A new startup is looking to deploy robotic arms capable of expedient tire changes.
For as long as automobiles have been common on America's roads, servicing has been performed by humans wielding tools. There's nothing wrong with that, but seeing how robotic systems have revolutionized automobile assembly, it's a bit surprising that the same precise, quick-working automatons haven't yet trickled down to automotive service - at least, not in any real numbers.
A new Bay Area-based robotics startup, RoboTire, is looking to change that by introducing robotic arms capable of changing a tire far more quickly and efficiently than any human worker could reasonably manage. The startup was founded in late-2018 by former Spark Robotics CEO Victor Darolfi, after he had an epiphany while waiting for three hours in an America's Tire waiting room.
"I sat at America's Tires for three hours and thought, hey, we use robots to put tires on at the factory," he told TechCrunch. "Why don't we bring robots into the service industry?"
Why, indeed. RoboTire has designed a robotic arm that can change a full set of four tires in just ten minutes, from the time the customer pulls their car into the garage to when they drive off. Darolfi says it typically takes a human 60 minutes to perform the same task, and while some can move faster, no one can sustain that accelerated pace over a full eight-hour workday.
All of that sounds great - assuming you trust a robotic arm around your Shelby GT350R's carbon-fiber wheels.
RoboTire partnered with Mitsubishi's robotics team to produce its design at a cost of about $250,000 per unit, which the startup plans on licensing to service centers soon as part of a pilot program, charging just $5 to $7 per tire change initially. The company estimates that each robot unit it licenses will be able to generate around $10,000 per month; at that rate, a robot would be able to pay itself off in just over two years.
RoboTire hasn't begun regular production of the arms just yet, but it might have the capital to get started soon, after several fruitful seed rounds. The company is looking to make Darolfi's hometown of Detroit, Michigan its manufacturing base.