Tessa Lau is Founder/CEO at Dusty Robotics, whose mission is to extend development business productiveness by introducing robotic automation on the jobsite. Dusty’s FieldPrinter autonomous cellular robots prints structure plans immediately onto the flooring of job websites utilizing info from constructing info fashions (BIM) as a information. FieldPrinter additionally generates standing studies in real-time so undertaking managers monitor progress and make changes if wanted. In December 2019, Dusty closed a $5 million Seed spherical, bringing the whole quantity of funding that the corporate has acquired to $7.2 million.
Previous to co-founding Dusty in April 2018, Lau was CTO/Co-founder at Savioke, the place she orchestrated the deployment of 751 supply robots into inns and high-rises. Beforehand, she was a analysis scientist at Willow Storage, the place she developed easy interfaces for private robots. She additionally spent 11 years at IBM Analysis working in enterprise course of automation and data seize.
Lau was named 2017 Girl of Affect by The Silicon Valley Enterprise Journal and one of the vital inventive enterprise individuals by Quick Firm in 2015. Through the years, Lau has served on program committees for varied main HCI and AI conferences and on the board for the CRA-W – the committee for the standing of ladies in computing analysis. Lau acquired her BA and BS from Cornell College in pc science and utilized & engineering physics; and an MS and PhD diploma in pc science from College of Washington.
Lau was not too long ago interviewed by Joanne Pransky for Industrial Robotic. That interview is reprinted under, with minor modifications. The unique interview may be discovered HERE.
Joanne Pransky: Of all of the robots you’ve labored with, what ‘misbehavior’ did you discover to be essentially the most fascinating, sudden or stunning?
Tessa Lau: Savioke Relay robots had so many misbehaviors that I believe that they had minds of their very own. Probably the most difficult duties we needed to do with the Relay was to program it to take elevators (Determine 2).
As people, we don’t give it some thought, however there are all these little micro behaviors that we exhibit after we use an elevator and we’re utilizing them alongside different individuals. That’s what we had been educating our robots to do; easy, anticipated human conduct like turning round and going through ahead when it goes into the elevator, or exiting correctly when the door opens on the ground it’s alleged to get off with out dithering or ready earlier than deciding to get off. All of those little particular person behaviors had been a giant problem to get Relay to perform correctly.
Joanne Pransky: Why did you determine to depart Savioke?
Tessa Lau: I used to be a co-founder of Savioke and had been there for 5 years. It is a actually very long time to stick with any firm, particularly at a startup in Silicon Valley. After 5 years, I spotted that I wished to start out my very own factor.
I’m extra excited in regards to the early elements of rising and constructing an organization as a result of there are simply so many potentialities. It’s a wide-open subject. And there are not any proper solutions, and it’s important to determine it out as you go. I actually wished to get again to that. In order that’s how I began Dusty.
Joanne Pransky: How did Dusty get its title?
Tessa Lau: Within the early days of Dusty we had been making an attempt to determine what our first product can be, and we had been doing numerous market analysis. We had give you a bunch of various concepts that we had been testing with prospects.After we received our first time period sheet and provide from our first investor, we couldn’t settle for the time period sheet till we had an organization title, regardless that we hadn’t finalized our product thought.
We didn’t know we had been going to be constructing this subject printer. On the time, we thought we had been going to be constructing a clean-up robotic, a Roomba for development that will really come by way of and sweep up the mud and the grime on the development websites and go away it cleaner than earlier than. On each single development website, there’s at all times somebody pushing a brush round, so it appeared like an apparent factor to do. The development vacuum robotic would come by way of in a single day, just like the cleansing fairy, and the employees would come within the subsequent day and arrive at a clear website.
So we received that time period sheet and the development cleansing robotic was the concept that we had been going with on the time. We didn’t wish to make the title too particular simply in case we modified our minds later. For the reason that setting’s dusty and soiled, we got here up with Dusty Robotics to point that our robots might be comfy working within the dusty setting of a development website. Branding was actually vital to me from day one.
Joanne Pransky: What are a few of the variations in your position as CTO of a startup in comparison with CEO and which do you like?
Tessa Lau: I’ve actually loved being a CEO. I wasn’t actually anticipating that, nevertheless it’s rising on me so much, and I actually like it.
As a CTO, my position was to supervise the engineering group and determine what we’re going to construct now and sooner or later. It was a comparatively slim view. I didn’t get to see or have management over all the opposite elements of the enterprise.
As an engineer, I believed on the time that the CTO, the engineering half, was most vital. It seems, nonetheless, that the remainder of the enterprise is much more vital. Now as a CEO, I get to find out about and grasp all of these different elements of the enterprise which have a big impact on whether or not we’re going to achieve success or not. I’m simply having a lot enjoyable.
Joanne Pransky: Is Dusty the primary firm to develop an automatic resolution for the printing layouts within the development business or have there been different makes an attempt by different corporations?
Tessa Lau: We’ve competitors. One of many causes that I’m assured we’re heading in the right direction is as a result of our prospects have tried to construct this robotic earlier than. DPR Building was one of many prime ten development corporations nationwide. Ten years in the past, they tried to construct a structure robotic they referred to as “laybot”.
DPR spent about six years and many cash constructing this robotic, however they by no means received to the purpose the place that they had it working within the subject in addition to we’ve got. We’ve talked to the DPR individuals who labored on this and actually, we’re making an attempt to study from their expertise as a result of they perceive the market. They know why that is vital and have already completed the analyses to justify it. In order roboticists, we’re partnering with a few of the most forward-thinking individuals within the development business which have all of those nice concepts about how they need the business to develop into extra automated sooner or later.
Joanne Pransky: Typical ink jet printers embody a horizontal scan mechanism that transverses the paper. Is Dusty’s FieldPrinter (Determine three) the scan mechanism, or does it place itself after which use on-board x/y scanning head to print a piece of the drawing at a time?
Tessa Lau: That’s an ideal query. A typical printer is optimized for printing pages. Dusty optimizes for printing traces. What which means is that we’ve needed to develop some new and particular options.
Robots are good at driving round on job websites, however they’re not so good at driving exactly. We’ve developed a hybrid resolution that has our drive mechanism be the course management with an onboard printing stage that does positive management. The purpose is to mix these two mechanisms as a way to create a really exact, straight line.
In the present day’s state-of-the-art cellular robotics are correct to inside one to 2 inches and since we wanted a 1/16 of an inch, we needed to invent a brand new expertise.
Joanne Pransky: Dusty is all about localization, positioning, and orientation. What are you able to inform us about the way it does these three duties?
Tessa Lau: One of many key challenges that we needed to resolve originally of Dusty was making an attempt to determine how we might really make the printer correct sufficient to be usable on development websites. How do we all know the place we’re with sufficient element in order that we are able to print a line inside 1/16 of an inch of what it must be?
In the present day’s state-of-the-art cellular robotics are correct to inside one to 2 inches and since we wanted a 1/16 of an inch, we needed to invent a brand new expertise. The gist of it’s that we’re making use of a bit of kit that already exists on development websites for doing very exact distance measurement.
Building websites really use a bit of expertise referred to as a complete station. These are yellow tripods with a form of turret on prime, and it shoots a laser at a man within the distance who’s holding a mirror and it measures that distance actually exactly. We mainly put that mirror on board our robotic, and that gadget tells us precisely the place we’re inside millimeters (Determine three).
Joanne Pransky: One issue with marking up flooring, and so forth., is that as one commerce strikes in they are going to cowl up and rub out the marks that Dusty has created. How do you propose to get round this downside in order that the follow-on trades can profit?
Tessa Lau: In the present day, development websites make traces by taking a bit of string and dipping it in chalk after which they stretch the string out between two factors, after which they snap it. It leaves a line of chalk mud on the ground. However chalk is impermanent and it blows away. So they really come by way of with a can of clear spray paint and spray over the chalk. That sticks it down and lasts for about a few weeks.
We are able to do the identical factor with clear spray paint, however we’re really utilizing higher expertise than chalk. We’re utilizing ink and with its excessive sturdiness, ink sticks so much higher to the concrete. It doesn’t really want that clear coat excessive of it to maintain it everlasting.
Joanne Pransky: Reasonably than printing traces on the ground, might Dusty as a substitute undertaking optical/laser traces on the scene – or have each capabilities? For instance, might Dusty undertaking the positions of sunshine switches. and so forth., onto a partition wall?
Tessa Lau: Completely. A few of Dusty’s opponents are literally utilizing projection-based structure options. Considered one of them is a Canadian firm referred to as Mechasys. They’ve a tool that as a substitute of marking factors and contours on the ground, they undertaking them with the laser. As soon as it’s on the ground with the laser, individuals come by way of and construct off of it.
Their markings solely final so long as you’ve a laser up and working. Should you flip off the laser otherwise you lose energy, then your markings go away. We clearly suppose our resolution is best, however we do have some opponents which are already doing simply that.
One of many issues that we realized is numerous details about what has to occur vertically, resembling the peak of a light-weight swap, might really be printed on the ground. That solves many of the issues that folks have once they’re constructing. I believe our resolution really will get us many of the method.
Joanne Pransky: What’s Dusty’s marketing strategy for the subsequent ten years?
Tessa Lau: Ten years is a very very long time! I can’t see that far out but.
The plan for 2020 is we’re offering robots as a service (RaaS). What I discovered about robots-as-a-service is that prospects don’t wish to pay for robots; they wish to pay for worth. Should you can determine and provides your prospects what’s worthwhile, that’s what they are going to pay for.
We’re really working structure as a service (LaaS). Our prospects don’t pay for the robotic. They pay us for the structure, as a result of they want it. That’s how they construct. Format is a commodity individuals pay to create.
Joanne Pransky: What’s your proudest second of your entire profession?
Tessa Lau: My proudest second was after we did a pilot for one in every of our early prospects in January 2020. It was going to be a free pilot because it was our first time participating with this buyer, and to be sincere, our robotic had been performing up currently. However it went completely, with out a hitch. We had two days blocked out for us on the schedule. We might have completed it in a single day, however we really slowed it down as a result of they had been bringing a digicam crew the second day.
Our robotic carried out flawlessly. After we had been completed, our buyer mentioned, “You guys did nice. You must ship us an bill.” That grew to become bill primary; our first paying buyer. We had been constructing as much as this. It was every part coming collectively – our engineering group, product, operations, our visionary buyer – and making all of it work.
Joanne Pransky: What’s the largest mistake or most beneficial lesson that you simply’ve discovered up to now in your profession?
I spent first six months speaking to development corporations and making an attempt to know their issues and ache factors earlier than deciding on our first thought and earlier than we even purchased our first piece of hardware.
Tessa Lau: There are such a lot of. I’m fascinated by this course of of making startups and turning them into viable companies. I discovered so much from the errors we made at Savioke.
After I left Savioke and began Dusty, the important thing factor that I discovered was to not begin constructing the product earlier than who’s going to pay for it and why. Because of this, I spent first six months speaking to development corporations and making an attempt to know their issues and ache factors earlier than deciding on our first thought and earlier than we even purchased our first piece of hardware. That’s why we’re now comparatively profitable as a result of we spent numerous time upfront making an attempt to determine what’s our product going to be and why it’s worthwhile.
Joanne Pransky: What do you suppose PhD and masters of engineering college students must be doing whereas at school to arrange them for the industrial facet of robotics?
Tessa Lau: I got here out of academia. I’ve a PhD. A PhD teaches you some issues which are actually vital, however not different issues which are additionally actually vital.
The primary vital factor to study in an educational setting is important pondering. How do you consider concepts? When you have an thought of one thing to construct, how do you take a look at it and arrange an setting that allows you to consider it rapidly? At Dusty, we’re working a set of experiments actually quick, one after one other. Will somebody pay for this? If we tweak it this manner, will they pay extra for it?
The second vital factor that I discovered as an educational are communication expertise, i.e., take one thing actually complicated and convert it into one thing that lay individuals can perceive. What they don’t train in a PhD program, and which issues much more than the engineering, is when it comes to final success. How is that this expertise going to be helpful for somebody in the true world? How do you critically consider a enterprise thought? Once you go work for a corporation – is their product one thing individuals can pay for? Occupied with that would drastically impression the trajectory of 1’s profession.
Joanne Pransky: What do you suppose you’ll be engaged on 20 years from now?
Tessa Lau: Twenty years from now, we’ll have robots doing all of the work and hopefully, I’ll be financially retired. What I’d like to be doing after Dusty is profitable is to proceed to create expertise that impacts individuals and modifications the world for the higher by advising and mentoring the subsequent technology of startups, notably robotics startups.
Joanne Pransky has been an Affiliate Editor for Industrial Robotic Journal since 1995. She was additionally one of many co- founders and the Director of Advertising of the world’s ﬁrst medical robotics journal, The Worldwide Journal of Medical Robotics and Laptop Assisted Surgical procedure. Pransky additionally served because the Senior Gross sales and Advertising Government for Sankyo Robotics, a world-leading producer of commercial robotic methods. She has consulted for a few of the business’s prime robotic and leisure organizations, together with Robotic Industries Affiliation, Motoman, Stäubli, KUKA Robotics, ST Robotics, DreamWorks, Warner Bros., and for Summit Leisure’s ﬁlm Ender’s Sport, through which she introduced never-seen-before medical robots to the large display screen. She may be contacted at joannepransky[@]gmail.com.