Grasping the Future: The Ambi Robotics Journey

Co-founders of Ambi Robotics meet at UC Berkeley

It begins as all good stories do. Some dead robots in a basement, pulled from the depths of a dumpster. Combine this with an unrivaled group of experts, an old turntable, and a desire to create something meaningful. The result? Ambi Robotics, a company centered on empathy and focused on efficiency. 

It’s the people that make the company, and Ambi is no exception. Ken Goldberg knew he had something special when Jeff Mahler came to his lab at UC Berkeley. With a focus on the details, they began the meticulous work of combining two traditions, data and deep learning. From there, it was a domino effect of the right pieces in the right places. Stephen McKinley fearlessly walked in Ken’s office with a notebook full of sketches and a complimentary set of skills to Jeff. Stephen brought in his friend David Gealy, a curious thinker with a specialty in hands-on mechanical expertise. Matt Matl joined the team and added a burst of energy to the software, keen on building the world’s most advanced operating system to power any robotic configuration. Together Jeff and Matt held down the software end of things, while Stephen and David orchestrated the hardware. In between the two sides was a whole lot of curiosity and a surprising, seamless cohesion. A new way of thinking about old problems.

Co-founders of Ambi Robotics

It was the right people, in the right place, at exactly the right time. 

A cohesive environment is critical to progression. The founding team quickly found their footing together. With a focus on how people think about robots and how robots interact with people, the team began their work with the toughest challenge first – grasping. The thought was that automation should make the work of humans more efficient and streamlined. With hardware and software experts in the same place, tackling the same problem holistically, there was a breakthrough. 

New York Times Feature

Remember those basement robots, pulled from a dumpster? The team was focused on educating the robots on how to grasp items. Traditionally, it takes years of data collection of real-world items for the robot to be able to work and understand within a static environment. The robots needed to learn faster, so the team introduced the concept of learning in a simulated world. Think The Matrix, but add robots. What resulted was a state-of-the-art achievement in the robotics world: a system that revolutionizes robotic dexterity.

With the breakthrough came attention. The team was invited to an exhibition sponsored by Jeff Bezos to present their new technology. They loaded their robot into Stephen’s van and cruised down the coast to a resort in the middle of the desert. They were given a tent behind the catering team just as storm clouds began to gather over the horizon. The team quickly covered the equipment with bags and towels only for the storm to dissolve, not a raindrop in sight. The sun came up on a beautiful morning and the presentation went off without a hitch. 

The best part? One of the participants took off their shoe and tossed it in front of the robot. Without a single hesitation, the robot reached over, picked up the shoe, and placed it in a bin. It couldn’t have been planned better. 

So it started with some robots in a basement, continued with a shoe and a bin, and now the Ambi Robotics’ systems are sorting and handling millions of packages every week. 

What’s ahead? Driving commerce towards a sustainable supply chain where the strain doesn’t rest on the shoulders of our most valuable asset, our people. Changing preconceived notions about how humans and robots interact. And continuing to lead with our hearts to create innovative technology. We hope you join us.