Ditch The Chalk: Tessa Lau’s Dusty Robotics Raises $45 Million To Automate Construction Plans

Tessa Lau, Dusty Robotics CEO and co-founder: “So far, we have been limited in being able to construct as fast as they want.”

Dusty Robotics designed and built an autonomous printer with wheels for construction sites. The company now has a market capitalization of $250 million.

Tessa Lau watched her contractor work on her home’s remodeling project. He was on his knees using handheld tools. She witnessed minor errors (showerheads were installed in the wrong places, necessitating additional work), and she also saw a brush with a much larger one during her extensive kitchen renovation. She recalls that her contractor was about to put the island in the wrong spot. I discovered the mistake by measuring tape and checking it with my ruler.

Lau, a roboticist, had worked previously at Willow Garage’s research lab. She knew there was a better way. Lau did what every serial entrepreneur and roboticist would do: she started a new company.

Today, Dusty Robotics, a four-year-old company, announced raising $45 million from Scale Venture Partners. This money will be utilized to expand and ramp up its manufacturing capabilities. Dusty is now valued at $250 million.

Lau, 48, holds a Ph.D. from the University of Washington in computer science. She is one of the most prominent women in robotics. After more than a decade working at IBM Research, Lau joined Willow Garage as a researcher scientist. She was responsible for developing simple interfaces for personal robots. Willow Garage closed its doors in 2013, but many of its former researchers went on and founded companies.

Lau says, “We call ourselves The Willow Garage Mafia.” “I was a mafia member for around a year before it closed down.” I learned all I could think about robotics and how to get them out in the world.

Lau founded Savioke, which created robots for apartments and hotels. She was chief technology officer and managed the deployment of over 75 delivery robots. She said she was frustrated by the slow pace of company growth. She says that she felt the company was not growing as quickly as it should have. So, she decided to start her own company and look for a new space.

“We are the Willow Garage Mafia.”

In 2018, she founded Mountain View-based Dusty, California, with Philipp Herget. Philipp had previously been the robotics hardware lead at Savioke. Lau is the company’s CEO; Herget is the chief tech officer. Named after an idea to create vacuum robots (“like Roomba for construction sites”) that would help contractors clean up all the dust from job sites, the company name was born. Lau and Herget noticed the ground markings that indicated the project layouts while working on construction sites. Vacuuming was abandoned.

The Field Printer is the first robot of the firm. It’s basically an autonomous printer on wheels. It can move around the construction site, and it prints floor plans that look similar to Ikea instructions. This saves time and money compared to the traditional method of drawing plans in chalk or using markers. Lau states that dozens of contractors in the United States use the robots. These include DPR Construction, Turner Construction and Performance Contracting. There are also several dozen robots on the field with lease agreements. The company is still in its early stages and has an annual revenue of $5 million.

Dusty Robotics’ Construction Bot: It has eyes for extra cuteness.

Lau expects rapid growth given the high cost of skilled labor her robots will replace. She says that the robots help with the work of some of the most highly-paid workers on the job site. This contrasts the $125 an hour that a San Francisco union foreman would earn. She also said that robots are able to work without errors, which is a huge benefit for contractors, as they don’t have to make costly mistakes. This can be a significant source of lost time or cost overruns when working on large projects. Dusty’s robot allows workers to oversee more projects using the same plans they used before.

Alex Niehenke, Scale Venture Partners’ partner, said that Scale Venture Partners’ fast-growing customer base and the size of its contracts with them were a significant draw. The market size, however, was also a draw. He says, “They’ve sold a surprising number of customers.” “There is a stunning increase in ARR.”

Lau set a goal to have Dusty’s robots on every site within the next three to five year period, with the help of the new funding. Is it possible? She says that Elon Musk may have said many things, which may or not be accurate. As a vision, that is what I want. I am aware of it, but we have not been able to meet the demand as quickly as they would like.

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Adam Collins
Adam writes about technology, business and economics. With master's degree in Economics, he's presented six papers in international conferences. As a solivagant in the constant state of fernweh, curiosity is the main weapon in his arsenal.

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