As its name suggests, venture firm Pillar VC is focused on building “pillar” companies in Boston and across the Northeast.
The Boston-based seed-stage firm closed a raise of $192 million of capital that was split into two funds, $169 million for Pillar III and $23 million for Pillar Select. More than 25 investors are backing the new fund, including portfolio founders.
Jamie Goldstein, Sarah Hodges and Russ Wilcox are Pillar VC’s three partners, and all three lead investments for Pillar. The trio all have backgrounds as entrepreneurs: Goldstein, who has spent the past two decades in VC, co-founded speech recognition company PureSpeech, which was acquired by Voice Control Systems; Hodges was at online learning company Pluralsight; and Wilcox was CEO of electronic paper company E Ink, which he sold in 2009.
Pillar typically invests in a range of enterprise and consumer startups and aims to target Pillar III at startups focused on biology, enterprise SaaS, AI/ML, crypto, fintech, hardware, manufacturing and logistics. The firm will make pre-seed investments of $50,000 to $500,000 and seed-round investments of $2 million to $6 million.
One of the unique aspects of the firm is that it will buy common stock so that it will be aligned with founders and take on the same risks, Goldstein told TechCrunch.
The firm, founded in 2016, already has 50 portfolio companies from its first two funds — Pillar I, which raised $57 million, and Pillar $100 million. These include cryptocurrency company Circle, which announced a SPAC earlier this month, 3D printing company Desktop Metal that went public, also via SPAC, last year, and PillPack, which was bought by Amazon in 2018.
“Pillar is an experiment, answering the question of ‘what would happen if unicorn CEOs came in and helped bootstrap the next generation’,” Wilcox said. “The experience is working, and Pillar does what VCs ought to do, which is back first-of-its-kind ideas.”
In addition to leading investments, Hodges leads the Pillar VC platform for the firm’s portfolio companies. Many of the portfolio companies are spinouts from universities, and need help turning that technology into a company. Pillar provides guidance to recruit a CEO or partner on the business side, leadership development, recruit talent and makes introductions to potential customers.
Pillar also intends to invest a third of the new fund into that biology category, specifically looking at the convergence of life science and technology, Wilcox said.
In its second fund, the firm started Petri, a pre-seed bio accelerator focused on biotech, and brought in founders using computation and engineering to develop technologies around the areas of agriculture, genetics, cell and gene therapies, medical data and drug discovery. The third fund will continue to support the accelerator through both pre-seed and seed investments.
The first investments from Pillar III are being finalized, but Hodges expects to infuse capital into another 50 companies.
“We are super bullish on Boston,” she added. “So many companies here are growing to be household names, and an exciting energy is coming out.”
As I mentioned at the close of last week’s roundup, the biggest issue in writing this roundup on Wednesday is that sometimes news breaks on Thursday morning. Again, I’m asking the robotics community to try not make any big headlines on Thursdays. That would really help a guy out.
Last week, news broke that Zebra Technologies had purchased Fetch. I’ve written about the latter several times over the past couple years, and spoken to founder Melonee Wise a number of times, as well. Ultimately, it’s not much of a surprise Fetch went the acquisition route. If I were a better man, however, I would have leaned heavily toward an acquisition by some mega-retailer like Walmart or Target.
Image Credits: TechCrunch
Everyone is looking for a competitive advantage against Amazon, including those big names. And, of course, they’ve got the deep pockets to purchase a head start. Ultimately, I think a deal like this is better for the industry, at large, given how Amazon’s acquisitions tend to go. The company loves to buy up startups and keep all of that cool technology to itself. I spoke to Wise about the deal, late last week. Some excerpts:
As we were fundraising for our Series D, this opportunity came out of that. I think when you look at it, over the last couple of years, we’ve had a good relationship with them. With the pandemic, there’s been a huge draw for more and more automation technology. Before the pandemic, there were already labor shortages for warehouse and logistics, and the pandemic only exacerbated it. One of the other great things about us joining Zebra is they have a strong go-to-market engine, and they can amplify our sales capability. They’re already in all of the customers we want to be working with. It helps us reach a much broader, wider and deeper audience.
I think it’s complicated. When I started the company, I never really planned on anything. I just wanted to go build something. I mean that in the most sincere way. I wanted to go build something and not fail. And the question is, what does not failing look like? I think the facts are that in the last 20-something years, almost no robotics company has IPO’ed. Now we’re starting to see SPACS, but there hasn’t been a robotics company that’s IPO’ed through the traditional route.
In terms of vision of how we’re thinking about it, Zebra is very excited to kind of make Fetch the centerpiece of this whole new offering that they’re building out. It’s a high strategic priority for them.
Image Credits: Abundant
On the whole, this week marked a pretty substantial slow down in terms of funding announcements. We did get one big bummer news item, as Abundant Robotics is shutting down. Good Fruit Grower got the following statement from CEO Dan Steere,
After a series of promising commercial trials with prototype apple harvesters, the company was unable to raise enough investment funding to continue development and launch a production system.
We’ve reached out for further comment, but the company’s understandably not champing at the bit to discuss where things went wrong. It’s easier, of course, to celebrate the successes than it is to dissect the failures, the latter happens much more often than we can to admit in this field. Often they arrive early in the process and don’t really warrant a lot of ink.
Abundant’s different. From the outside, the Bay Area company appeared to be on the right track toward becoming a dominant name in robotic fruit harvesting. The company had raised a total of $12 million, including Series A in 2017. Granted, that’s not an insignificant amount of time to go between raises and bringing robotics to production is extraordinarily difficult.
What’s more surprising is that the company couldn’t drum up enough interest to get it across the finish line during the pandemic, when, anecdotally, interest in robotics and automation seems to be heating up. Certainly that applies to farming, which has experienced series labor shortages over the past year. More insight into that soon, I hope.
Sarcos, meanwhile, keeps finding its way into the news cycle. This week, it’s the launch of the teleoperated Guardian XT. The company’s exoskeletons get all the love (thanks in no small part to some high profile partnerships), but company also produces non-body mounted robotics. Per the company,
The SenSuit controller enables the Guardian XT robot to mimic the operator’s movements in real-time. It is an inertial measurement unit (IMU)-based motion tracker that communicates with the robot and leverages Sarcos’ proprietary force feedback technologies. The company also plans to integrate a VR- or AR-based HMD to provide remote visual and situational awareness to the operator. The Guardian XT robot is equipped with 3-degrees of freedom end effectors that enable dexterous control of trade tools and materials, including hand-held power tools, welding and cutting equipment, inspection and test equipment, parts and components, hazardous materials, and retail inventory goods, amongst others.
The system is capable of lifting and moving up to 200 pounds and will hit the market by the end of next year.
Image Credits: Fusion
Meanwhile, robotic surgery company Fusion Robotics announced this week announced plans to merge with Adaptive Geometry, another tech company specializing in spinal surgery technology. The two companies will combine to create the perfectly nondescript Accelus (frankly, Fusion is a pretty good name for two combined companies, but maybe that’s just me).
“Accelus will create opportunities for wide-scale adoption of robotics in spine surgery—both in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs)—by addressing previous constraints related to cost and efficiency,” Accelus Chris Walsh said in a release. “Both Fusion Robotics and Integrity Implants have built enabling technology platforms that create a force multiplier for spinal care. Our products and culture create accessibility to fit each patient’s anatomy, each surgeon’s preferred approach, and each healthcare facility’s space and budget limitations, embodying our core principle of access without compromise.”
That’s a lot of business talk this week, so here’s a fun video of Boston Dynamics doing fun Boston Dynamics stuff, presumably to welcome their new Hyundai overlords:
The other week at TC Sessions: Mobility, I spoke to a trio of executives at top automotive companies about why they’re all so bullish about robotics. There are the obvious implications, of course. Automakers have long employed robotics for manufacturing – they were really ahead of the curve on those concerns about automating job loss. And then there’s the fact that self-driving cars are effectively robots.
Beyond that, however, it’s clear that car companies see robotics as a key investment in their future. What really struck me about the conversation, is how differently the three companies – Hyundai, Ford and Toyota – are approaching the space. If nothing else, it’s a sign that there’s plenty of opportunity here.
We wrote quite a bit about Ford’s ambitions in the category several roundups ago, including an interview with Mario Santillo, who joined us for the recent panel. As evidenced by the company’s recent investment in University of Michigan, Ford’s approach is largely research-based. The company wants to be in on the ground floor both in terms of technology and talent. Though when I pressed Santillo about acquisitions, however, (specifically as it pertains to Digit-maker, Agility), he told me, “that’s always something we’re looking at.” So don’t rule it of, especially as other car companies begin to lockdown big names in the category.
Hyundai, of course, made one of the biggest robotics acquisitions in recent memory, picking up Boston Dynamics after its short stint in the Softbank portfolio (the investment firm remains a shareholder). Of course, that post-Google time has been important for the company, seeing the commercialization of Spot and the upcoming sale of Stretch. Hyundai’s Ernestine Fu shed some more light for us on the deal, which officially closed this week,
With New Horizon Studios, the mandate is reimagining what you can do when you combine robotics with traditional wheeled locomotion, like walking robots and walking vehicles. Obviously the technology that [Boston Dynamics] has put together plays a key role in enabling those sorts of concepts to come to life.
Image Credits: Screenshot/Hyundai
As we discussed, the driving force in the Toyota Research Institute’s interest in the category Japan’s aging population. Eldercare forms the basis of much of what the company does in robotics, including some home robotics research that it showed off this week – specifically how its imaging can handle reflective and transparent surfaces. Both have traditionally been tricky for robotic systems.
As TRI’s Max Bajracharya told me,
[I]n Japan, in 20-30 years, the number of people who are over 65 will roughly be the same as the number of people who are under 65. That’s going to have a really interesting socioeconomic impact, in terms of the workforce. It’s probably going to be much older and we at Toyota are looking at how these people can keep doing their jobs, so they can get the fulfillment from doing their jobs or staying at home longer. We don’t want to just replace the people. We really think about how we stay human-centered and amplify people.
Image Credits: NVIDIA
We’ve been following NVIDIA’s Isaac software for a while now, and the robotic simulation software is available as an open beta. Built on top of Omniverse, the software is designed to test a wide range of different camera and sensor capabilities for robotics. It’s a fascinate project and potentially a big deal for early-stage robotics startups.
Quick follow up to some funding last week from a robots landscaping company, I asked iRobot what’s going on with their Terra mower, which was delayed amid pandemic-related cuts. The company tells me there’s still no clear timeline for the indefinitely delayed robot.
Miso Robotics, meanwhile, continues to build out from Flippy, the hamburger-flipping robot with an automated beverage dispenser. The machine, created with beverage dispenser manufacturer Lancer, fully automates the process, right down to adding the cap on the cup. No clear timeline on the product yet, however, but it’s fun to see some of these companies branch out in a given sector.
Image Credits: Berkshire Grey
A pair of warehouse automation stories worth highlighting here. Berkshire Grey has unveiled a bunch of new fulfillment robots. Per the company,
This new generation of mobile robots offers increased fulfillment throughput at a lower cost point to enable shorter delivery times and support a larger number of SKUs. Unlike fixed conveyor belts and early generation mobile robots, Berkshire Grey’s intelligent fleets harness the power of AI to orchestrate tens to thousands of mobile robots to pick, organize, and deliver items for a wide variety of customer and store orders.
The company will tell you the same thing as every robotics maker: it’s all about helping retailers compete with the behemoth that is Amazon. Fittingly, the ecommerce giant also showed off some new robots this week. Amazon says it’s utilized 350,000 mobile drive units since the company acquired Kiva Systems, which formed the foundation for its Amazon Robotics wing. The post has caused some to wonder whether, in spite of a head start and some massive funding, whether the company is beginning to fall behind a number of aggressive warehouse robotics startups.
Not a ton of funding news this week, but that should change soon. Hot bot summer is nearly upon us. I feel it in the air. Meantime, please enjoy this submersible drone designed to track a wide range of creators in the mesopelagic “twilight” zone. Developed by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mesobot is designed to observe zooplankton, gelatinous animals and more, without disturbing their habitat. Here’s Senior Scientist Dana Yoerger,
We expect that Mesobot will emerge as a vital tool for observing midwater organisms for extended periods, as well as rapidly identifying species observed from vessel biosonars. Because Mesobot can survey, track, and record compelling imagery, we hope to reveal previously unknown behaviors, species interactions, morphological structures, and the use of bioluminescence.
Security compliance is precisely three things: incredibly boring, time consuming, and entirely necessary to run a business in the modern age. Compliance isn’t going away, but startups like Drata are making it slightly easier to bear.
Drata helps companies get their SOC 2 compliance quicker by using automation. SOC 2 is a certification used to show that a company can store customer data in the cloud securely, but the process is notoriously complex and can take months to complete — and you have to do it all over again every year. That’s particularly burdensome for startups and smaller firms.
Drata says it can get companies SOC 2-compliant faster and keep them in compliance for longer by integrating with popular business tools and cloud services to get a better picture of a company’s security posture.
Now with a new round of $25 million at Series A in the bank, Drata said it’s expanding its compliance platform to also include ISO 27001, another core security standard used all over the world to help companies protect their systems and safeguard data.
The round landed six months after its $3.2 million seed round in January, and was led by GGV Capital, with participation from Silicon Valley CISO Investors, Okta Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, Leaders Fund, and SV Angel.
Drata CEO and co-founder Adam Markowitz told TechCrunch that the company is growing on average 100% month-over-month since it launched out of stealth and is serving hundreds of customers, including three-person startups to publicly traded companies.
The startup joins several other companies in the compliance space. Secureframe raised $18 million at Series A in March to offer SOC 2 and ISO 27001 certifications. Strike Graph raised a $3.9 million seed round last year to help companies automate security audits and get FedRamp certification needed to provide technology to the federal government. And, Startup Battlefield participant Osano in 2019 raised $5.4 million at Series A to build out its risk and compliance platform.
Related funding news:
The funding round, said to be the largest Series A investment in cybersecurity history and one of the highest valuations for a bootstrapped company, was led by Insight Partners and General Atlantic, with additional investment from Cyberstarts, Geodesic, SYN Ventures, Vintage, and Artisanal Ventures.
Transmit Security said it has a pre-money valuation of $2.2 billion, and will use the new funds to expand its reach and investing in key global areas to grow the organization.
Ultimately, however, the funding round will help the company to accelerate its mission to help the world go passwordless. Organizations lose millions of dollars every year due to “inherently unsafe” password-based authentication, according to the startup; not only do weak passwords account for more than 80% of all data breaches, but the average help desk labor cost to reset a single password stands at more than $70.
Transmit says its biometric-based authenticator is the first natively passwordless identity and risk management solution, and it has already been adopted by a number of big-name brands including Lowes, Santander, and UBS. The solution, which currently handles more than 9,000 authentication requests per second, can reduce account resets by 96%, the company says, and reduces customer authentication from 1 minute to 2 seconds.
“By eliminating passwords, businesses can immediately reduce churn and cart abandonment and provide superior security for personal data,” said Transmit Security CEO Mickey Boodaei, who co-founded the company in 2014. “Our customers, whether they are in the retail, banking, financial, telecommunications, or automotive sectors, understand that providing an optimized identity experience is a multimillion-dollar challenge. With this latest round of funding from premier partners, we can significantly expand our reach to help rid the world of passwords.”
Transmit Security isn’t the only company that’s on a mission to kill off the password. Microsoft has announced plans to make Windows 10 password-free, and Apple recently previewed Passkeys in iCloud Keychain, a method of passwordless authentication powered by WebAuthn, and Face ID and Touch ID.
Hyundai this morning announced that it has completed its acquisition of Boston Dynamics. The deal, which values the innovative robotics company at $1.1 billion, was announced in late-2020. The companies have not disclosed any future financial details.
The South Korean automotive giant now owns a controlling interest in Boston Dynamics, previously belonging to SoftBank. The Japanese investment company was effectively a transitional owner, purchasing Boston Dynamics from Google, which owned the company for just over three years.
While its time with Softbank wasn’t much longer than its stint under Google/Alphabet X, Boston Dynamics saw the commercialization of its first two products since launching nearly 30 years ago. The company brought its quadrupedal robot Spot to market and this year announced the (still upcoming) launch of Stretch, an updated version of its warehouse robot, Handle.
In a recent appearance at TechCrunch’s Mobility event, Hyundai’s Ernestine Fu discussed the planned acquisition of an 80% controlling interest in the company. Fu noted that Hyundai’s New Horizon Studios has previewed multiple “walking” car concepts that look poised to build on decades of Boston Dynamics research.
“With New Horizon Studios, the mandate is reimagining what you can do when you combine robotics with traditional wheeled locomotion, like walking robots and walking vehicles,” Fu told TechCrunch. “Obviously the technology that [Boston Dynamics] has put together plays a key role in enabling those sorts of concepts to come to life.”
As it has changed hands over the years, Boston Dynamics has long insisted on maintaining its own research wing, which has given us less commercial technology, like the humanoid robot, Atlas. How this will function under the umbrella of Hyundai remains to be seen, though the company does seem to have a vested interest in maintaining a forward-looking approach.
“We and Hyundai share a view of the transformational power of mobility and look forward to working together to accelerate our plans to enable the world with cutting-edge automation, and to continue to solve the world’s hardest robotics challenges for our customers,” Boston Dynamics CEO Rob Playter said when the deal was announced.
Automakers’ interest in robotics is not a new phenomenon, of course: Robots and automation have long played a role in manufacturing and are both clearly central to their push into AVs. But recently, many companies are going even deeper into the field, with plans to be involved in the wide spectrum of categories that robotics touch.
At TC Sessions: Mobility 2021, we spoke to a trio of experts at three major automakers. Max Bajracharya of Toyota Research Institute, Mario Santillo of Ford and Ernestine Fu of Hyundai Motor Group joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to robotics.
Let’s get the simple question out of the way first, shall we? Moving beyond existing investments in manufacturing and autonomous vehicles, why do so many carmakers seem so bullish about companies like Boston Dynamics and Agility Robotics?
Bajracharya: I think all automakers are recognizing that there won’t be the automotive business in the future as it is today. A lot of automakers, Toyota included, are looking for what’s next. Automakers are very well positioned to leverage what they already know about robotics and manufacturing to take on the robotics market. (Timestamp: 1:01)
Concept cars are nothing new in the industry, but even still, Hyundai’s recently announced Ultimate Mobility Vehicle (UMV) was pretty wild, with large, extending legs that help it walk off-road.
Proving that Central and Eastern Europe remains a powerhouse of hardware engineering matched with software, Gideon Brothers (GB), a Zagreb, Croatia-based robotics and AI startup, has raised a $31 million Series A round led by Koch Disruptive Technologies (KDT), the venture and growth arm of Koch Industries Inc., with participation from DB Schenker, Prologis Ventures and Rite-Hite.
The round also includes participation from several of Gideon Brothers’ existing backers: Taavet Hinrikus (co-founder of TransferWise), Pentland Ventures, Peaksjah, HCVC (Hardware Club), Ivan Topčić, Nenad Bakić and Luca Ascani.
The investment will be used to accelerate the development and commercialization of GB’s AI and 3D vision-based “autonomous mobile robots” or “AMRs”. These perform simple tasks such as transporting, picking up and dropping off products in order to free up humans to perform more valuable tasks.
The company will also expand its operations in the EU and U.S. by opening offices in Munich, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively.
Gideon Brothers founders. Image Credits: Gideon Brothers
Gideon Brothers make robots and the accompanying software platform that specializes in horizontal and vertical handling processes for logistics, warehousing, manufacturing and retail businesses. For obvious reasons, the need to roboticize supply chains has exploded during the pandemic.
Matija Kopić, CEO of Gideon Brothers, said: “The pandemic has greatly accelerated the adoption of smart automation, and we are ready to meet the unprecedented market demand. The best way to do it is by marrying our proprietary solutions with the largest, most demanding customers out there. Our strategic partners have real challenges that our robots are already solving, and, with us, they’re seizing the incredible opportunity right now to effect robotic-powered change to some of the world’s most innovative organizations.”
He added: “Partnering with these forward-thinking industry leaders will help us expand our global footprint, but we will always stay true to our Croatian roots. That is our superpower. The Croatian startup scene is growing exponentially and we want to unlock further opportunities for our country to become a robotics & AI powerhouse.”
Annant Patel, director at Koch Disruptive Technologies, said: “With more than 300 Koch operations and production units globally, KDT recognizes the unique capabilities of and potential for Gideon Brothers’ technology to substantially transform how businesses can approach warehouse and manufacturing processes through cutting edge AI and 3D AMR technology.”
Xavier Garijo, member of the Board of Management for Contract Logistics, DB Schenker, added: “Our partnership with Gideon Brothers secures our access to best in class robotics and intelligent material handling solutions to serve our customers in the most efficient way.”
GB’s competitors include Seegrid, Teradyne (MiR), Vecna Robotics, Fetch Robotics, AutoGuide Mobile Robots, Geek+ and Otto Motors.
The events of the past year have only served to accelerate interest in all things robotics and automation. It’s a phenomenon we’ve seen across a broad range of categories, and automotive is certainly no different.
Of course, carmakers are no strangers to the world of robotics. Automation has long played a key role in manufacturing, and more recently, robotics have played another central role in the form of self-driving vehicles. For this panel, however, we’re going to look past those much-discussed categories. Of late, carmakers have been investing heavily to further fuel innovation in the category.
It’s a fascinating space — and one that covers a broad range of cross-sections, from TRI’s (Toyota) Woven City project to Ford’s recent creation of a research facility at U of M to Hyundai’s concept cars and acquisition of Boston Dynamics. At TC Sessions: Mobility on June 9, we will be joined by a trio of experts from these companies for what’s sure to be a lively discussion on the topic.
Max Bajracharya is Vice President of Robotics at Toyota Research Institute. Previously serving as its Director of Robotics, he leads TRI’s work in robotics. He previously served at Alphabet’s X, as part of the Google Robotics team.
Mario Santillo is a Technical Expert at Ford. Previously serving as a Research Engineer for the company, he’s charged with helping lead the company’s efforts at a recently announced $75 million research facility at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The work includes both Ford’s own robotics work, as well as partnerships with startups like Agility.
Ernestine Fu is a director at Hyundai Motor Group. She heads development at the newly announced New Horizons Studio, a group tasked with creating Ultimate Mobility Vehicles (UMVs). She also serves as an adjunct professor at Stanford University, where she received a BS, MS, MBA and PhD.
Get ready to talk robots at TC Sessions: Mobility. Grab your passes right now for $125 and hear from today’s biggest mobility leaders before our prices go up at the door.
Uptycs, a Boston-area startup that uses data to help understand and prevent security attacks, announced a $50 million Series C today, 11 months after announcing a $30 million Series B. Norwest Venture Partners led the round with participation from Sapphire Ventures and ServiceNow Ventures.
Company co-founder and CEO Ganesh Pai says that he was still well capitalized from last year’s investment, and wasn’t actually looking to raise funds, but the investors came looking for him and he saw a way to speed up some aspects of the company’s roadmap.
“It was one of those things where the round came in primarily as a function of execution and success to date, and we decided to capitalize on that because we know the partners and raised the capital so that we could use it meaningfully for a couple of different things, primarily sales and marketing acceleration,” Pai said.
He said that part of the reason for the company’s success over the last year was that the pandemic generated more customer interest as people moved to work from home, the SolarWinds hack happened and companies were moving to the cloud faster. “We provided a solution which was telemetric powered and very insightful when it came to solving their security problems and that’s what led to triple digit growth over the last year,” he said.
But Pai says that the company has not been sitting still in terms of the platform. While last year, he described it primarily as a forensic security data solution, helping customers figure out what happened after a security issue has happened, he says that the company has begun expanding on that vision to include all four main areas of security including being proactive, reactive, predictive and protective.
The company started primarily in being reactive by figuring what happened in the past, but has begun to expand into these other areas over the last year, and the plan is to continue to build out that functionality.
“In the context of SolarWinds, what everyone is trying to figure out is how soon into the supply chain can you figure out what could be potentially wrong by looking at indications of behavior or indications of compromise, and our ability to ingest telemetry from a diverse set of sources, not as a bolt on solution, but something which is built from the ground up, resonated really well,” Pai explained.
The company had 65 employees when we spoke last year for the Series B. Today, Pai says that number is approaching 140 and he is adding new people every week with a goal to get to around 200 people by the end of the year. He says as the company grows, he keeps diversity top of mind.
“As we grow and as we raise capital diversity has been something which has been a high priority and very critical for us,” he said. In fact, he reports that more than 50% of his employees come from under-represented groups whether it’s Latinx, Black or Asian heritage.
Pai says that one of the reasons he has been able to build a diverse workforce is his commitment to a remote workplace, which means he can hire from anywhere, something he will continue to do even after the pandemic ends.