Kinetic launches robots to repair electric vehicles, with plans for future robot taxi services.

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Amid the rise in demand for electric vehicles in the U.S., the pace of growth in sales for vehicles that emit fewer pollutants has slowed in 2024, partly due to the expensive nature of insurance and repairs for new models packed with advanced technology.

According to a study by J.D. Power in 2024, only 26% of U.S. car buyers were “very likely to consider purchasing” an EV in the coming year, while over 20% stated they were “very unlikely to consider an EV purchase” at all, despite the environmental advantages.

Enter Kinetic Automation, based in Santa Ana, California. The startup aims to reduce the expenses associated with owning and fixing EVs by offering diagnostics and recalibration of the sophisticated systems found in modern vehicles.

Utilizing computer vision and machine-learning software, the company has developed a robotic system capable of swiftly identifying issues with a vehicle’s digital components.

CEO and co-founder of Kinetic, Nikhil Naikal, highlighted that many new models, especially battery electric vehicles, are equipped with various advanced features like touchscreens, infotainment software, cameras, and sensors essential for functions such as rapid charging and driver safety aids like collision avoidance and adaptive cruise control.

While traditional collision repair services can handle physical repairs like bumper replacements or fixing brakes, ensuring all sensors, software, and computers are functioning correctly can be laborious and costly for many repair centers and dealerships.

Kinetic steps in with its robotic systems and technicians to assist these establishments in rectifying the complex, “digital” aspects of their customers’ vehicles.

The startup has established its initial four service centers in Las Vegas, as well as Orange County, and San Bernardino and Riverside counties in California.

To facilitate its expansion, Kinetic secured $21 million in a Series B funding round led by Menlo Ventures, with participation from Allstate Strategic Ventures, Liberty Mutual Strategic Ventures, and early investors Lux Capital, Construct Capital, and Haystack Ventures.

Shawn Carolan, a Partner at Menlo Ventures with previous investments in companies like Uber and Jump Bikes, stated that positive feedback from collision repair companies and auto dealerships that collaborated with Kinetic as trial customers played a pivotal role in their decision to lead the investment.

Before founding Kinetic with his partners, COO Chris Weber and CTO Sander Marques, Naikal held the position of vice president of software engineering at Velodyne, a firm specializing in lidar sensors crucial for robots, drones, and autonomous vehicles.

Weber’s background includes leadership roles at Uber, while Marques is a seasoned tech entrepreneur whose prior venture focused on developing engine control modules for high-performance cars.

Although Kinetic envisions providing its services to fleets of self-driving taxis and other autonomous vehicles in the future, the company’s current focus is on recruitment, technician training, and expanding its service centers nationwide to accommodate a higher volume of automotive repairs, particularly for the increasing number of electric vehicles on U.S. roads.

Thus far, Kinetic has worked predominantly on Ford Mach-E, GM Chevy Bolt, Hyundai Ioniq EVs, and a selection of Tesla models at its existing service centers, as per the CEO.

Industry analyst Canalys predicts that the combined sales of battery and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles will reach 2.2 million units in North America in 2024, representing approximately 12.5% of all new vehicle sales in the region.

“The cost of motor vehicle insurance for EVs, and vehicles in general, has significantly contributed to about a 20% increase in inflation based on the Consumer Price Index over the past year,” noted Naikal. “I’m optimistic that we can help reduce these costs while encouraging more individuals to make the switch to electric vehicles.”

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