HardwareCon, presented by Hardware Massive, is the premier hardware innovation conference where the global community of thought leaders, investors, entrepreneurs, and innovators to come together to “Get Deals Done.” This year’s event offered attendees the opportunity to learn about the latest technology and business trends in AI, Machine Learning, Robotics, IoT, Blockchain, Product Design and much more. HardwareCon is also an opportunity for promising startups to connect and collaborate with top investors and other influential people within the hardware ecosystem.
A highlight of the annual conference is, without a doubt, the Innovation Showdown. During this HardwareCon event, the top five finalists had the opportunity to pitch their idea to a panel of investors, industry experts, and a live audience, competing for a chance to win more than $30,000 in prizes and mentoring from leading providers and investors.
Taking first place in the competition was Velox Robotics. We sat down with founder, Bryan Turner, to find out more about this year’s Innovation Showdown winner
Q. What is your company and what do you do?
Velox has a product in high-speed industrial automation for weighing things. We are currently focusing on parcel logistics and e-commerce fulfillment markets, but we can weigh pretty much anything that's moving along a processing line at very high speed. We've applied a closed loop servo feedback technique, which was previously [and still is being done] done with gravity and load cells, or basically open loop technologies, and is inherently slow. We’ve been able to increase the throughput of these systems, to the point where we're talking about a substantial throughput improvement for companies like Amazon, FedEx, and UPS.
Q. Why did you attend HardwareCon and what were your goals for coming this year?
Up here in Seattle, there is a very high emphasis on software only solutions, specifically cloud-based technologies. In our technology, which has 14 US patents on it, Velox does have a cloud element, but we obviously use a physical machine with moving parts. We occupy a space. Our robotics involve several things - electronics, software, hardware, and involve the physical traits of sensory and motor. Industrial machinery is important to Amazon and others, but I don't think the emphasis is huge up here in Seattle. Most of the angel and venture folks we speak to are looking for cloud applications. So, we broadened our view and looked around the world for different investors that that are interested in robotics solutions with a hardware element. And that's where HardwareCon came in.
Q. Why did you enter the Innovation Showdown contest?
I think that we felt we had a really good story and we were selected pretty quickly, which was a delightful surprise, so we ran with it. Industrial automation to a lot of folks can be boring, not as exciting as some of the consumer stuff that's going on. But, it is a very valuable sector of the economy. Robotics is huge, and this has all the elements of that, so we felt that we had a good story to tell and we wanted to share it. We’re also in the middle of a fundraising round so any type of a good press is useful!
Q. Where did the genesis of the project come from? What unique insight did you have that gave you the idea for this technology?
The United States Postal Service came to us several years ago with a problem. They had suspected they were being defrauded for discounts that they were giving to mass mailers. They would have these 18-wheeler tractor trailers pull up with millions of pieces of mail in them and they really had no means for detecting the weight of these pieces. The USPS has a very high-speed machine called a Destination Barcode Sorter that runs over 65,000 pieces an hour, more than a thousand a minute. There was just no gravity-based technology on the market that can do that cost-effectively. There was one product that a manufacturer made that was three scales in parallel. Very, very complicated and very, very expensive.
So, we looked at it a different way. My background is electrical engineering so I'm familiar with many different types of means for increasing the bandwidth of systems, whether they be control systems or communication systems. This notion is generally a negative feedback system and it's very common in electronics. So, we looked at the “electrical mechanical analogy” concept, where mechanical systems are almost identical in terms of mathematics to electronic systems. We made the leap to take that concept of gain bandwidth trade off to increase the bandwidth of a system like this by using a closed loop feedback system that’s basically a servo platform.
There's a couple of things that are unique about it, though. The force vector in the gravity scale is gravity, a natural thing. The settling time for these types of systems is a first order response, and it's slow. So, we have an advantage of two different dimensions. We’re not only a closed loop system where we can adjust the machine very quickly, but we also bring the force vector into the closed loop. We use our own synthetic force so, in a sense, we're making our own gravity. We horizontally accelerate items under the control of a robotic servo motor and that gives us a great advantage in terms of settling time, slew rate and overall throughput.
Q. How do you see your company transforming your industry and taking it to this whole new level?
We can operate on very high-speed belts, but we also reduced the spacing between the packages. So, you can increase the total number of parcels or items per unit time, whether they be tea bags, cocoa packets, or shingle bundles. Whatever you’re weighing at high speed, we can reduce the spacing between them and you gain an overall increase in throughput and productivity.
By shrinking the spacing, it's possible that the entire distribution system can be smaller. In addition, because we can boost their throughput so much, it may be possible for them to forego the deployment of an entirely separate distribution center. So, there's an enormous opportunity for cost savings. Another thing we realized is because we have a higher overall throughput and we can reduce the spacing between packages, it's possible that we can operate the remainder of the material handling system at a lower speed, thereby reducing the wear on those systems. It’s a tremendous opportunity for cost savings in the wear and tear on the balance of the system.
And looking at hardware as a service, it’s kind of a bizarre concept, but it actually plays into what we are doing. At some point, we may be able to give away the hardware and just charge for the performance improvement. It’s possible that this could be a business model for us that would be very lucrative.
Q. What are your plans moving forward? What is your timeline for getting product to market?
The difficulty for us has always been having the capital to revise the hardware. I'm an electrical and software engineer and I write all the mathematics for the system, along with some other folks that work with me, but the hardware is a hard cost for us. What we need to do is continue to iterate this design and refine it. It works very well already, but there are a couple of target markets we're after that we need to get to a higher precision level. For example, pharmaceuticals is going to be a difficult market for something like this, as it is going to need to weigh micro-grams. That's something that we're saving for a future date.
But we have our technology working at the level that's usable in many different areas today. Retail ecommerce is one of them. We’re already there in terms of performance with the technology, we just now need to reduce it to a product that we can put in the field and support. We are in early stage technology and we have a rather mature prototype. but we do not yet have a product. So that's what the funding round is about.
I think the most important thing for us is trying to raise this seed round. We’re interested in speaking with anyone who values what we’re doing, understands it, and would like to be a part of it. Those folks are out there and we’re trying to find them.