There’s no rest for robotics startups, even when you continue to win awards for your work, concepts, and product offerings. Southie Autonomy, winner of the 2018 RoboBusiness Pitchfire event, has been working nonstop on perfecting its “no-code” robot interface system.
The company’s software helps companies with high-mix automation scenarios to lower setup times during changeover by letting any industrial robot to be re-purposed and re-deployed by any person, regardless of their robotics expertise or computer skills. It does this through an augmented reality interface where an operator can show the robot what to do, and the robot then programs itself through artificial intelligence.
In addition to Pitchfire, the company has won other robotics challenges and events, including the HubWeek 2018 audience prize, Mass Innovation Nights #114 at MathWorks, and the Verizon 5G Robotics Challenge. As part of the 5G challenge, Southie collaborated with other robotics companies, including Waypoint Robotics, to create a demonstration where its software could be used on a robot arm stationed on a mobile platform.
Robotics Business Review caught up with Southie Autonomy CEO Rahul Chipalkatty at a recent Verizon 5G event to discuss the progress of the company and how Pitchfire has affected them.
“We got a lot of attention from [winning Pitchfire] last year,” said Chipalkatty. “And it was a good proof point, that we’re actually solving a problem that a lot of folks are feeling that they need. What that attention got us was more access to customer and investor types.”
He said the company is currently working with three customers in pilot programs, making sure that the software integrates with the customers’ applications and processes. In addition, the company said it plans to hire some additional employees over the next few months, and do some additional fundraising.
The company continues to improve its software, with the goal of making the entire process easier for operators to get the robots to learn to do the new operation. “We’re working on some auto-calibration techniques so a customer can really set up the system super easily,” said Chipalkatty. “We want setup to be 10 minutes or less, and hopefully we can get to that point.”
He added that he’s received interest from companies in the consumer packaged goods and automotive space, especially by companies where there is a lot of high-frequency changeover with robots, requiring faster training and re-deployment. “Right now they have to rely on manual [processors], because they can’t change over a robot fast enough, where we enable that.”
The 5G challenge appealed to Southie because the company would like to have its system be a mobile component for customers, able to move around to different parts of a factory to enable re-deployment.
“The integration exercise and expertise required to do that right now is extremely large,” said Chipalkatty. “So with our software, we could offload a lot of that. That comes with size and weight and power constraints, and 5G is a way where we can offload a lot of the computation that needs to happen.”
5G technology, with its higher speed network capabilities, allows the computation to happen off-board, and its low latency also improves the system, he added.
“We have multiple control loops going on, with a robot, sensor, and controllers. But there’s also a person understanding what the robot understands, so that’s another controller,” he said. “That all has to be very, very low latency, or it all falls apart without it. So this 5G challenge let us address both of those things.”
For winning the 2018 Pitchfire event, Chipalkatty earned the right to become a judge for the 2019 Pitchfire event, which is now accepting applicants. When asked whether he would be a tough judge or an easy judge, he said, “Yeah, I’m going to be super-hard on them,” before laughing. “I’m just kidding. I’ll understand what they’ve gone through, so I’ll be easy on them.”