Brad Kriel is bringing high-tech gadgetry to a hands-on industry.
The 37 year old is founder and CEO of Velocity Robotics, a North Side-based startup company that makes “smart tools” to eliminate human error in construction and fill gaps in the skilled labor shortage.
Last week, his innovations earned Kriel’s company first place in AlphaLab Gear’s Hardware Cup competition at Google’s offices at Bakery Square. Velocity came up short in the contest two years ago, but wowed the AlphaLab judges this year with their productivity aids.
“We had some strong competition,” says Kriel, who went up against five other startups, including two based in the Pittsburgh region (EXG Wearable Devices and Spand-Ice). “We were certainly not the furthest along, and there were some other very strong pitches.”
Among Velocity Robotics’ smart tool creations: AutoSet, a miter saw attachment, that uses Bluetooth tech to record accurate measurements in a smartphone app and sends those exact measurements to a saw to help make precise cuts. That accuracy can allow construction to move faster and prevents the cost and waste that come from materials being cut imperfectly, solving two major pain points for contractors.
“There is a clear problem being solved in a large, mostly untapped market,” Kriel says. “We have put together a solid team to solve the problem, and have built a solution based on solid market feedback.”
With $3,000 in prize money in his pocket, Kriel will move on to the international finals. If he wins at that competition here in Pittsburgh in April, victory comes with a $50,000 convertible-debt investment from Startbot VC. The second and third prize winners in the international finals will also receive cash prizes.
How were Kriel’s “smart tools” created?
“I just started interviewing contractors and asking where their pain points and bottlenecks were,” Kriel says. “I learned that, one, there is a huge skilled labor shortage in the industry. And two, that shortage manifests itself in simple workflow tasks like measuring and cutting with a miter saw.”
These tasks can be error-prone even for experienced craftsmen. And “for the unskilled laborers that generally find their way onto construction sites today, errors multiply,” Kriel says, “which cuts into profitability as productivity suffers.”
Although he completely remodeled his own 1930s-era home, Kriel considers himself more of a tech guy than a construction pro. So while the average homeowner tackling a DIY project can benefit from the technology, Velocity’s initial target market is professional residential remodelers. Looking ahead, the products may also see demand from developers of pre-fabricated buildings and in larger commercial construction.
“We’re building an entire suite of productivity-enhancing, tech-based products for the construction industry, not just here in the U.S., but internationally as well,” Kriel says. “We have lots of ideas for various mobile apps, power tool accessories, and robotics-based products. The market will tell which ideas get implemented.”