Autonomous systems are on a roll, from automated guided vehicles in warehouses and self-driving cars to delivery and service robots. Better perception and software are making mobile robots useful for a widening range of applications. Thus, it’s no surprise that Mel Torrie, CEO and president of Autonomous Solutions Inc., is excited about the future.
“The outlook is incredible,” he said. “Technology has improved, and costs have dropped, coupled with a surging demand fuelled by rising minimum-wage limits. It’s all converging to bring explosive growth. It’s a very exciting time.”
Torrie and ASI’s other founders began developing robotic vehicles in 1995 at Utah State University. John Deere, the world largest manufacturer of agricultural tractors, started funding robotic tractor development at Utah State in 1998.
In 2000, the company asked Torrie to pursue productization of the technology.
“Robotic systems are very complex in that they have multiple computers, radios, sensors, GPS, and multiple people directing and monitoring parts of the operation through remote clients,” he said. “We believe that keeping it simple is a critical differentiator.”
“Our mission statement says, ‘Helping you reach your potential through innovative robotic solutions,'” said Torrie. “Our vision is to be the world’s leading partner in ground vehicle system automation.”
Automomous business units
ASI’s headquarters are located at the base of a mountain range in Northern Utah. Its robotics testing facilities are spread over 100 acres, with six continuous testing tracks.
The business is organized into seven units to provide liability isolation, investment flexibility, and maximum stability.
“Equipment manufacturers are often sued when people use their products in unsafe ways and injure themselves,” Torrie said. To avoid such scenarios that could compromise ASI and its partners’ intellectual property, it created limited liability companies for each vertical market it serves.
The companies are ASI Mining, ASI Automotive, ASI Agriculture & Construction, ASI Cleaning, ASI Security, ASI Research, and ASI Military.
Despite having bootstrapped itself for 16 years, Autonomous Solutions understands that to maximize its long-term success, it needed to bring in strategic investors that are not looking for typical exit horizons. Having independent companies for each market allows investors interested and knowledgeable about that industry to partner with a company solely focused on succeeding in that space.
Torrie also touted ASI’s business model for maximum stability. “We call it diversified focus,” he said. “Each company has a dedicated scrum team focusing on maximizing the potential of that market segment.”
Each team “leverages our robotics platform building blocks (they get exclusive rights to their market vertical), shared overhead resources (building, accounting, test facilities, shop space, etc.), and subject-matter experts (so they don’t have to hire a radio Ph.D. if they only need one for a couple of weeks on a project),” he said. “The markets all have their downturns, and this diversification provides us with overall economic stability.”
Autonomous Solutions’ units use the Agile Scrum development process, even for its executive team. They also practice open-book management, providing transparency to the company’s financial reality so all employees have the same information as the CEO.
In addition, ASI follows established ISO (International Organization for Standardization) safety and manufacturing processes to ensure that it produces products that are safe and can scale.
More on Mobile Robots and Security:
- Caterpillar, Microsoft, and GE Ventures Invest $10.5 Million With Sarcos
- Israeli Security Expertise Supports Robotics Expansion
- 5 Deadly Jobs Only Robots Should Do
- Autonomous Vehicles Get Clearer Vision as 5D Robotics Buys Time Domain
- Military Robots Use Interoperability Profile for Mobile Arms
- Brave New World of Cops, Robbers, and Driverless Cars
- Google, Boston Dynamics Part Ways: 5 Takeaways
Autonomous Solutions partners for funding
Partnering has been the key for ASI being able to raise more than $85 million in strategic funding.
“We have been blessed with some incredible brilliant partners,” Torrie said. “How fortunate we are that they have been willing to make a bet on us.”
“We’re looking for aligned strategic investors — that don’t want an exit — to accelerate our current markets, start new ones to leverage our platform building blocks, and to fund the Robotics as a Service business model,” he added. “We’re trying to become the world leader, and it’s going to take more money. Some exciting new investments being explored include parking-lot robots, people movers, and security surveillance as a service.”
ASI security applications
Autonomous Solutions and Northrop Grumman Corp. subsidiary Remotec have partnered to develop a line of large robots that the Israeli police have used for bomb disposal.
Another law-enforcement robot is the Bomb Assessment Tactical Counter Assault Tool, or BATCAT. ASI provided the telehandler capability to the Caterpillar Inc. vehicle. The Los Angeles Police Department uses BATCAT for bomb disposal, breaching of buildings, and other tasks requiring a very large robot.
Sharp Electronics Corp. also recently teamed up with Autonomous Solutions on the Sharp Intellos automated unmanned ground vehicle (A-UGV) for the security industry.
“When it comes to the shifting demands of private and public-sector security, the industry integrators and their customers will now have a safe, reliable, and cost-effective robotic tool working to safeguard people, assets, and infrastructure,” stated Doug Albregts, president, CEO, and chairman of Sharp Electronics.
Our next article will look at ASI’s relationship with the automotive industry — and Torrie’s favorite robot.
Editor’s note: Autonomous Solutions Inc. is an RBR50 company and is among the exhibitors at RoboBusiness next week in San Jose, Calif. Visit Booth 321 on Sept. 28 and 29, 2016.