Rosanna Myers, CEO & Co-founder of Carbon Robotics, won our LDV Startup Competition in 2016 and we had a chance to speak with her this March about their past year:
Besides winning the LDV Startup Competition, you won many awards in 2016 - Forbes 30 under 30 in Manufacturing, Best Demo Pit at Launch, CES Best Startup, Robotics Business Review Top 50 Companies in World - what have been the keys to your success over the last year?
It was a good year! I think the key to our success so far has been pretty straightforward – we focused on solving a hard problem that makes an important impact. My cofounder and I actually made that call very early on. We decided to not waste time on trivial matters, but instead to leverage our talents to help people.
From the beginning, we knew exactly who we wanted to help and why it was important. Of course, strategies and tactics change, but clarity around the core mission is what inspired us to overcome challenges. We had a lot of fun showcasing our work, but honestly I think that was the easy part.
What challenges have you overcome to achieve those successes?
When we started the company, we were told it wasn’t possible to build such a high performance robotic arm at our target price point. When we asked why, we got answers like “well, based on our distributor’s inventory and known configurations, it would be too expensive” or, my personal favorite, “our contractors told us it’s not possible.” We knew it was possible, but we also knew we had to get creative.
For months, it was just pure grind. We dug deeply into the supply chain to learn what was easy to customize, wrote complex control software to correct for cheaper hardware, and drew inspiration from unusual disciplines. In the end, we successfully created a device that was within spec and about 10x cheaper – which felt incredible to accomplish.
An article in Inc. quoted you saying “Impossible is a mindset, too often the answers we got weren't at all based on physics, they were based on precedent - that is an important distinction.” Do you think that out-of-the-box thinking embodies a major characteristic of Carbon Robotics?
It’s essential. Derivative thinking leads to derivative products. When hiring, we screen for people who constantly challenge assumptions and make unorthodox connections, then give them freedom and support to invent. So far, our pickiness has paid off. Everyone we’ve hired is the best at what they do, but also highly cross-functional and laser-focused on shipping product.
Being a young startup is quite clarifying in that regard – when you have to pull off the unreasonable, you need a team that’s unstoppable.
Are you hiring at the moment/what positions looking for?
We are! Right now, we’re looking for Computer Vision and Robotics Software Engineers on AngelList.
On the CV side, we want people who understand the hard math behind behind low-level algorithm development (rather than just implementing open tools), and who have a system-level grasp of reconstruction pipelines. (A decent proxy is probably working in C++ rather than Python.) For software, we need people with deep robotics backgrounds who can translate real-world tasks into flexible behaviors.
In all cases, we’re looking for people who want to democratize robotics. A lot of what we’re doing is taking really hard problems and then building tools so that people without specialized knowledge can tackle them. We’re asking you to help us steal fire from the gods and bring it to mankind.
Why do you believe robotics is such an interesting application of Computer Vision right now? How is Carbon Robotics using CV to disrupt the traditional robotics manufacturing sector?
Robotics is one of the most high-impact applications for Computer Vision. Robotic arms today are largely dumb and blind, which majorly hamstrings their utility. Giving them eyes and a brain to better better understand their environment is key to catalyzing adoption. We’re at this amazing point in time where a whole bunch of developments in hardware and software are converging to create something damn close to magic.
There’s also enormous potential to impact people’s quality of life – everything from automating dangerous tasks to enabling assistive devices to creating the building blocks of an entirely new medium. In many ways, robotics today is like computers in the 80s or the internet in the 90s. There’s a big appetite for the first applications and a much more revolutionary shift underway.
What are you looking to accomplish in 2017?
I can’t reveal too much of what we’ve been working on, but we’ll have some exciting announcements later in the year.
Do you have any recommendations for startups in their seed stage who are applying to the LDV Startup Competition?
Definitely apply! We weren’t sure if we should apply since we were already fundraising and weren’t sure if we’d fit the criteria, but I’m so glad we did. The summit had the perfect blend of smart attendees and an intimate format, which made it easy to make meaningful connections.
Apply to our annual LDV Startup Competition by March 31, 2017.
How has winning the LDV Vision Summit Startup Competition 2016 had a lasting impact on Carbon Robotics?
I think the network is fantastic. We made several lasting connections from the LDV Vision Summit community and Evan has been a great mentor to us.
Applications to the 2017 ECVC and Startup Competition at the LDV Vision Summit are due by March 31, apply now. Our next LDV Vision Summit will take place on May 24 & 25 in NYC. (Early bird tickets at 80% discount are available until March 31).