Collaborative robots, also known as cobots, are still a relatively niche market. While a recent report from Markets and Markets had the cobot market valued at $176.7 million in 2016, that number is expected to jump to $4.28 billion by 2023.
According to the International Federation of Robots, total robotics spending will reach $13 billion by 2025. Right now, cobots only make up about 3% of robot sales, but that is anticipated to reach 34% by 2025. For robots that average around $35,000 a piece, that's a lot of cobots in the market in the next seven years.
With so much money floating around the marketplace, you would figure that industry veterans would stick around for a few more years, especially when they work for Universal Robots (UR), the makers of the UR5, arguably one of the most popular cobots available.
Lasse Kieffer spent nine years in the UR R&D department. He developed most of the electronics that went into the UR line of cobots, so it was a bit of a surprise when he, and two of his peers, left the company to launch a new startup.
The team of “super nerds” didn't stray too far off the beaten path when, in September 2017, they founded Purple Robotics, a company that designs and develops plug-and-play cobot attachments.
Three months after the company launched, Purple Robotics had three prototypes, and in May 2018, they officially launched the PR10, the world's first dual electric vacuum gripper.
According to Kiefer, the gripper is not only easier to install (it takes about 30 minutes), but it can be used on various machine tending, pick-and-place, and palletizing applications. It has an interesting design with adjustable arms, but the payload capacity does top out around 22 pounds.
The company recently signed U.S. distribution deals with Olympus Controls and Thinkbot Solutions, and it has plans to add about six more.
Kieffer and his compatriots may have taken a chance when they decided to start over, but the cobot industry could be worth more than $4 billion in less than ten years. As the company rolls out new products, Purple Robotics will likely put itself in a position to take a larger slice of that pie — which is not bad, even if its a sliver.