New Alphabet company aims to make industrial robots easier to use

July 26, 2021 // By Rich Pell
New Alphabet company aims to make industrial robots easier to use
Alphabet, the parent company of Google, has unveiled a new "moonshot" project to develop software and AI tools for robotics that could be used in a wide range of industries.

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

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