To what extent are Embotech systems laying the foundations for widespread autonomous driving?
Andreas Kyrtatos: There is still lots of suspicion toward autonomous driving. Demonstrating the technology on enclosed grounds and actually steering large, heavy commercial vehicles with it can raise the level of trust in the technology. One of our videos shows a large truck using our PRODRIVER virtual driving software to negotiate an obstacle course marked out by porcelain vases with millimeter precision. This is enough to convince even the wariest viewer to trust in our technology.
Your solutions are used by smart factories as well as logistics companies and mine operators. Where does the greatest potential lie at the moment in your view?
In the logistics and transportation sector, where our technology is used in a wide range of applications: for container terminal operation, maneuvering solutions, and driving and moving trucks and trailers on factory sites. Our solutions are used across the entire process of depot automation. Our requirement for factory sites to be enclosed means that the technology can be rapidly tested and put into operation there without complications.
How has Zurich, the birthplace and base of Embotech, contributed to your success?
Zurich is one key to our success, but more generally the “Made in Switzerland” label is too. I’m not just talking about the central location but also the great infrastructure and quality of life. Zurich has transformed into a tech hub of international significance over the past few years and is a hotspot for innovation development with its attractive innovation promotion programs. The Greater Zurich Area offers enormous potential for research and development, progress, and growth.
Embotech unites automated systems and robotics. How has ETH been involved in this?
It all started with the algorithms created by founders Alexander Domahidi and Juan Jerez, which they developed while researching their thesis at ETH. ETH is THE place to develop and grow world-class research. A generous scholarship then helped with turning the idea into a business. Finally, we have recruited amazing candidates from ETH in the fields of robotics and control engineering, for example, and have now grown from three people to more than 50 employees.
We are working with a consortium from ETH and industry representatives on automating the charging process of electric vehicles using a robotic arm. We also collaborate with companies from the Greater Zurich Area, such as the navigation expert Fixposition, which provides products for some of our projects.
Do you think the location is important too when it comes to funding? At the end of 2021 you raised CHF 10 million in a Series A funding round.
The financial center of Zurich and its investor base provides start-ups with excellent opportunities for growth, above all in the difficult early phases. There is a lot of interest in offering capital as well as promotional and investment programs. That goes for large financial institutions and private investors like our new investor and board member, Emilio Frazzoli, an ETH professor and former co-founder of nuTonomy. This provides us with access to capital as well as valuable expertise and strategic knowledge. Start-ups are supported with advice, coaching and networking contacts. Our reputation as an ETH spin-off is also attractive for investors in this regard.
Interview: Yvonne von Hunnius
On the person/On the company:
Andreas Kyrtatos took up the position of Embotech CEO in 2018. The software company was founded as a spin-off from ETH in 2013 and from its base in Zurich, it develops autonomous systems for industrial robotics as well as commercial and passenger vehicles used on factory sites, in logistics, or in mining. Embotech has been bringing full-time autonomous operation systems for mining to series production since 2020. Production for factory logistics systems for vehicle manufacturers is scheduled to start in mid-2022 and for logistics yards at the end of 2022. Prominent clients, partners and supporters include BMW, Volvo, and ZF Friedrichshafen. At the end of 2021, Embotech raised CHF10 million in a Series A funding round. This involved ETH professor and former co-founder of nuTonomy Emilio Frazzoli. Zurich Cantonal Bank and the Zurich-based holding company Conzzeta (Bystronic) were won over in previous rounds. Embotech currently has 53 employees and this is expected to rise to 64 by the end of 2022.