Harvest's new warehouse robot, expected to go on sale early next year, will compete directly with Kiva.
Rethink Robotics: @RethinkRobotics
Rethink Robotics, a Massachusetts-based robotics company, was founded in 2008 by Rodney Brooks, another one of the original founders of iRobot. It's become well known for its robots Sawyer and Baxter, which use force sensing technology to increase safety in how robots move around in warehouses. Recently, RethinkRobotics struck a deal with Shanghai Electric, and has begun to ship Sawyer to companies across China, attempting to alleviate manufacturing shortages.
Liquid Robotics, Inc: @liquidrinc
This is the Twitter account for the Wave Glider, the first "wave and solar powered autonomous ocean robot," which can collect data from underseas. Liquid Robotics is a frequent tweeter and retweeter, often posting photos from the field.
KUKA Robotics Corp.: @KUKA_RoboticsEN
One of the leading global manufacturers of industrial robots, KUKA, a German company, has offices across the world. Their official Twitter account contains lots of visuals—photos and videos—of their robots in action
3D Robotics: @3DRobotics
3D Robotics specializes in unmanned aerial vehicles and other small robotic machines. Their Twitter feed was busy last week, promoting sales of drones on Black "Flyday." With 54,000 followers, it's safe to say that this business, co-founded in 2012 by Wired's former editor-in-chief Chris Anderson and 19-year-old Jordi Muñoz, has gained a lot of traction.
Yaskawa Motoman: @Yaskawa_Motoman
Founded in 1989, Yaskawa is one of the biggest robotics companies in the US, with roughly 600 employees and 300,000 Motoman robots roaming around the globe. According to their Twitter bio, they've "introduced more innovation in #robotics than any other company."
FANUC America: @FANUCAmerica
FANUC, which stands for Factory automation numerical control, has offices in Japan, Europe, and the US. Founded back in 1972, FANUC's latest robot, CR-35iA, is a safe, collaborative robot—poised to compete with similar robots like Rethink Robotics's Baxter.
Soft Robotics Inc.: @SoftRoboticsInc
This small, Boston-based robotics company may be on point when it comes to the future of robots. Jim Lawton at Rethink Robotics recently told TechRepublic that "research and the advancement in the area of grippers and hands is still a work-in-progress"—and Soft Robotics' gel-like fingers are "great for gripping." A good company to keep tabs on, for sure.
- Why China is scooping up robots from Rethink Robotics to solve its manufacturing problem (TechRepublic)
- Joe Jones: Roomba inventor. Roboticist. Vindicated pioneer. (TechRepublic)
- Why AI could destroy more jobs than it creates, and how to save them (TechRepublic)
- Google engineer's swarm of mini robots could be the future of exploring Mars, and much more (TechRepublic)
Hope Reese has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Hope Reese is a journalist in Louisville, KY. Her writing has been featured in The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Chicago Tribune, Playboy, Undark Magazine, VICE, Vox, and other publications.