Wandelbots has accomplished a lot for a startup that was founded officially only two weeks ago – the German company focuses on solving a key problem in robotics, using wearable technology and over two years of experience researching and designing adaptive software systems.
So what does Wandelbots actually do? Its first product is a sensor-laden suit that a person can wear to demonstrate actions so that a robot can then replicate what they do. Basically, it’s a system through which robots can “learn” what they need to without requiring that the person “teaching” them be an experienced robotics programmer.
Other projects have also employed vision-based systems to capture movement and teach it to other robots. But Wandelbots makes use of information related by embedded 9-axis sensors within the suits, which transmit magnometer, orientation and plenty of other data to the computer system to model the operator’s behavior.
The system also learns with repeat demonstrations, improving its model of the overall motion through successive observation. Then, a human engineer can refine the recorded movement and tweak it to ensure that it’s properly designed for use by a robot instead of by a person.
While there’s still human programming involved in the process, Wandelbots co-founder Christian Piechnick told me that the typical robotics programming process requires around $50,000 and a significant span of time for each new task you want a robot to perform. By comparison, Wandelbots estimates that it can accomplish the same thing up to a week or 20 times faster, and between 10 and 20 times cheaper.
Talent in robotics programming is in short supply, Piechnick told me, which is part of the reason it’s so expensive and so difficult to find people to actually do the job currently. Wandelbots hopes to address this problem by significantly reducing the amount of specialist time involved, meaning that even though the size of the talent pool may remain the same, those experts can spend less time on each job and potentially accomplish a lot more as a result.
Already, Wandelbots is working with “several larger customers,” according to Piechnick, including one of the largest ‘whiteware’ robotics software suppliers in China. They’re also in discussions with a major robot OEM to potentially ship hardware with support for their platform built-in next year.
Wandelbots anticipates having its product readily available to commercial customers by the end of 2018, Piechnick says. It’s a potentially transformative technology that could greatly accelerate the adoption and deployment of industrial and commercial robots, thus speeding up overall manufacturing automation.