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Venture Capital Startups

How Robotics Maker Rethink Crashed and Burned

A few years ago, Rethink Robotics was hailed as a revolutionary company that would change the course of industrial robots. Featured on the cover of Time magazine in 2015, the company raised $150 million in financing from backers such as Jeff Bezos and Goldman Sachs at a valuation that reached $291 million.

Its relatively low-cost machines were designed to work closely with people, unlike heavy industrial robots, opening the market to small businesses. Mr. Bezos once used the robots to serve drinks at an Amazon event he organized to showcase robotics, according to a former Rethink employee.

Rethink’s abrupt closure early last month demonstrates how technologically challenging the robotics business is. Rethink robots were plagued with defects. Two years ago, for example, half the robots shipped had problems.

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“Rethink Robotics was a visionary company at a time when there was almost no investment in robotics in the U.S.”