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As automation continues its slow but inevitable creep into brick and mortar, robots will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role. Bossa Nova, which deploys shelf-scanning inventory bots in grocery and convenience stores, and CommonSense Robotics, which constructs compact, highly automated fulfillment centers for small grocers and retailers, are just two examples of this trend.
While today’s robotics revolutionaries may be solving different problems, their products share at least one thing in common: software. And that’s the market on which Brain Corp, a San Diego-based autonomous platform company, is betting big.
Brain Corp is the brainchild (no pun intended) of Dr. Eugene Izhikevich and Dr. Allen Gruber, both computational neuroscientists. A self-described serial entrepreneur, Gruber cofounded the company with Izhikevich in 2009 to bridge the “innovation gap” between artificial intelligence platforms and robotics hardware.
To address this need, they developed BrainOS, a proprietary operating system that integrates with off-the-shelf hardware and sensors to provide, as Izhikevich puts it, the “brains” for robots.
“BrainOS serves the same role for robots as [Google’s] Android OS does for smartphones — it enables manufacturers to focus on their core competency to make amazing products and Brain Corp to focus on software and AI to enable those products,” he said in an interview conducted via email. “Specifically, [this] technology delivers on its promise of turning existing manually driven machines into autonomous robots.”
Brain Corp’s solution is tailored to the needs of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) whose robots operate in fulfillment centers, airports, big-box retailers, and the like — in other words, congested indoor locations with lots of obstacles to avoid and corridors to navigate. Crucially, Izhikevich said, BrainOS has been designed to prioritize safety and has been tested extensively around humans.
It’s also highly scalable — BrainOS devices coordinate with one another over on-premises and cloud networks, downloading new configuration files and updates to the robots as they idle. And it’s easy to use — an innovative “learn-by-demonstration” setup feature learns to perform tasks autonomously based on manual operations of the machines. As for the rest of the operating system’s tools, like customer support and software update management, they’re accessible in the cloud, via BrainOS’ digital dashboard.
One of Brain Corp’s flagship products is EMMA (Enabling Mobile Machine Automation). The prototypical showroom robot packs sensors, cameras, 4G LTE connectivity, and routing algorithms that allow it to learn its way around a store quickly. It has been tested in Jimbo’s grocery stores around San Diego.
Brain Corp raised $114 million in a funding round led by SoftBank’s Vision Fund and Qualcomm Ventures in July 2017 — but Izhikevich is already looking to the future. He, Gruber, and the rest of the team are working with Qualcomm to get BrainOS deployed on Qualcomm Snapdragon mobile chips, and with robotics startups that will “expand [the] technology into applications beyond floorcare” — specifically in the areas of materials handling and store operations.
To that end, in partnership with SoftBank Robotics and several of its OEM partners, Brain Corp recently entered Japan’s commercial cleaning business. And in April it teamed up with Tennant to produce an autonomous floor-cleaning machine that’ll launch later this year.
“Robots collect vast amounts of information, taking visual inputs and converting them into actionable data,” Izhikevich said. “[And] self-driving technology is enabling robots to deliver materials on factory floors, in warehouses, from retail stockrooms to sales floors, and even from stores to homes. We are exploring how BrainOS can help elevate product offerings by allowing companies to shift from solving general robotics problems to focus on their core competencies in their specific applications.”
Brain Corp previously raised $11 million and has a staff of more than 200 workers.
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