Toggle: Advanced Robotics for the Construction Industry
Starting with rebar for reinforced concrete, the company aspires to reinvent the way we build our world
Infrastructure demands are rising, and the outdated construction industry can’t keep up. Alumni Ventures portfolio company Toggle Robotics addresses this gap by delivering affordable, advanced robotics and automation solutions.
From parking lots to dams, skyscrapers to culverts, concrete has long been the construction material of choice because it’s strong, durable, and relatively cheap and simple to make. Cement production worldwide totaled an estimated 4.1 billion tons in 2022, making it the most consumed material in the world besides water.
Where there is concrete, there’s rebar. Short for “reinforcing bar,” rebar is a metal bar that helps increase concrete’s tensile strength. The global steel rebar market size was valued at $270 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $427 billion by 2032. Yet rebar continues to be shaped, tied, and welded on site using manual labor — a time-consuming, costly process that can pose safety risks to workers.
Toggle’s robotic automation solution — which includes a design system and rebar pre-assembly software — offers a quicker (90% time savings), cheaper (75% cost savings), and safer solution for a growing industry.
Those qualities were on display in recent work at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for a top construction firm, Miller Bros. Toggle’s robotic prefabrication process eliminated the need to have workers do the hazardous and time-consuming labor of tying and welding rebar cages at excavation sites threatened by flooding from a nearby river.
Impressed by the job, Miller Bros. brought Toggle back for a second Navy Yard project: constructing duct bank reinforcements, installing 50 manhole slabs, and pouring the foundations for aerial structures. Toggle’s prompt delivery of the assemblies saved an estimated 500 hours on manhole slabs alone, allowing labor to be better allocated to other tasks.
“Toggle’s process saved us about a week for each concrete foundation. … When you consider everything else that’s involved, the total savings are probably 10 times the labor cost,” said Joe Marrone, Miller Bros.’ VP of Construction.
Inspiration From a Wind Turbine
Toggle Co-Founder and CEO Daniel Blank said the inspiration to combine rebar and robotics came from observing the construction of a wind turbine while working with an energy company that built power plants.
“That was really where I first got to see this process of what building with rebar and concrete entails, and how labor-intensive this work is. … It was a classic, ‘There’s got to be a better way to do this’ type of moment,” Blank told ShapeDriver in a recent interview.
Toggle got a big break in its early days when it was accepted into the highly selective URBAN-X accelerator program for startups. As part of its participation, Toggle received $100K in funding to support finding the ideal product-market fit for Toggle, which has since led to its impressive growth.
While rebar remains its focus for now, Toggle will pursue its broader mission of “transforming the way cities and infrastructure are built, through the introduction of digital construction tools and jobs that enable safety and speed at a scale never before possible,” according to the company.
Still, while Blank encourages fellow startup founders to think big, he advises they first solve “a handful of problems, rather than having hundreds of problems at the same time. … Toggle is built on enhancing efficiency, and we feel that is the way forward for us.”
What We Liked About Toggle
Massive Market OpportunityThe $270 billion global rebar market, with manual labor costs exceeding $100 billion, is projected to grow at a 4.9% CAGR. Increased government infrastructure investment and construction labor shortages present further growth opportunities. The underserved construction automation and digitization sector also offers significant potential for rebar cage assembly automation.
Established Strategic InvestorsToggle is backed by sector experts, blue chip customers, and industry insiders, including construction tech VC Blackhorn and robotics-as-a-service-focused Grep VC.
Strong Traction & PipelineAll existing customers have placed repeat orders, indicating strong customer retention.
How We Are Involved
Joining Alumni Ventures in the round was a very engaged investor set that has also taken formal advisor and board roles to help Toggle grow. Those participants included: Tribeca Venture Partners, Point72 Ventures, Blackhorn Ventures, and Grep VC.
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