With funding from Jeff Bezos and others, Pittsburgh startup Skild AI company raises $300 million to build robot brains

Evan Robinson-Johnson / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Skild AI launched out of stealth mode Tuesday by announcing a $300 million funding round led by Jeff Bezos’ fund and Japan’s Softbank Group that will help the Pittsburgh-based startup build what it calls a “general-purpose brain” for a variety of robots.

The company, founded in May 2023 by Carnegie Mellon University professors Deepak Pathak and Abhinav Gupta, says that it has trained its AI model on more data than its competitors, while building a system that could be retrofitted to existing hardware.

“The large-scale model we are building demonstrates unparalleled generalization and emergent capabilities across robots and tasks, providing significant potential for automation within real-world environments,” Mr. Pathak said in a statement. “We believe Skild AI represents a step change in how robotics will be scaled, and has the potential to change the entire physical economy.”

Such a robot brain could theoretically empower quadrupeds like Boston Dynamics’ dog “Spot,” and humanoids like Digit, which is designed and trained in Lawrenceville by Agility Robotics, though the company has not yet announced specific partners. The goal is to help robots master the physical world, so they don’t stumble over obstacles, putting humans at risk.

Skild AI said its system could be applied to complex household tasks and industrial work. It could also help reduce the cost of robots.

“With general purpose robots that can safely perform any automated task, in any environment, and with any type of embodiment, we can expand the capabilities of robots, democratize their cost, and support the severely understaffed labor market,” Mr. Gupta said.

The company, now valued at $1.5 billion, is hiring for several engineering positions in Pittsburgh, according to its website. So far the team includes experts from Meta, Tesla, Nvidia, Amazon, and Google, as well as students from CMU.

Matthew Johnson-Roberson, who oversees CMU’s Robotics Institute, said Skild AI is “founded by visionary experts at the forefront of robotics innovation.”

“I'm eager to witness how their cutting-edge technology will revolutionize industry and continue CMU’s long history in translational research.”

CMU invested in the startup alongside Amazon, Lightspeed Venture Partners, Sequoia Capital, and others.

Stephanie Zhan, a partner at Sequoia, said she had “deep conviction” in the team, which is ushering in “a monumental shift” in robotics. She compared the moment to the 2022 launch of ChatGPT.

Another investor, Coatue, said Skild AI’s tech could prepare robots for jobs in hazardous environments and places like hospitals that are short on human staff.

Skild AI said it would use the new funding to improve its AI model while chasing commercial deployment. The long-term goal is to create a form of artificial general intelligence that is as capable as humans and “rooted in the physical world.”

Evan Robinson-Johnson: [email protected] and @sightsonwheels