Published by Innovaspain (13 June 2024)

Industrial plants are unique environments where safety and the monitoring of multiple parameters demand significant technical and human efforts. The startup Keybotic was established to revolutionise robotics in sectors such as the chemical industry, mining, energy companies, and critical infrastructure, where such solutions were long overdue.

As Irene Gómez, CEO and co-founder of the company, explains to Innovaspain, it all began with a reflection. “It was the year 2019, and it was clear that the industry had a problem. Robotics had already made inroads into warehouses and other areas designed for such integration. In industrial plants, spread over multiple levels, things were not as straightforward; robots needed to have legs and be autonomous, without requiring constant operation by someone.”

With a touch of boldness, they entered the DARPA Robotics Challenge, a competition promoted by the United States government, where leading universities in robotics from around the world participate. “No one expected it, but we won. There are still some who find it hard to believe.” Their proposal was considered the most advanced in terms of autonomy and fleet capability. That first million dollars gave them the boost to develop Keyper, the name of their autonomous robot dog. Its four legs allow it to access all areas of the plants, including those that pose risks to people, and report in real-time when it detects an issue.

Rapid Growth

Since the milestone of winning the prize in the US, things have moved quickly. In 2022, they launched the first Keyper, and in 2023 they conducted trials with customers. “This year we are delivering the first robots, which are already working in industrial plants.” Irene Gómez highlights a statistic that helps to understand the company’s growth: 76% of Keybotic’s budget is allocated to R&D. “We handle all the development of the robot, which is one of our key differentiators. We design the electronics, mechanics, and software… Legged robotics is the most complex in the world,” she explains. Keyper can climb and descend stairs and slopes, crawl in confined spaces, and maintain balance on uneven terrain, such as gravel.

Gómez emphasises that Keyper is not just any robot in terms of navigation, locomotion, design, and perception. “Very few companies in the world do something like this. We provide solutions. We don’t just make a robot for the sake of it, but to help the customer with one or several needs in industrial plants, where there are risks of toxicity, flammable, corrosive substances and gases… The robot dog can also report many other things, such as if a worker is not wearing the required safety helmet.”

The entrepreneur assures that Keybotic is in a good phase. “It’s all thanks to a team of super experts and number ones in their respective fields.” For now, they only sell in Spain, but they are closing partnership agreements to expand internationally. “Industrial robotics and robotics as a service, in general, will continue to grow.” The company continues to invest in innovation to stay at the forefront. “Artificial intelligence helps us be more agile in processes. In terms of the robot, AI allows it to learn to walk by itself. Otherwise, someone would have to code every movement… now it learns through simulation.”

Gender Gap and Support from ENISA

Irene Gómez is committed to reducing the gender gap in STEM fields, especially in terms of investment inequality. “There are enormous differences between companies founded by women, which receive much less support, and those with male leadership. Paradoxically, startups created by women have a higher success rate.” The CEO of Keybotic is part of Female Startup Leaders, from where she collaborates to encourage more women to join the ranks of innovation and technology. “It is in these sectors where we will create value as a country. That is the future, and it is where we must all focus our efforts to grow.”

The company has received support from ENISA, especially in the early stages. “When we needed a plan B and a plan C, ENISA provided the confidence we needed to negotiate with other investors. The loan they granted us came at the perfect time.” More recently, Keybotic has been certified as an Emerging Company, a process also managed by the National Innovation Company within its competencies derived from the Startups Law. Irene Gómez highlights the speed with which they completed the certification, just 30 minutes. “It benefits us greatly at a fiscal and legal level. To apply for certain grants, having the startup certified is an advantage in demonstrating that we are an emerging and technological company. It saves us a lot of bureaucratic effort.”