Creative Use of Off-the-Shelf Sensors and Robotics Gives Robosynthesis the Edge
The drone business is attracting a huge amount of attention and business investment, as venture capital and technology companies scramble to capture a piece of a pie that is projected to be nearly $130 billion within a few short years. New technologies, like better batteries, sensors, and software platforms have opened the possibilities to a world of mobile robotics that are poised to disrupt and change the world.
However, these high-tech gadgets don’t come cheap. And they take years to develop and build, often to accomplish only one or two tasks. The technology is changing and advancing so fast, that most drones are practically obsolete before they actually make their debut on the exposition floor. Recently, at the time of the AUVSI Xponential Show in Dallas, one large aeronautics company, which shall remain un-named proudly demonstrated their new small drone, which could carry 10 pounds for 50 minutes. The day after the Xponential show ended, SkyLift working with Cal Tech and DARPA successfully tested a drone carrying one-hundred pounds through an obstacle course at 60 miles per hour.
That rate of change makes any purpose-built drone a risky business venture. One which is guaranteed quick obsolescence.
Enter Robosynthesis, a drone concept that is the brainchild of Philip Norman. Their drone is a mobile programmable platform, not a flying drone but a wheeled drone, which can carry a variety of off-the- shelf sensors and arms. It is sturdy and practical, and saves both time and money in deployment. Rather than taking years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to accomplish a particular task, Norman’s drones can be adapted and deployed in months. Even more, once on the job, they can be easily adapted to new tasks as they become apparent.
A Breakthrough in How We Think About Drone Technology
Philip Norman is one of those crazy-creative guys, back when he would have been called a renaissance man and in truth, the term does fit. A native of the U.K., where his company is now headquartered, he spent 20 years enjoying the good life in the French countryside. He has published numerous books, including childen’s illustrated books, had an architectural business and is working on a novel (yes, there are robots in it.) And he also has forty or so patents.
But what attracted him to robotics and drones is his love of solving problems and puzzles. He could see that a lot of what was happening in the drone world was simply impractical. High-tech glitz was overwhelming practical use and benefit. He saw that many of critical elements needed for drones to do practical work already existed and could simply be pulled off the shelf. What he needed was a platform to deploy them, rather than inventing every item from scratch.
So he set about building a drone that was sturdy and could be deployed anywhere. It has wheels for dealing with smooth surfaces, like concrete factory floors. It has traction strips that allow it to crawl up, around and over almost anything. And it can carry any sensor that is needed and arms that are easily purchased or designed for a specific use.
Norman describes it as putting a puzzle together, something which he enjoys doing. And it has allowed him to deploy his drones in a remarkably short time into a variety of business environments, from chicken farms to CERN.
Selling Solutions Rather Than Technology
His company also approaches the business model of drones in a revolutionary manner. Instead of taking awesome technology and then looking for what needs it might be suited for, Robosynthesis starts from the perspective of solving problems. They sell solutions rather than drones.
Thus, for example with CERN, there are parts of the giant collider which are highly radioactive, yet they still require maintenance. Even going into these areas is highly dangerous and unhealthy for humans, some areas technicians can only enter for 15 minutes per year. Drones are a perfect solution. The drones can go in, and perform the maintenance without endangering human life. In this instance, drones are critical to allowing CERN to continue to operate.
In chicken farms, the drones have sensing capabilities that can constantly monitor the entire chicken house, rather than just a few select places on the walls, providing for better growing conditions for the entire flock. Once the drones were deployed in the chicken houses to monitor conditions, it was realized that they could also clean and remove the soiled sawdust that is used for bedding without disturbing the chickens and retarding growth as occurs when this task is done by humans. And Norman and Robosynthesis continue to add more tasks to the drones’ repertoire as they become apparent.
“We don’t sell drones,” said Norman. “We offer solutions.”
“We don’t sell drones,” said Norman, “we offer solutions. In many places there are tasks that drones are perfectly suited for, and tasks humans are better at. We take into account the entire operation and find places where the drones can offer cost savings and do a better job.
“That might start out as a small piece, like transporting carts to pickers in a warehouse. Over time, as we continue to analyze, we often find more places where the drones can work alongside humans or on their own to solve problems and make things more efficient.”
While many companies are developing shiny new technology that goes in search of a market, Norman’s drones are already doing valuable work in many different and varied fields. Taking advantage of off-the-shelf technology that can work on a standardized platform has allowed Robosynthesis to build a viable market and deploy quickly. It’s a business model that is adaptable and can scale quickly. Expect to see more of this company as they become a go-to company for real world drone solutions.
Philip Norman is the originator of the Robosynthesis modular robotic platform and is the named inventor on a significant portfolio of patents relating to three-dimensional modularity, biomimetic mobility and coaxial power and data interfacing and connection. He has collaborated with work the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory forming part of a European Space Agency scheme on developing planetary rovers, as well as the UK Ministry of Defence and CERN.