New Alphabet company aims to make industrial robots easier to use

Market news |
By Rich Pell

The new company, called Intrinsic, has been developing software and AI tools that use sensor data from a robot’s environment so that it can sense, learn from, and quickly adapt to the real world. Its goal, says the company, is aimed at “unlocking the creative and economic potential of industrial robotics” for millions more businesses, entrepreneurs, and developers.

“We’re developing software tools designed to make industrial robots (which are used to make everything from solar panels to cars) easier to use, less costly and more flexible, so that more people can use them to make new products, businesses and services,” says Intrinsic CEO Wendy Tan-White.

By unlocking access to these productivity tools, the company says it hopes to support a shift toward a more sustainable and equitable way of making things. Currently just 10 countries manufacture 70% of the world’s goods, which means most things are made far away from their end consumers.

This drives global transport emissions, and many countries and businesses miss out on economic opportunities. Even countries with strong manufacturing sectors need help meeting demand: the US manufacturing industry alone is expected to have 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, according to some forecasts.

The manual and bespoke process of teaching robots how to do things hasn’t changed much over the last few decades and is currently a cap on their potential to help more businesses, says the company. Specialist programmers can spend hundreds of hours hard coding robots to perform specific jobs, like welding two pieces of metal, or gluing together an electronics case. And many dexterous and delicate tasks, like inserting plugs or moving cords, remain unfeasible for robots because they lack the sensors or software needed to understand their physical surroundings.

“Over the last few years,” says Tan-White, “our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications. Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

For example, says the company, its researchers trained a robot in two hours to complete a USB connection task that would take hundreds of hours to program. In other tests, company researchers orchestrated multiple robot arms to assemble an architectural installation and a simple piece of furniture.

“None of this is realistic or affordable to automate today – and there are millions of other examples like this in businesses around the world,” says Tan-White. “This all hints at the potential for Intrinsic’s software to radically reduce the time, cost, and complexity required to use industrial robots – and therefore their long-term potential to help with a much wider range of problems and drive up the diversity of goods that can be produced affordably and sustainably.”

After five and a half years developing its technology at X, the company says it’s now ready to become an independent Alphabet company, leaving the moonshot factory’s rapid prototyping environment to focus on developing its product and validating its technology. The company is currently looking for partners in the automotive, electronics, and health care industries who are already using industrial robotics and want to learn together.

X Development LLC

Related articles:
Universal AI OS brings intelligence to collaborative robots
Robotics software startup wants to make factories smarter
Alphabet X unveils renewable energy storage ‘moonshot’
Programmable robotics ‘for the masses’ on Kickstarter


Linked Articles