DETROIT—Service robots promise to help people “age in place.” Labrador Systems Inc. this week announced that it has been awarded a $25,000 grant from the Engelberger Foundation for its work on a new generation of assistive robots.
The foundation created the grant to recognize companies that “have made significant progress in the development of service robots.” Labrador said it is the first-ever recipient of the Engelberger Foundation grant because of its efforts to address significant needs among the aging population.
Founded in 2017, Labrador has conducted extensive research with seniors, including placing its pilot robots in homes beginning in 2021. The Calabasas, Calif.-based startup said it is focused on creating affordable systems to address practical and physical needs at a fraction of the cost of commercial robots.
Labrador Systems develops Retriever
The Labrador Retriever, introduced at CES 2022, is a personal robot designed to enable individuals to live more independently by providing assistance with everyday activities in the home. The Retriever lightens the load for individuals where pain, injury, or other health conditions impact their daily activities, said Labrador Systems.
The mobile robot is large enough to carry items such as a laundry basket, but agile enough to navigate the tight spaces of a home, the company said. The Retriever also features an innovative retrieval and delivery system to bring items within reach. Users can easily command the Retriever using their smartphones or with their voices through an Alexa-enabled device.
Labrador said it is working with a variety of partners, including senior care providers, occupational and physical therapists, healthcare systems, and universities to explore ways its platform can support their mission and extend the impact of caregivers in a number of settings.
The company is taking early reservations for its home robots at its Web site, with plans to be in full production by the second half of 2023.
Labrador Systems' investors include SOSV/HAX, Amazon’s Alexa Fund, iRobot Ventures, and Grep VC. It was awarded a National Science Foundation Phase I SBIR Grant in 2021.
Engelberger grant to be presented at Automate
The Engelberger Foundation will award its grant to Labrador Systems at a ceremony tonight at Automate 2022. Tickets to the award ceremony are available online. Mike Dooley, co-founder and CEO of Labrador, discussed advances in assistive robotics and demonstrated the company’s assistive robot earlier in the event.
Joseph Engelberger is widely considered the “father of robotics” for inventing the first industrial robot in the U.S. The Engelberger Foundation Grant reflects Engelberger’s strong belief in the need for robots to assist the elderly and help them remain in their homes for as long as possible. The foundation said it actively seeks companies that have made progress in this arena.
“I was so excited to see how Labrador has created a robot that can finally ‘fetch and carry’ effectively,” said Gay Engelberger, daughter of Joseph Engelberger and a board member of the Engelberger Foundation. “In all the research I did while visiting client homes, this was the biggest need.”
“Patients would surround themselves with all the things they would need until their next visit from a caretaker, only to be frustrated after forgetting something in another room which they could not access for the rest of the day,” she added. “Mike and his team are really on to something, and we hope this grant helps them continue their progress.”
“Their development of a tray/pallet system is intriguing and quite unique in the home environment, as is their pricing model,” Engelberger said. “I will certainly be watching closely.”
“Joseph Engelberger’s work set the foundation for our development of the Labrador Retriever, so to be the first recipient of this grant is a huge honor in recognition of our efforts to create a robot that can make a meaningful difference in people’s daily lives,” said Dooley. “By taking a human-centric approach, we’re focused on providing individuals with an easy-to-use tool that can adapt to very complex environments. This is a massively underserved population, and we’re confident the Retriever can help provide greater independence for millions of individuals.”