“Sarcos to me represents one of the most compelling opportunities I’ve ever seen, to be able to bring a new product to market that has massive global demand.”
Imagine there was a company in Utah that fulfilled these parameters:
- They recently announced funding from a group of investors that included Caterpillar Ventures, GE Ventures, and Microsoft, three of the largest names in the venture capital business.
- Their concentration is on building dexterous robotic systems — think of something similar to the robot exoskeleton worn in Iron Man — an area they have been researching and developing for 30 years.
- Their current CEO brings a business background that is slightly more impressive than yours or mine: partner at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; cofounder/CEO of Clearwire, sold to Sprint in 2013 for $14 billion; president of Eagle River Investments; and CEO of the Pendrell Corporation, another publicly traded company.
- They have done a variety of work over the years developing technology for various agencies, including NASA, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (part of the US Department of Defense).
If you knew all these things, you’d be pretty fired up, right? Maybe you’d do some jumping jacks and start hyperventilating, asking questions like, “WHY HAVEN’T I HEARD ABOUT THIS COMPANY SOONER?” and “WHEN CAN I GET MY OWN IRON MAN SUIT?” Or maybe tears would stream down your face because your closet dream of roaming the earth as Iron Man is closer to being realized than you ever thought.
I have news for you, and maybe you should grab a brown paper bag for breathing purposes to stay relaxed: this company does exist, it is named Sarcos, all of the above facts are 100% true, and it is located right in beautiful Salt Lake City. I recently spoke with CEO Ben Wolff and trust me, you’re not alone in being fired up for what Sarcos is preparing to offer.
“Sarcos to me represents one of the most compelling opportunities I’ve ever seen, to be able to bring a new product to market that has massive global demand,” said Wolff. “And do it in a way that we can meaningfully change the way the world works, save people from getting injured or killed on the job.”
There are three products Sarcos is currently concentrating on, all in various stages of production. The first is the aforementioned Iron Man-like suit, dubbed the Guardian XO, which allows the user to do things like lift heavy loads repeatedly without tiring, while maintaining flexibility and agility. According to Wolff, Sarcos plans on bringing the Guardian XO to market in about three years. Let’s watch video of a dude working out and kicking soccer balls while wearing the suit:
Sarcos is also creating a Snake Robot (the Guardian S, set to debut early next year) and yes, it’s a slithering robot that they hope can lend assistance to a wide variety of industries.
“It has tremendous applicability in inspection and maintenance applications,” said Wolff. “The kinds of industries we think are most relevant for us right now are oil and gas, petrochemical manufacturing, maritime and shipping, coal mining, and public safety (police, fire, SWAT, bomb squad).”
Should we watch video of the Guardian S sneaking its way into small spaces? Yes, yes we should:
Last but not least, we have the Guardian GT (aka Big Arm, debuting in 18 months), a robot that literally has big arms the user easily controls to pick huge objects, assemble them, or do whatever their heart desires with them. Let’s watch video of a dude stacking all sorts of heavy objects into a Jenga tower:
So, this is all pretty cool, right? Who knew when we watched Iron Man or that horrible robot boxing movie with Hugh Jackman, that future wasn’t that far off? Who knew that Sarcos, initially started as a prosthetic device company that created the Utah Arm, would take that expertise, add some biomechanics knowledge, and begin to build in the robotics space?
“In the case of each of these three products, there has literally been years and years and millions of dollars invested,” said Wolff. “If you look at the technologies that we own among these three products, there has been more than a quarter billion dollars invested to get to where we’re at today.”
As mentioned in the opening, Sarcos has taken on additional investment (numbers were not disclosed) from a number of prominent firms, a move that includes a wealth of experience and knowledge joining the board of directors: Peter Klein, former CFO of Microsoft; Ray Quintana, General Partner of Cottonwood Technology Fund; Ralph Taylor-Smith, Managing Director of GE Ventures; and Dennis Weibling, Seattle-based tech/telecom investor.
“We needed to raise some additional capital to grow, we were profitable and cash flow positive prior to raising this money,” said Wolff. “We’re ready to bring our first product to market, so we start thinking about things like distribution channels and sales opportunities. We start thinking about wanting to have expertise on board with folks who have manufactured in volume and scale. When you look at the partners that we now have as investors, these are three Fortune 50 companies that have tremendous depth and breadth in some of the industries that we care most about.”
By now, you probably have only one question left: Why would this wonderful, robot-building, money-raising business want to be located in Utah? Besides the obvious reasons of unlimited dirty soda options, unlimited outdoor activities, and a wealth of sunset/mountain photo opportunities to post on Instagram? I’ll let Wolff take it away.
“Utah and the area where we’re located in Salt Lake, is just a tremendous place from a standpoint of the quality of the workforce, the skills that are available in the local workforce,” he said. “It’s obviously a wonderful place to live, so people are attracted to being there. I think most of the employees that we’ve had at Sarcos over the years are actually not originally from Salt Lake, many of them have moved to the area and once they’re there, they never want to leave….It’s a great place to grow a business when you know you’re going to have a lot of jobs to create.”