Explore the full 2022 list of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies, 528 organizations whose efforts are reshaping their businesses, industries, and the broader culture. Fast Company selected the firms making the biggest impact with their initiatives across 52 categories, including the most innovative AI, design, and AR/VR companies. Seegrid was named the #4 most innovative robotics company in the world.
Perhaps 2021 will be seen as a tipping point, the year we suddenly noticed that the robots were everywhere. In the factory, of course, the use of industrial robots around the world is rapidly accelerating, with average global robot density in manufacturing hitting 126 robots per 10,000 employees, nearly double the number from just five years ago, according to the 2021 World Robot Report.
The auto industry is the biggest employer of robots by far, accounting for 42% of all installed units in 2021; there were nearly 1,300 robots for every 10,000 human employees in the car sector. Industrial robots are becoming more versatile, too: This year’s most innovative robotics companies include autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), such as Denmark’s Mobile Industrial Robots, and Pittsburgh-based Seegrid, that use sensors and software to navigate safely through dynamic work environments, as well as collaborative “cobots”—the fastest-growing market segment—designed to work alongside humans and learn new tasks quickly. San Francisco-based Nimble uses AI and “imitation learning” to teach warehouse robots how to pick and pack products like cosmetics, apparel, and consumer electronics (once considered too delicate for robot handling) for U.S. customers including Best Buy, Victoria’s Secret, and Puma.
With more businesses joining the rush to automate, companies that help make the design and deployment of robotic systems quicker and easier, such as SVT Robotics, are helping cut implementation times from months to weeks or days. This year’s list also illustrates advances in robotics outside the factory or warehouse: DroneDeploy makes software that enables drones to fly autonomous inspection and mapping missions of construction sites, energy infrastructure, and agricultural fields, while companies like Nuro and Coco are ramping up their robot delivery services for commercial customers in California and Texas. The FDA has approved a new generation of robotic assistants, such as those from Zimmer Biomet and Memic Innovative Surgery, to help surgeons perform less-invasive procedures more precisely. And working with the U.S. military, CRG Automation is using robotic systems to make the world safer, rapidly dismantling outdated stockpiles of chemical warheads.