The robot revolution is heating up, but many of the robots are still pretty rudimentary—and expensive. An Israeli startup called RoboTiCan is working to bring down the cost to get robots into more companies so that they can start experimenting. Run by recent graduates of Ben-Gurion University, the startup is located not far from its alma mater and is using the Robot Operating System (ROS) to bring down cost and speed up time-to-market.
We got a demo from RoboTiCan CEO Halgai Balshai and CFO Ofir Bustan. Afterwards, we did interview with Balshai for TechRepublic users.
You can watch the video interview above or read the transcript below.
Balshai told TechRepublic, "RoboTiCan's goal and mission is basically to take the advantages of using an autonomous robotics platform that we can see here. The idea and the mission is to be able to put it out in the factories or even out in the home environment, and that the robot will be able to assist and help in whatever tasks for the human operators.
"This is basically the goal and one of our main missions today is to be able to make those systems high tech. But again, today they are not ... able to do the mission autonomously enough. So the short range goal basically, is to make those systems more applicable and more reliable."
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Balshai continued, "We have several [use] cases. The Komodo will go out for agricultural use and an outdoor environment for being able to do autonomous tasks. The ARMadillo here is more for the industry as a personal assistant robotics and also for the home as elderly care or something more in the home environment as assistive robotics. So these are two examples of systems that we are developing and advancing the abilities and algorithms for these use cases.
"There is big hype today about robotics... We do notice it because in the early days when we began the company, there [were people saying] 'Robotics, what? Robotics, where?' So today we do appreciate the hype about robotics and the understanding of what is a robotic platform... We do see a lot of companies, big industrial companies that approach us... There are a lot of productive companies that manufacture all kinds of technology and computers and stuff like that. They see that in the production line, they need assistive robotics... It's not replacing, but making better use of the personnel in the plant, and by that using autonomous robotics to help them do certain tests. And then, the technicians and the personnel will be able to advance to a more problematic task that they do every day, but don't have enough time for.
"Every week, companies call us and want to use robots for this or that application. They have all kinds of use cases. They need to bring something from the warehouse, for example, to the stations. They need to take something that was out of one machine to another station to continue the production line and they don't want to use some kind of human labor to just pass the thing between the stations. So they do appreciate and want to try to investigate the ability of working with autonomous assistive robotics."
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He added, "This is the stuff and as I mentioned, for example, for the Komodo, be able to advance for a more agricultural tasks like precision agriculture. For a farmer, for example, to know what is the stage of the crops. Each day, something that is really effective and cost effective for him instead of going and trying to assess by himself. There is the system, the algorithms, that assess what is the stage of the crops, but without taking and extracting the real time data out of the field, you can not do nothing with it.
"Using a robotic autonomous platform for that is something that will advance the already existing algorithms and all kind of apps for phones and stuff like that with real data that will go into it—to give it higher performance for all the systems. This is the stuff that we see and it's coming every day, every week. We get a new task that takes these ideas and change them a little bit, and we see that there is another application.
"ROS is the Robot Operating System, which was developed back in the US in the middle of 2006-2007. It is not yet a standard in robotic engineering, but it's becoming one. It's just widely spread. Most of the universities around the world use it. As the name [suggests], it's a robotic open source system. Basically, that gives it a lot of power because robots, as we mentioned, are a complex system."
Balshai said, "We have moving, navigation, a manipulation of an arm, computer vision. Everything combined in one platform. Basically to be able to master all this knowledge and be able to find the algorithm for making it work is really complex. With ROS, it gives us a lot of opportunity to combine algorithms from one point to another. For example, if something was developed in a Carnegie Mellon University in the United States and we want to use this particular system, image work, or cognition of an object that was developed in Carnegie Mellon, we can extract this information and extract these ideas and implement it in our robot real easily.
"By that, we don't need to have a really huge company to be able to do a lot of different tasks with one robot. This is basically the idea and the advantage of using ROS and open source architects for how we use robotics. By doing something that is generic for everybody, you can use it all over the globe. Of course, there is stuff that we extract to others. There is stuff that stays as our own IP and we don't [share] to the web, but it depends. Again, with this ability we can use a lot of simulations to develop new algorithms and new abilities. For example, if a company comes to us and wants to investigate if it's applicable to use the robot, we can show it for the first time, the simulation of using the robot. After that, [we can] actually do it, which minimizes the time that we can show that something is working and minimize the time that it's actually working in the factory or whatever. This is again, stuff that ROS has been able to give us.
"If we need less people to work on the algorithms and we can use the ideas and algorithm from other places, basically the robot will cost a little bit less. We need less time to develop it. Less time, less employees working on the robot means, the robot itself will be more affordable for the client, for our customers. We see it every day because a lot of companies come to us because we are using ROS and they know the benefits of using ROS for them. By using ROS, our systems are a little bit more price effective."
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Jason Hiner has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
Jason Hiner is Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He's co-author of the book, Follow the Geeks.