In a world of rapid change, artificial intelligence (AI) currently fuels most of this growth so it is no surprise that the next wave of great startups is based in AI solutions. With events like Covid-19, there is increased focus on solutions that tap into the extraordinary capabilities from AI. Something else unique is also happening. Generation Z (Gen Z) and the young millennial entrepreneurs are leading the way.
Where are these innovators starting? One area where they are tapping into is a field everyone has had high hopes over the past few decades: robotics. The robotics industry has always dreamed of robots becoming more than autonomous machines to tackle hard or tedious tasks. Consider, the cognition required in activities relating to warehouse packaging or agriculture There are some mundane things that can be done by a robot with a little intelligence. Healthcare, manufacturing, and retail face similar challenges. With the advent of AI powered robots, the Gen Z and young millennial entrepreneurs are launching startups to complete these increasingly complex physical tasks.
One such startup is Farmwise. With the onset of Covid-19, the critical importance of food and its supply chain (and the risk of having workers physically present to complete the needed tasks) is a solid opportunity for some robot help. With startups such as Farmwise, seasonal forecasting models can boost production, and robots automate much of the farming previously done by tractors. Founded in 2016, these new entrepreneurs were a group of machine learning experts from MIT, Stanford, and Columbia. They created robots that can weed a field of crops large enough to feed 400,000 people per robot. Thomas Palomares, the CTO, describes the challenge of attacking agriculture with AI as “combining multiple domains of expertise such as machine learning, robotics, and mechanical engineering.” Farmwise leverages machine learning when a robot searches for the center of each crop, a prerequisite for high-precision weeding. Through this identification, the robots can more efficiently remove weeds which, in turn, improves crop yields and reduced the need for chemical pesticides. It is a double win.
Beyond a specific task (like pulling weeds), other AI robot startups tackle an even more general problem: how to create a general AI platform that can benefit multiple use cases in virtually any industry? Covariant, an AI startup co-founded in 2017 by AI researchers at UC Berkeley, enables robots to see and reason as independent beings. This allows the robots to adapt to any customer environment across multiple industries requiring automation of physical logistics. The Covariant team trains its robots with general, human abilities, such as 3D perception and physical object manipulation. Overall, it can handle over 10,000 different items with 99 percent accuracy and pick up these objects, even if it has never seen before. Covariant’s market strategy is to expand into industries where robot automation can offload logistic challenges such as inventory management and order fulfillment in spaces such as food, healthcare, manufacturing, and retail.
Turning to the planet, the benefit of reducing carbon pollution is a key component in the fight against climate change. One of the most effective tools discovered so far is renewable energy. Gen Z and young millennial entrepreneurs are turning to AI for assistance in improving energy efficiency, accessibility, and integration into the central energy grid. However, renewable energy is not without it is challenges. Perhaps the most prominent issue is the unpredictability of the weather. Wind and solar are the fasted growing sources of renewable energy, and both rely heavily on the weather for power generation. Although there are technological advancements to predict weather forecasting, there are still unpredictable changes in climate that can impact the flow of energy. As the demand for renewable energy continues to grow, many young entrepreneurs have focused on leveraging AI to overcome these issues and improve renewable energy productivity.
Started in Oakland, Powerscout has focused their efforts for accelerating the adoption of solar power for home usage. Helping to reduce costs with consumer acquisition. Powerscout uses its solar calculator to function as a Facebook Messenger chatbot to calculate solar savings estimates for its consumers. Their AI-based chatbot helps potential customers determine if installing solar panels is beneficial for their home. It also collects data (from several sources) to estimate associated installation costs of installation and the anticipated expected savings from its usage. This data not only aids the company in optimizing their existing services but also allows them to expand into new consumer markets.
Millennial and Generation Z entrepreneurs are also making their impact on the “holy grail” of AI: the digital assistant who can help us with anything. Over the years, many digital assistant applications, like Siri and Alexa, have been useful for small tasks for like getting weather information, driving directions, event reminders, or help switching off the lights. Having been the original digital assistant, Apple’s Siri is renowned for its machine learning system, which runs on algorithms to recognize and execute users’ requests. Other virtual assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant, have expanded to address more external capabilities, such integration with smart home technology to activate lights, air conditioning, or other electronically enabled devices on demand.
Building upon this foundation of virtual assistants, many young entrepreneurs are taking innovation to the next level by leveraging AI to handle more complex tasks. One new startup, Wing AI, has utilized a hybrid of AI and human operation (a combination not often unseen in digital assistants) that can carry out any requests for its user, such as running errands, planning a three-day vacation, or ordering food. Started by recent college graduates, these entrepreneurs realized that mundane concierge were a ripe opportunity but involved a lot of complexity and variability. To handle this challenge, Wing uses AI to process a user request and employs human augmentation to recognize nuances and patterns within a request that a pure AI-based solution may not be able to identify. By combining AI and human operations, these entrepreneurs have been able to handle much more variable and complicated requests.
Many Gen Z and young millennial entrepreneurs have unlocked new potential and innovative startups using AI. Their fresh perspective plus passion-driven goals, like social good, given them an incredible well of opportunities with AI. These young entrepreneurs are the next wave of innovation and disruption as they pioneer the growth of AI powered solutions.