Robots seem more suited for research labs or corporations rather than U.S. homes, but experts once believed the same about computers before the PC put computing power in everyone's hands. A Russian entrepreneur hopes to speed up the robotics revolution by founding a $25 million investment fund in New York City focused exclusively on personal robots.
The technology already exists to make personal robots a reality, said Dmitry Grishin, co-founder of the Mail.Ru Group. Grishin wants to help bridge the funding gap to help personal robotics go from technology demonstrations to consumer products on store shelves — and he's bringing along the fast-development mindset that allowed him to grow Russia's largest Internet company.
"Industrial robotics is pretty much developed," Grishin said. "Now is a good time to bring robotics to millions of people — personal robotics related to people's general lives and for the mass market."
Industrial robots had worldwide sales of $5.7 billion compared with personal robot sales of $538 million in 2010, according to the International Federation of Robotics. But the robotics association expects the fast-growing personal robot market to reach $4.3 billion by 2014.
Personal robots could act as home security systems, remote-controlled avatars for working from home, or even personal drones flying around to take home videos or wedding pictures, Grishin said. Such robots may not prove as all-around capable as the Jetsons' robot maid Rosie, but they would join a growing array of personal robots that include iRobot's Roomba vacuum cleaners.
The newly founded Grishin Robotics would invest about $1 million or $2 million in small- and medium-size personal robotics companies. Such companies can have trouble getting venture capital funding because personal robotics is a newer, riskier market — venture capitalists prefer to invest in proven industrial robotics companies.
"A big problem for venture capitalists is that they focus on limited time investments [that pay off within] five to seven years," Grishin told InnovationNewsDaily. "In this area, personal money is ready for risk-taking."
But Grishin is providing more than just funding to bring personal robots to market. He also believes his background as CEO of an Internet company can help robotics companies get beyond the engineering issues and market their products to meet consumer demands.
"My Internet background was focused on mass-market problems involving millions of users," Grishin said. "I have expertise in this area."
This story was provided by InnovationNewsDaily, a sister site to LiveScience. You can follow InnovationNewsDaily Senior Writer Jeremy Hsu on Twitter @ScienceHsu. Follow InnovationNewsDaily on Twitter @News_Innovation, or on Facebook.