GrayMatter Robotics: Automating a Dull, Dirty, and Dangerous Task to Improve the Lives of Manufacturing Workers

October 21, 2021 / Kevin Dunlap

When it comes to robotics, the most tedious tasks can be the most difficult to automate. Yet these types of jobs—often dull, dirty, and dangerous—are the ones most in need of robotics. That’s why Calibrate Ventures is thrilled to be an early investor in GrayMatter Robotics, a Los Angeles-based startup that has automated a particularly unpleasant task: sanding and spraying parts on manufacturing lines. GrayMatter recently closed a $4.1M seed round that Calibrate co-led with Stage Ventures.

GrayMatter’s AI-powered industrial robots can sand and spray all manner of objects, from fiberglass wind turbine blades to metal automotive parts. Leveraging GrayMatter’s advanced AI software, the robots program themselves to quickly “learn” each new object, adjusting pressure and motion to safely treat an item depending on its size, shape, and material. Advances in computer vision and force-sensing allow the robots to do delicate and precise sanding and spraying, which was largely impossible even five years ago. For example, GrayMatter customer Performance Composites uses the robot to sand fiberglass hulls for use in the transportation, telecoms, energy, industrial, and medical fields. Another customer, Northrop Grumman, will soon begin using the robots to finish aircraft parts.

In the US, more than 1.5 million workers perform surface-finishing tasks in the manufacturing sector. But manufacturers face a growing labor shortage in this area, with turnover as high as 75%. Few people want to do this ergonomically challenging, dusty, and repetitive job. GrayMatter’s robots can help combat this labor shortage. The company adds their proprietary AI software to widely available robotic arms, sensors, and cameras and provides a touch-screen interface so its “robotic assistants” can be used by shop-floor operators with no training in robotics or programming. 

GrayMatter co-founders Ariyan Kabir (CEO) and Brual Shah (CTO) are PhD roboticists who met while doing PhD research into AI and robotics under Professor Satyandra Gupta at the University of Southern California. Ariyan and Brual came up with the idea for GrayMatter while working in the lab on projects for Lockheed Martin, Yaskawa, and Boeing. GrayMatter’s first commercial product is Scan & Sand, which automates sanding on composite and other materials. Surface finishing in the composites space is a $2 billion annual market in the US and includes parts like helicopter blades, specialty vehicle cowling, and large shell-shaped structures for light rail.

Ariyan and Brual not only have the technology chops to build one of the most intelligent and functional robots we’ve seen, but a true vision for helping US manufacturers get back on their feet after the pandemic. With Scan & Sand, manufacturers can fulfill orders faster while carrying less work-in-progress inventory, which eliminates operational bottlenecks and generates more revenue. They can empower the shop-floor workers they already have to do surface-finishing tasks more safely and efficiently, dramatically reducing turnover. GrayMatter’s ultimate goal is to improve the health and wellbeing of workers and help North American manufacturers bring back business that has been outsourced to other countries for decades, boosting employment and economic growth. At Calibrate, we invest in exemplary entrepreneurs who can see into the future. We can’t wait to work closely with Ariyan and Brual as they execute on their vision to make the world a better place through technology.