What’s the difference?

By Sean Sullivan, Black-I Robotics marketing consultant and investor

It’s difficult describing Black-I’s difference from other bots because there is nothing like it on the market.

Boston Dynamics, for example, has a robot that lifts relatively heavy cartons and the like, but it specializes in emptying trucks. Locus Robotics manufactures Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) that move products in warehouses close to workers, which streamlines order fulfillment. Both are great at what they do, as are other robots from other companies that focus on one task or another. However, no robot offers the labor-savings capabilities, the payload power, the vision, the ability to pick and place, the safety and the overall productivity of our Fullscope mobile heavy lift arm. Let me count the ways:

BORN OF NECESSITY: Our company was tasked more than five years ago by the government’s high-tech Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a heavy lift arm that could free up soldiers to fight, as opposed to lifting heavy items such as artillery shells. DARPA looked to us because of our reputation for designing economical robots from the ground up that free up manpower and improve productivity. 

ONE GOOD THING LED TO ANOTHER:  We delivered Version 1 of the arm to DARPA, and it is now with the Army Corps of Engineers contributing to the agency’s 3D construction initiative. We’re now on Version 10. We understood that in order to pivot to the commercial sector — especially logistics and manufacturing — we needed to build more capabilities into the arm. Our staff of software and mechanical engineers, experts in AI, machine learning, vision and path planning, have worked for the past few years to perfect the arm, one version at a time. We introduced our first commercial version of the arm at the Modex supply chain business show in March, 2022. It was a huge hit; in fact, we may have had the busiest booth at the show. Plant managers, logistics pros, M+A execs and others came from all over the country to see it, including representatives from Amazon, Procter & Gamble and many other well-known firms. 

WHAT ABOUT NOW? In the past few years, there has been a seismic shift in the technology marketplace. The capabilities of cameras, sensors, computers etc. have improved dramatically. At the same time, costs have plummeted. That shift gave us the green light to move from the government and university markets where we originally made our reputation to the commercial market, where pricing becomes critical, especially in warehouse and manufacturing industries where workers are scarce and productivity prized. So in the 1 ½ years since the Modex show, we have filed for six patents as we continue to build our intellectual property, applying each to refine our better mousetrap. Right now that is Version 9, which one of the country’s best known consumer goods companies will be implementing. Version 10 is close behind; we modified a few things, including the gripper, for two customers that had their own needs. What will Version 11 bring? You’ll be even more amazed!

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