Celebrating 15 years of pushing the needle forward

OTTO Motors

Entering our 15th year in the robotics industry, this time of year is full of reflections.

In the past year alone, Clearpath Robotics released the Husky Observer, a fully integrated system designed to accelerate inspection solutions. OTTO introduced the most comprehensive AMR fleet in the market with the launch of two mid-sized robots, OTTO 600 and OTTO 1200.

In an incredible year of milestones for these two divisions, October 2nd is a day I will never forget. After 15 years, the start-up company Ryan, Bryan, Pat and I founded in our final year of university settled into its new home at Rockwell Automation. We started the company with $200, a passion for mobile robotics, and an unwillingness to accept “no” as an answer. Our journey to this milestone has been filled with incredible highs, excruciating lows, and countless lessons learned. To explain how we got to this chapter, let’s rewind to 2008.

The four of us met on the Robotics Team at the University of Waterloo, where we graduated from the first two classes of the Mechatronics Engineering program. We shared the same, crazy idea of starting a robotics company, during The Great Recession no less, because we had a unique belief at the time that self-driving technology would change the world.

For our fourth year design project, we teamed up to develop a fleet of autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) to map and clear a path (Clearpath!) in the world’s minefields using robotics. The idea had potential to save lives, but held considerable risks and required significant investment. Ultimately, we abandoned this mission in favor of something with a higher probability of success—we were crazy, but not that crazy! Because of our experience as students, we realized that academia needed reliable, out-of-the-box, affordable robotics research solutions. So, we expanded on this application by focusing on what we knew best: researching and developing robots. With this idea, we entered and won a robotics competition, and received our first purchase order before we graduated. In 2009, Clearpath Robotics was born.

 Image 1: From our humble beginnings. Bryan Webb, Ryan Gariepy, and Matt Rendall (from left to right).

Image 1: From our humble beginnings. Bryan Webb, Ryan Gariepy, and Matt Rendall (from left to right).

We started with research robots to serve the innovation market. However, we always knew this would be a springboard into new markets as the technology matured. We have held the belief that autonomous technology would transform all forms of transportation and our North Star has been to become the control system for industrial autonomous vehicles. Through our work in R&D, we had exposure to the potential applications of AMRs across many industries. We used this insight to build prototypes (including an autonomous pallet mover that evolved into the OTTO 1500) and determined that autonomous material handling was the right market for us to pursue.

In our early days, we were a bootstrapped company, which meant we had to be very calculated in our investments. We stopped offering custom robot design services, ceased our investigations into autonomous hydrographic survey and robotic inventory scanning, and avoided the growing siren call of the on-road autonomous vehicle space. It was important to consider that growth is expensive, building robots is expensive, and introducing a product to the market is expensive. When we were ready to start this next business in 2015, we also had to consider outside funding in order to be successful. The decision to seek venture capital, at a time when funding robotics companies was uncommon, was a risk we were determined to overcome.

And we did. OTTO was born in 2015 and brought a whole new set of challenges: entering a new industry, serving a new customer profile, working with new stakeholders, delivering on a new set of expectations. We never imagined the company would become the success it is today. Both divisions became global leaders in autonomous technology, serving some of the world’s most recognized brands.

Now, one of the realities of being venture funded is that eventually the company will be bought. It’s not a matter of if, but when. The only question left to ask is who?

When we were evaluating options in our most recent funding series, we focused on which path forward would best serve our long-term vision, employees, customers, and shareholders. Through this lens, it was clear Rockwell Automation was the one. Rockwell Automation is a global leader in industrial automation and digital transformation, employing approximately 28,000 problem solvers dedicated to their customers in more than 100 countries. With 120 years of experience and unquestionable integrity, Rockwell Automation will supercharge our vision and provide us with a long-term home where we hold a meaningful role in shaping the next 120 years in this industry.

Image 2: Matt Rendall with Rockwell CEO, Blake Moret, after the aquisition announcement had been made.

Image 2: Matt Rendall with Rockwell CEO, Blake Moret, after the aquisition announcement had been made.

We’ve come a long way since our days building robots in a basement. As we begin this next chapter, I want to thank the entire OTTO and Clearpath Robotics teams, past and present, for their commitment to our vision over the past 15 years. It is an honor to celebrate this milestone with such a talented, hard-working group of innovators. I look forward to the next phase of our journey, introducing AMRs to even more customers globally alongside the incredible team at Rockwell. The future is bright!

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