This former Google X engineer wants to put a robot security guard in every office

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The Edge

This former Google X engineer wants to put a robot security guard in every office

  • Sequoia Capital, Storm Ventures and Founders Fund are among investors in a new, $13 million series A round of funding for Cobalt Robotics.
  • Cobalt makes a roving, robotic security guard that can detect intruders, water leaks and make sure employees are safe in the office.

A start-up called Cobalt Robotics is making roving security robots for use in commercial buildings -- whether that's an office, data center or a hospital.

The robot could help companies save money on human security guards: businesses spent almost $68 billion on physical security in 2016, according to industry research by Stratistics MRC. That number is expected to surpass $125 billion by 2022, with a hefty chunk of spending going to human security guards indoors.

CNBC caught up with Cobalt Robotics CEO and co-founder Travis Deyle to see the machines in action at Fuseproject, the design studio of Yves Behar. Fuseproject helped create the look and feel of the Cobalt, which is more like consumer hardware than a piece of office equipment.

Deyle founded Cobalt in 2016 after a stint working on a smart contact lens project for Google X, the search giant's experimental research lab.

At one time, Google X included a large robotics business. But Deyle actually stayed away from that, trying to expand his horizons while he was there.

When he left Google X, he wanted to build a pure software business and avoid the cost of manufacturing hardware. But Deyle fell back in love with robotics, after teaming with CTO Erik Schluntz, an engineer who turned down a gig at SpaceX to chase entrepreneurial dreams.

Deyle explained, "Our system provides one person with situational awareness across an entire space at one time. The idea is to let machines do what they're good at and people do what they're good at."

Cobalt robots can: scan an employee's or a visitor's badge; detect open doors, water leaks, spills or intrusions, among other things. When they sense an anomaly in a building, they can alert a security specialist, who can send a guard to patrol in person as needed.

Cobalt Robotics roving security robot at Fuse Project.
Cobalt Robotics roving security robot at Fuse Project.

Sequoia led Cobalt's latest funding round, and partner Alfred Lin is joining the start-up's board of directors. The new, $13 million round brings Cobalt's total funding to $16.5 million to date.

Lin backed Cobalt, he said, because its robots can help companies ensure the physical safety of their employees and facilities without constantly surveying them the way CCTV cameras would do. "It's not just the utility of the thing," the investor said, "it's very empathetic, not like a PA system that's blaring at you with mics and cameras recording your every move."

Following terrible mass shootings and other related incidents, Lin says, commercial building operators have been under pressure to ramp up security, but they can't always afford all the full-time, human guards they want. He sees Cobalt's robots helping large employers and facilities to fill in the gaps.

Another early Cobalt backer, Storm Ventures Partner Paul Willard, said he expects the company to use its new capital for hiring, production and to add new capabilities to its machines.

Founders Fund, Bloomberg Beta and other investors also participated in the series A investment.

This story has been updated to reflect the total total Series A and seed funding.