It takes something special for a top executive to take the plunge into startup life. Something special like world-class robotics made in Greater Zurich, for example. Hanspeter Fässler had worked at the technology firm ABB for 25 years including in top positions and had also been CEO of the Swiss construction company Implenia. In 2016, he moved to the startup ANYbotics. He is the Co-Founder and Chair of the Administrative Board at this spin-off from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich ETH. thirty years ago, he was the first PhD candidate to graduate in robotics.
ANYbotics is a pioneer in AI applications
ANYbotics has quickly made a name for itself across the world with autonomous legged robots from its ANYmal line. The robust, four-legged robots are even able to find their way through rough terrain using artificial intelligence (AI). Fässler states: “With ETH, we were the first in the world to work with deep learning solutions for this.” The prototype phase ends in 2021: The first certified specimens are now conducting inspections in the Brazilian mining industry or at BASF chemical plants, for example. ANYbotics focuses on the process industry in areas such as energy, pharmaceuticals or chemistry.
Greater Zurich provides conditions for success
Fässler is certain that this rapid ascent was only possible because of the excellent robotics and AI ecosystem in the Greater Zurich Area. ANYbotics currently employs 80 staff in Zurich and has enough space at the site to grow to double this figure as planned over the next few years. “We can easily attract international specialists to work in the Greater Zurich Area,” Fässler states. Half of the employees have an ETH background and the proximity to research is another trump card. According to Fässler there are several different collaborations with ETH, for instance with the Robotic Systems Lab RSL where the spin-off originated. However, ANYbotics also has ties to other ETH institutes and the robotics teams of other universities.
Synergies emerge in the innovation ecosystem
“We benefit from a dynamic innovation ecosystem and this includes exchange with other startups. There are world-class software and hardware companies in the region, especially in the field of drones, which is related to our work,” Fässler says. The engine manufacturer maxon motors has established a subsidiary in Greater Zurich for its collaboration with ANYbotics. Furthermore, maxon is a partner of the internationally renowned drone startup Auterion, which is also based here.
Furthermore, access to the established Swiss industry is straightforward. The supplier Dätwyler from the canton of Uri, also part of Greater Zurich, significantly contributed to optimizing the rubber feet used in ANYmal, for example. The robot itself is produced near Lake Zurich, where a subsidiary of the German company Zollner Electronics AG is headquartered.
Robotics hotspot has great potential
Last but not least, the location has a positive effect on the funding of the robotics scene. With its innovative ideas, ANYbotics has been granted almost all financing applications it has submitted. About a year ago, the startup secured 20 million Swiss francs in a series A financing round backed mainly by Swiss investors. According to Fässler, there is a valuable network of venture capital organizations and business angels that are interested in high-tech developments in the Greater Zurich Area.
Hanspeter Fässler states: “I am convinced, robotics will be an important pillar of this country’s economy.” He adds that the Greater Zurich Area, as an international AI and robotics hotspot, has the basic requirements for the field to become just as important as the watch industry, for example.
By Yvonne von Hunnius
Robotics & Intelligent Systems
Robotics & Intelligent Systems
The Greater Zurich Area continues to be a global leader in robotics, drone technology and computer vision. The close ties between the industry, world-class universities and researchers, and innovation-friendly authorities have driven revolutionary advancements, attracted leading technology firms and talent, and encouraged entrepreneurship. Multinationals, SMEs and start-ups that locate in Greater Zurich enjoy a high availability of talent, thanks to a plethora of renowned higher education institutions in the region.