Thursday June 5, 2014 0 comments
By Barbara Hall
DENVER -- "They promised us robots," said Dr. Jim Gunderson, co-founder and president of Gamma 2 Robotics in Denver. "By now, robots were supposed to be in our everyday lives helping us."
And with Gunderson's company's help, we're getting there.
Back in 2003, Gunderson and Dr. Louise Gunderson, co-founder and CTO, had a vision. They developed a product that used artificial intelligence to model financial markets and were quite successful.
"The packages we were licensing to hedge funds predicted the crash in 2008," Jim Gunderson said. "When that happened, we got some nice bonuses that allowed us to do more forward thinking."
From 2008-2010, they worked in development on what they thought was going to be their Next Big Thing -- two home-assistance products to help elderly people stay in their homes longer.
"We brought two prototypes to the Consumer Electronics Show in 2010, one for the traditional home environment and one for people in wheelchairs."
What they presented at CES that year -- as pure market research for their product -- was the engineering prototypes for the concept.
"We are very market driven," Jim Gunderson said. "A hundred thousand people came by our booth and gave us feedback. What we heard was that we weren't ready for my grandmother."
Something else they heard at that show was the idea behind their successful recent launch. "At that show we heard, 'we don't have a need for your product as designed, but what we do need is a robot that can do patrols. I have this data center or warehouse and I can't get qualified people to sit in my facility at 3 a.m.' So that's what triggered our pivot to the security market."
The Gundersons spent the next two years doing development and market studies for the Vigilant Mobile Camera Platform, a security robot that was rolled out by Gamma 2 last year.
"One of the headaches with robotics is a big gap between the theory and getting the engineering done," Gunderson said. "Innovation and concepts change very quickly."
The testing-and-design work came together rather quickly, he said, and then came the nuts-and-bolts, which takes a bit of time. Until recently, Gamma 2 has been just the two of them. Now, they have eight employees at their Denver location.
They've done five Beta tests, putting the robot into facilities, and are now Beta-testing the sixth version. "This is a very risk-averse environment," Gunderson explains. "They have to be. There's often conflict in this industry between innovation and risk assessment."
His company is slowly building a baseline of trust with its clients. In many cases, the robot is paralleling or shadowing the human processes, or integrating with the human employees -- before allowing the robot to go it alone. Then, the robot is responsible for some of the security tasks while humans are still on-site performing other tasks.
"This robot is a functional but limited tool," Gunderson notes. "It's no C-3PO or Wall-E. It's not going to replace the security guard at the shopping mall solving the 'I can't find my Mommy' problems. You need human insight for many of these tasks."
It is quite successful, however, at roaming up and down the aisles of warehouses with security cameras and detecting anything that is amiss. The robot is fully-loaded with cameras, motion detectors and thermal sensors. Recently, the robot patrolled the Denver Mini Maker Faire.
"We got a lot of good feedback," Gunderson said. "These projects were left in the arena overnight and we were patrolling an area of 50,000 square feet."
Another potential market for security robots is in prison settings where some scenarios are becoming too dangerous for human guards, Gunderson said. That is an area they are developing now.
"We're right on this cusp. It's so apparent now that robots are moving into everyday applications," Gunderson said, noting that robots are driving cars and working in restaurants.
Gunderson cited a recent documentary film in which children all over the world were asked what their future would hold.
"All of them said that they would have a robot for a companion," Gunderson said. "And we're gonna build them -- which is great."