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From Russia, With Robotics

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Dmitry Grishin
Dmitry Grishin, CEO of Mail.ru, wants0xA0to invest in companies that can sell robots for less than $2,000. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Dmitry Grishin knows a lot about the virtual world, serving as CEO of Mail.ru , a Russian social networking and games website worth more than $6 billion. But when the 34-year-old decided to start his own company on the side, he opted instead for something far more physical -- robots -- stemming from his own childhood passion for playing with construction sets.

Last year, Grishin set aside $25 million to found Grishin Robotics, which invests in companies creating consumer robots.

"While information technologies and the Internet have made a giant leap in the last two decades, there have been no revolutionary breakthroughs in the offline world," Grishin wrote in an e-mail. "Robots may become one of them."

This week, Grishin Robotics invested $500,000 in Swivl , which makes a $199 robotic video device that can be used for online education. Last year, it invested $250,000 in Double Robotics , a developer of $1,999 telepresence robots that look something like unmanned Segways with cameras. And it has plowed $250,000 into RobotAppStore, a website offering software for robots.

Grishin wants to invest in companies producing robots that can sell for less than $2,000 -- anything more expensive is unlikely to gain much traction with consumers, he says.

"Once cheap and powerful smartphones became available to everyone, a boom in mobile applications happened," said Grishin, a graduate of the Faculty of Robotics and Complex Automation at Moscow State Technical University. "The same may be true with robots."

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