Acquisitions / AI / Business

What RoadBotics’ acquisition by Michelin means for the homegrown AI company

Vroom: Cofounder Benjamin Schmidt said he's looking forward to reaching an expanded customer base, faster.

RoadBotics' Benjamin Schmidt in 2017. (Photo by Tyler Woods)
Update: Additional comment about RoadBotics plans to remain in Pittsburgh have been added. (9/9/22, 5:25 p.m.)

Since 2016, Pittsburgh-based RoadBotics artificial intelligence technology has mapped the condition of infrastructure for 250 governments across the world. Still, the Carnegie Mellon University spinout wants to go bigger.

Thanks to its recent acquisition by Michelin, the French tire manufacturing giant, the company can look forward to reaching more customers, faster.

“The exciting part for RoadBotics is that moving into this much larger organization should really transform the way that we can get what we do in front of more people,” cofounder Benjamin Schmidt, Ph.D., told Schmidt was previously RoadBotics’ CEO, but his title was changed to global CTO at the time of the acquisition.

As a teen, when the New York native’s father worked in local government, Schmidt’s summers were spent doing maintenance management activities for the public works department. He learned firsthand how time consuming collecting infrastructure data could be.

This will definitely put a more professional stamp on what we can do.

RoadBotics focuses on assisting local governments with managing their roads and other infrastructure more efficiently. With the company’s technology, the previous method of mapping roads with a pencil and paper is replaced with an AI-driven process that uses data collected by smartphone cameras, GoPros, drones and the like to determine which roads need maintenance.

“Anyone that’s used our system is not going to go back to the old way of doing it. They’re not going to jump back into truck, driver and paper,” Schmidt said. “It’s really sort of changed the dynamic of how they operate.”

Currently, Michelin DDi (or “Driving Data to Intelligence”), an initiative focused on preventative road safety, offers insight on driving behavior. By acquiring RoadBotics, Michelin gains the startup’s computer vision expertise which can join the company’s own work in driving behavior data analysis.

What RoadBotics gets out of the deal (for which financial details were not disclosed) is the international company’s resources and guidance. With Michelin’s financial support, Schmidt said, the Pittsburgh company will be able to reach more people and provide services in a more timely manner. The hope is that Michelin’s positive reputation in the business world will also add to RoadBotics’s legitimacy and send the message to governments that it’s a company that can be trusted.

“They [Michelin] provide really good products,” Schmidt said. “They provide them in a timely fashion. They have things that can move us away from our startup underpinning. … We’ve been a startup in that kind of a smaller mode for a while, and this will definitely put a more professional stamp on what we can do.”

The service Michelin DDi and RoadBotics are collaborating on will initially be available in North America before being rolled out in Europe. RoadBotics’ 26 employees will join Michelin’s Mobility Intelligence Business arm, a spokesperson said at the time of the acquisition.

Will the company stay local, despite the new international cred? For now, that’s the plan:

“RoadBotics by Michelin is a Pittsburgh-founded company. We started here, we grew up here, and we are proud to be a part of this expanding community. At this time, we have no plans to relocate the business elsewhere else. We value the ability to impact our region directly and stay connected to our academic roots at Carnegie Mellon. Pittsburgh is and will continue to be our home. Our goal is always to push the boundaries of technology and customer service. If that means that we need to expand at some point, then of course we will do what is necessary to continue providing the very best products to our customers. While we certainly support the Pittsburgh hiring market as much as possible, it is the goal of RoadBotics by Michelin to employ the very best in their field to continue the innovative approach we are known for today.”

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Heinz Endowments.
Companies: Roadbotics

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