TOKYO — Mitsubishi Electric Corp. yesterday announced that it has taken an equity stake in Realtime Robotics Inc., which is developing and commercializing motion-planning technologies. Boston-based Realtime Robotics said it plans to use the funding to accelerate development of processors and software to improve the safety and performance of industrial robots.
As global manufacturers and supply chains contend with worker shortages, the need for reliable and precise industrial automation continues to grow, stated Mitsubishi. The Japanese company’s MELFA is a high-speed, high-accuracy pick-and-place control system based on machine vision, force sensors, and the Maisart artificial intelligence technology. (Maisart stands for “Mitsubishi Electric’s AI creates the state of the art in technology.”)
Mitsubishi said that it plans to launch new industrial robots based on Realtime Robotics’ motion-planning technologies in the coming year. Mitsubishi added that it “will continue collaborating with other companies … to further enhance its smart-manufacturing solutions with innovative technologies.”
Realtime Robotics develops, grows
The Robot Report named Realtime Robotics one of 10 startups to watch in 2019, as well as one of eight robotics startups to watch at Automate/ProMat last month. At Automate 2019 in Chicago, the company announced that it is shipping its RapidPlan motion-planning processor. RapidPlan is designed to allow industrial and collaborative robots to operate safely around people and other robots in work cells.
“Planning motion in real time is central to safe autonomy, but the algorithms were too slow,” explained George Konidaris, founder and chief roboticist at Realtime. “The core breakthroughs in motion began in 1979 with an MIT paper, but industrial robotics hadn’t changed much in 14 years.”
“At Duke University, we figured out how to make time-consuming processes go faster. The motion-planning algorithms were good but sequential; we needed massive parallelism,” he added. “We’ve blown open what you can do with stupid robots, now that they can adapt to changing workspaces.”
“We’re not working on safety for safety’s sake. We’re driven by international norms,” said Peter Howard, CEO of Realtime Robotics. “We’ve worked with German worker’s compensation board BG, which provided guidance about certifications.”
“As many as 1 billion people are doing repetitive tasks, and there are only about 2 million robots in service,” he told The Robot Report. “That’s only 0.2% of tasks. If we can help double or even multiply that by 10, that’s still a tiny percentage of tasks that people are doing.”
Realtime also recently announced the beta release of its RapidSense system, which uses 3-D sensors to calibrate cameras and enable robots to rapidly plan a path around obstacles. The company noted that its technology is hardware-agnostic and is not limited to industrial automation.
“We have contracts with the top robot arm makers, including FANUC, Kawasaki, Mitsubishi, and Universal Robots. We expect more in the next six months,” Howard said. “The number of robots is small, but we have the potential to make all robots safer. We’re not working with mobile robots right now, but this application layer promises to expand the robotics market, as well as autonomous vehicles in complex urban environments.”
Realtime Robotics raised $17.1 million in equity financing as of late March. It moved out of a co-working space run by regional robotics organization MassRobotics at the end of April because it has grown to 30 employees, including about a half-dozen from Rethink Robotics.
“We had done postdoc work at Brown and MIT, and Boston is one of the world’s hubs of robotics and is less depleted of talent than other places,” said Konidaris. “Without MassRobotics, we wouldn’t have gotten the robots to work on.”