Q & A
Black-I Robotics CEO Brian Hart recently answered some questions about how and why he founded the company and what the future holds.
A. The difference between a Maserati and a Yugo, and less expensive. Our arm has a payload four times the standard arm. Its exceptional vision capabilities enable it to move around a very busy workplace without banging into shelves, machinery, and, best of all, humans. It can reach high and low, grasping objects of different weights and shapes, not pallets only, and placing them precisely where needed. If things change on the factory floor or on the shelves, the typical arm needs to be modified, which often means being taken off line. That’s expensive, and a blow to operations. We’ve designed a full robot solution. Operating staff can manage, control and reconfigure the arm themselves. We believe our arm will save our customers millions of dollars a year — and lots of headaches!
A. Apparently it wasn’t the best-kept secret of the war. We had inquiries from some very large, well-known companies in this country and abroad pre-Modex. It amazed us! Our choice was to wait until after the show to invite individual prospects and others to see the arm in action.
A.When we lost our son in Iraq, it became obvious to me that we sent our soldiers into battle badly equipped for modern warfare. Our troops simply weren’t getting the equipment they needed. I became a leading civilian advocate working with Senator Ted Kennedy and others to rectify the situation. We focused on armoring vehicles, body armor, tourniquets and blood clotting agents. Bureaucracies were too slow to change when a new paradigm emerged – they needed a push. Eventually that led us into robotic technology, first for the government, then the commercial sector.
Yes, our arm can be mounted on a wide variety of chassis, including AMRs and AGVs. In fact, the entire supply chain, particularly warehouses, increasingly are incorporating AMRs into their operations, and we anticipate they’ll drive new revenue opportunities for themselves using our arm. My thought is, if we autonomously pick and palletize with a mobile unit and add it to automated warehouse systems (AWS), it may be possible to fully automate door-to-door logistics. The labor issue plaguing the supply chain, including huge variations in seasonal demand and customer expectations for faster, cheaper delivery, will only make the problem worse. We are the solution.
A.The Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Army Corps of Engineers, DARPA, and other government agencies that have explored the role robots could play in a changing world. Working with my brother and another experienced inventor, we earned contracts from government agencies and universities, including MIT, Princeton and Carnegie Mellon. We formed Black-I Robotics and developed several robots and unmanned robotic vehicles and devices, including our Landshark robot. The Landshark robot is multi-capable, from sensing IEDs to dragging a wounded soldier to safety, to being a primary research vehicle for DARPA.
A.We were already working with non-government organizations, including defense contractors and, as mentioned, universities. We learned a lot working with very smart people, particularly about how to apply innovative technology to real world problems. While working with the universities, we also had a contract with DARPA to develop an arm that was powerful, highly reliable, could be used in difficult environments and would protect personnel. No one had an arm like that, so we designed one from the ground up. And over time we kept improving it. We knew logistics pretty well, and quickly saw how a transformational arm like ours would fit into warehouses and comparable environments. So for the past two years, most of our efforts have been to make the arm even stronger, more mobile, smarter and a perfect fit for e-commerce and the supply chain. I am sure no one has anything like our arm.
A.It‘s VERY different. Different in part because of the rapid development of less expensive technologies critical to developing an arm that fits perfectly into, say, a warehouse operation, at a price companies are willing to pay. In fact, we have bundled four technologies into one: vision, mobility, strength and safety. We partnered with Ascend Robotics, which is noted for having the best software in the material handling business, to develop an integrated software “brain” that brings the four revolutions I mentioned together in a mobile arm that is available at a very reasonable price. We’re very proud of the achievement.
A.Sure. Take vision modules, for example. The price of these modules has declined 50 to 75 percent or more in just a year or two. Same for certain other components. Black-I has been intimately involved in robotics for almost 15 years, selling products throughout the world, so we have been at the forefront of all the changes taking place within all sectors of the technology space. We could have built a mobile arm 10 years, AGO, but it wouldn’t have been nearly as capable as the arm we have today, and it would have cost $100,000 or so. Our software, hardware, vision people have years working on arms, and as the price of critical components dropped dramatically, we moved rapidly to develop a state-of-the-art arm that sells at a cost companies can afford. It’s no exaggeration to claim that the logistics industry didn’t expect an arm like ours to be available until 2025 or later.