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Why Kickstart Fund invested in Altitude AI

Artificial intelligence (AI) is the tech buzzword of 2023. And for good reason—the technology is transforming how people behave. While most of our attention is directed to AI-generated essays, internet searches and memes, this is only the beginning. Surprising to many, AI’s invisible hand first touched white-collar workflows. Next, I believe, will be blue-collar industrial automation.

Kickstart recently invested in Altitude AI, a robotics software company based in downtown Salt Lake City. Altitude AI focuses on a massive industrial space, food processing, which employs more than six times as many employees as the automotive industry. While conditions in the industry have improved dramatically, processing plants remain relatively untouched by robotic automation. Replicating human hand-eye coordination and dexterity in a robot has proved to be a wickedly difficult problem to solve (cue Moravec’s paradox). 

Altitude AI pairs AI-based computer vision models that take input from various sensing technology such as imaging, video, force, 3D, 2D and lidar to solve complicated processes. This multi-modal approach, combined with existing robotic arm technology, creates a compelling reason to believe this opportunity can be solved in the near term. Today, Altitude AI’s operating system demonstrates its orchestration by slicing precision pieces of pork on a moving line or placing deli meat in its proper packaging. For customers, Altitude AI helps facilities operate more efficiently, solving for acute labor shortages and increasing line profitability.

"While the public attention for AI might be turned to more digital tasks, robotics startups like Altitude AI are poised to transform the industrial industry—one slice of meat at a time."

At Kickstart, our thesis for the last 15 years has been consistent: we bet on gritty founders in the Mountain West who challenge the status quo. Ed Walker, founder and CEO of Altitude AI, has spent the last eight years doing just that in the robotics world at places like Google, Built Robotics and Waymo. Now onto his fourth robotic platform, we believe he’s primed to operate as a first-time founder. Aligned with our belief in Ed’s mission, Kickstart was joined by other great local funds Signal Peak Ventures and Fenton Founders Fund, as well as fantastic coastal funds Lerer Hippeau and Amplify LA.

Like many new Utah residents, Ed moved to Salt Lake from the Bay Area during the pandemic. Ed quickly fell in love with the state and was persuaded to stay due to the “unique combination of a strong local labor pool, ability to attract out-of-state candidates, a business-friendly environment and proximity to Silicon Valley.” Ed is joined by a highly technical team ready to solve meaty robotics problems from local schools like the University of Utah and Brigham Young University. Downtown Salt Lake has also attracted talent from UPenn, Carnegie Mellon, Taiwan University, and McGill.

While the public attention for AI might be turned to more digital tasks, robotics startups like Altitude AI are poised to transform the industrial industry—one slice of meat at a time.

Tanner is an investor at Kickstart Fund, a seed-stage investor focused on the best of the Mountain West. He sits on the board of the Rocky Mountain Venture Capital Association and is actively involved with startups across the region. Prior to Kickstart, Tanner spent time at Nike, Vivint and Goldman Sachs. He studied business strategy at BYU and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. Tanner grew up in Farmington, Utah, and believes this is the decade for the Jazz to bring home an NBA championship.