Alphabet has started another company in its company X factory moonshot, and this one is perhaps the most ambitious robotics project go out with. The just opened the firm, Intrinsic, plans to make industrial robots more accessible to people and businesses that would not otherwise be able to justify the effort invested in teaching machines. For example, you might see robotic manufacturing in multiple countries or small businesses that can automate production that previously required manual labor.
Intrinsic will focus on software tools that make these robots easier to use, more flexible, and more affordable. To that end, the company tested a combination of software tools that include AI techniques such as automated perception, motion planning, and reinforcement learning. Company chief Wendy Tan-White also has relevant experience. She launched “the world’s first” website builder with software as a service to make website development more accessible, launched early internet banking and lending services, and helped nurture startups as vice president at X.
The technology is still early, but there are already promising results. During their development at Xu, the team trained the robot to establish a USB connection in two hours (instead of programming it for hundreds of hours) and had the robotic hands make simple furniture (shown below). Automation would not be “realistic or affordable” for efforts like these that use existing technology, Intrinsic said.
The new company still has a lot of work to do. It is now more focused on creating a practical product and “validating” its technology. It is also hunting for partners in car manufacturing, electronics and healthcare who currently use industrial robots. If Intrinsic succeeds, it could make robotics fairer and fill gaps in production. The company even suggests that its work could help the environment – the closer robot factories are to humans, the less emissions are needed to transport goods to customers.
This could prove challenging. Rethink Robotics has spent years developing collaborative robots that learn with simple human guidance, just to go out as sales lagged. X moonshot companies are also not guaranteed to succeed – take a look Loon’s destiny as an example. Alphabet money could help where companies like Rethink struggle, and Intrinsic is more focused on solving overall robotics problems rather than specific scenarios. This effort may have a better chance than most.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, regardless of our parent company. Some of our stories include associated links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an associated commission.