Formant and the coming-of-age moment for robotics software

Published on Oct 11, 2023

Formant and the coming-of-age moment for robotics software

Robotics is at a massive inflection point. Improvements in sensors, AI, and mobility are arriving just as demand from the healthcare, industrial, and service sectors is spiking. And now that we have sufficient adoptions, there’s finally a market for what robotics customers and manufacturers have struggled to build themselves: software.

We’ve seen this cycle play out many times. In the early days of video games, console manufacturers like Atari made all the games themselves. But as console adoption grew, a market formed for third-party game developers like Activision, and consumers could mix and match the best hardware and software. 40 years later, they still do, playing Activision’s Call Of Duty games on consoles from Sony and Microsoft.

Now we’re seeing a similar shift in robotics. Historically, the same companies built all of the hardware and sensor suites, as well as navigation, logic, and teleoperations software. There simply weren’t enough robots in the field to sustain high-quality companies dedicated to software, and in turn, robots weren’t useful enough outside of limited industrial use cases to drive sufficient demand for the hardware. It was a chicken-and-the-egg problem. In fact, it was a disadvantage to use weak third-party software instead of being fully vertically integrated and more agile.


Formant raises $21 million


SignalFire and Formant saw the inevitable inflection point coming. As technology advanced and robots became more capable, demand would rise, the market would mature, and there’d be a need for a best-in-class robotics software suite for teleoperations, fleet management, and analytics. Having the time to develop this software required Formant to be a bit early to the market, but it persevered as the sector matured, and now it’s poised to be the default software provider just as the world is ready to deploy robots at scale.

From helping hatch Formant with CEO Jeff Linnell, to leading its $6 million Seed and $18 million Series A rounds, to assisting it with recruiting and go-to-market using our in-house built Beacon AI data platform, it’s been an exciting journey so far. Now SignalFire is thrilled to announce that we’re tripling down on Formant and investing in its new $21 million funding round led by BMW i Ventures. They’re the perfect fit as the venture arm of one of the largest auto manufacturers in the world with such deep experience in robotics.

Jeff is the perfect founder for Formant because he comes from a background of adapting robotics to new, creative problems. We met while he was the Director of Robotics at Google X, marrying hardware with its parent company’s software-focused culture to address global challenges. Before that, his company Bot & Dolly devised a revolutionary robotics platform that powered the zero-G-looking videography for the blockbuster film Gravity which won the Best Cinematography Oscar. That makes Formant well-prepared now that robots are moving off of the assembly line and out into the real world where they need to interact with humans and adjust to unexpected use cases.


The age of robotics


Buy vs build is no longer a debate. Higher costs of capital and fewer resources mean companies need to focus on what they’re best at and go third-party for everything else. Formant’s quality and feature set are so far beyond what companies can develop in-house that buying it is a no-brainer. The metrics make that clear. With revenue up 500% year-over-year thanks to deals with BP, John Deere subsidiary Blue River Technology, and more, 

Next, we expect to see a Cambrian explosion of robotics hardware manufacturers and use cases built atop Formant. Similar to how AWS made it easier to build software startups and Stripe ignited a new wave of ecommerce, Formant will catalyze the age of robotics.

*Portfolio company founders listed above have not received any compensation for this feedback and did not invest in a SignalFire fund. Please refer to our disclosures page for additional disclosures.

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