Automate/ProMat: 8 robotics startups to watch


CHICAGO — Of the 1,350-plus exhibitors at Automate and ProMat 2019 in Chicago, there was one or two robotics startups scattered among the big corporate booths. The Robot Report shared its major takeaways from Automate/ProMat, now here are eight robotics startups from the event that are worth keeping an eye on.

If you want to learn about more must-watch robotics startups, here are The Robot Report‘s Top 10 Startups to Watch in 2019. What startups impressed you at Automate/ProMat? Share your thoughts in the comments.

IMSystems

IMSystems (IMS), a start-up located in Delft, The Netherlands, won Automate’s Launch Pad Startup Competition. The Dutch startup is creating the Archimedes Drive that relies on friction instead of gear teeth to transmit torque. Invented by IMS founder and CEO Jack Schorsch, who will be speaking at The Robot Report‘s Robotics Summit & Expo (June 5-6 in Boston), the company claims the Archimedes Drive offers low-input friction, minimal backlash and ratios of 10,000:1. IMS is targeting the drive at robotics companies, but it could have other applications.

IMS says its list of pre-orders is growing. But as others experienced in the past, IMS is taking on the juggernaut that is Harmonic Drive, the Japanese-owned company whose products have become the industry standard, for one reason or another, for gearing technology. Harmonic Drive, which is also speaking at the Robotics Summit, has more than $500 million in annual revenue, and that number is project to grow to more than $3 billion by 2024.

Boston Dynamics

Boston Dynamics was founded in 1992, but the Waltham, Mass.-based company used ProMat as its logistics robotics coming out party. Boston Dynamics acquired Kinema Systems and its Pick robotic depalletizing system the week before Automate. The Pick System was pretty impressive. See for yourself in the video above.

Pick is a deep-learning based solution designed for robotic depalletizing of multi-SKU and single SKU pallets. It integrates high resolution 3D and 2D sensing to locate a wide variety of boxes and interleaves motion and vision, maximizing pick rates.

Boston Dynamics Handle robot. | Steve Crowe

The Robot Report has heard Boston Dynamics might not be done making logistics robotics-related acquisitions. So stay tuned.

Boston Dynamics also recently unveiled its next-gen Handle that it calls a “mobile manipulation robot designed for logistics. Handle autonomously performs mixed SKU pallet building and depalletizing after initialization and localizing against the pallets.”

Related: 10 Takeaways from Automate/ProMat 2019

Handle uses an on-board vision system to track the marked pallets for navigation and finds individual boxes for grasping and placing. Handle can, err, handle boxes up to 15 Kg (30 lbs) and pallets that are 1.2 m deep and 1.7 m tall (48 inches deep and 68 inches tall). Boston Dynamics also showed a never-before-seen design concept of Handle, which you can see on the left side of the page.

Dexterity Inc

Dexterity would not reveal too much about its technology, but the Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup is focused on, you guessed it, robot dexterity solutions for logistics, warehousing, and supply chain applications. Founded in 2017 by Samir Menon (Stanford University), Dexterity had an impressive piece-picking demo at its booth that attracted folks from Amazon and Walmart, among many others, while The Robot Report was in the booth.

Dexterity wants to supply customers with plug-and-play robots that come with some basic context and broad category of items to be picked. Dexterity faces a lot of stiff competition, of course, but keep an eye on them.

XYZ Robotics

Speaking of competition, XYZ Robotics is a bit further along in the product cycle than Dexterity, but it’s not as far along as in-state rivals RightHand Robotics and Soft Robotics. The Allston, Mass.-based startup debuted at Automate its first two products, XYZ Rebinning Station (XRS) and XYZ Picking Station (XPS). The XRS is an autonomous robotic turnkey system for warehouse putwall sorting and parcel sorting, while the XPS is a robotic piece-picking solution for warehouse goods-to-person systems with a pick rate at 1,200-1,800 SKUs per hour.

Founded in April 2018, XYZ Robotics recently told The Robot Report it has 20 employees in Massachusetts and additional employees in Shanghai. Its systems don’t need to be trained on new objects, which reduced the labor required to scan millions of SKUs in a warehouse. XYZ Robotics uses self-supervised machine learning to train its robots on how to grasp items inside clutters.

XYZ Robotics won the Amazon Picking Challenge in 2017.

Plus One Robotics YonderOne

Plus One Robotics YonderOne | Credit: Plus One Robotics

Plus One Robotics

Plus One Robotics debuted at Automate the YonderOne remote management system. The Robot Report‘s Eugene Demaitre tested the YonderOne and was easily able to make remote picks. Plus One says YonderOne “makes un-automatable items pickable,” expands a customer’s labor pool through remotely supervised autonomy and can reduce technical risk of failure due to product variation. It also shows the importance of keeping humans in the loop when designing robotics systems.

Plus One Robotics was co-founded in 2017 by Erik Nieves and Shaun Edwards. It emerged from stealth mode in 2018 when it debuted v1.0 of its PickOne Perception System. PickOne identifies the pick points of parcels in an accumulation chute and sends the points to your robot. The robot arm picks and places each parcel onto an induction conveyor.

Nieves told The Robot Report Plus One Robotics “creates order from chaos” with its software for mixed parcel singulation, remote robot management, and quality assurance for parcel induction.

Southie Autonomy Works

This Boston-based startup, and resident of MassRobotics, came out of stealth mode late in 2018. Founded by two former Draper Laboratory employees in 2017, Southie is developing intelligent robot software called “The Wand” that lets users tell robots what to do by using gesture and voice commands. Southie claims no computer skills are required to be able to use The Wand.

The Wand uses a hand-held pointer and a patent-pending platform that combines artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) to remove the complex programming, which most companies that need automation lack in-house, required to set up their robotic workflows.

Realtime Robotics

The Robot Report named Realtime Robotics a startup to watch in 2019. And as we shared over the weekend, Boston-based Realtime Robotics announced at Automate that it is now shipping its RapidPlan processor for collision-free motion planning. The framework can handle occupancy sensor data like point clouds and check for collisions in all roadmap edges at the same time using the RapidPlan Motion Planning Accelerator (MPA), a dedicated FPGA hardware board. Realtime Robotics also announced the beta release of RapidSense, which uses 3D sensors to collision check a work-cell at runtime.

Now we’ve learned that to allow seamless integration with existing robot setups, PickNik Robotics implemented a RapidPlan motion planning plugin for MoveIt. From PickNik Robotics:

“The plugin should offer the full planning and collision checking capabilities via the common motion planning interface. The main challenge was the task of joining the two different methodologies. For instance: the plugin supports converting the collision objects in the planning scene to an occupancy voxel grid that can be processed by RapidPlan. Conversions of these types naturally come with a computational overhead that can reduce the planning rate. Other steps like converting motion planning requests, goal constraints, and processing the solution path also play into this. When using point clouds, the plugin can produce solutions with a rate of up to 700 hz which is more than appropriate for most real-time planning applications.

The collaboration with Realtime Robotics has shown that MoveIt is adaptable to new planning methodologies. Reliable real-time planning and collision checking are a long expected key features required by modern robot applications and also a driving factor for the development of ROS 2.0.”

Ubiros

Ubiros is an early stage robotics startup that spun out of Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). The Natick, Mass.-based company has created an electrically powered soft robotic gripper called Gentle. Ubiros claims Gentle is the “first fully electrically operated soft gripper” that doesn’t require expensive peripheral equipment such as pressurized air.

In its booth, Ubiros used cobot arms from Aubo Robotics, Precise Automation, and Universal Robots to demonstrate how Gentle can handle a wide variety of items without causing any damage to even delicate objects like eggs, tomatoes, glass bottles, or a bag of chips. Ubiros offers four soft grippers that range in price from $1,200 to $2,400.