At the end of an assembly line might be a finished product, but there is still one crucial task that remains — the examination. Sure, a product like a pretzel is straightforward to inspect, but what about an iPhone?
Smaller industrial lines often use people, but those people have a lot of responsibility when inspecting complex components. Could such invaluable eyes and attention to detail be possible for a robot to do?
Solving these puzzles is like an interesting game. At least, that is how co-founder and CEO of Qobotix, Egor Korneev, thinks about it. Qobotix is a developer of collaborative robots known as “cobots,” short for collaborative robots.
Qobotix creates cobots that are smaller, cheaper than cobots currently on the market. And Qobotix cobots have a universal operating system that can support a platform for any automation application. The company is based in California with a research and development office in Madison.
The adaptable robots have machine vision, where the robot’s cameras can recognize objects and respond appropriately. For example, if there is an obstacle in their environment, they need to move around it instead of bumping into it. These robots can also respond to simple commands like one would give to a human.
The concept is much like a modern phone. Manufacturers have many tasks they need to accomplish on their assembly lines, much like smartphones fulfill many different roles. Phones save people from needing to buy various notebooks, cameras and gaming devices by having it all in one device.
Such applications also need to be easy to use in today’s workforce. Manufacturers need to be able to simply purchase an application and then be able to use it for specific tasks. The initial applications for the Qobotix system will be variable picking and presentation, visual quality inspection and sorting, and parts packaging.
But for Korneev, the game is not over yet. There are more levels to defeat.
Cobots represent a growing industry and competition. Qobotix has breathing room with its slight differences for now. Korneev predicts that he will need to directly compete with other cobot companies in the future, but also appreciates how that competition will help keep Qobotix’s momentum up. As Qobotix grows, Korneev said he wants to stay focused on his consumer’s needs.
“It’s not about who has the best product, but who has the right product,” he said. In other words, a Ferrari might be faster and fancier, but a family probably needs a minivan that can accommodate several kids.
In order to provide the “right product,” Qobotix talks to different manufacturers about their biggest worries, including the pandemic.
The nature of Qobotix’s products helps reduce the number of people condensed into one space. Such an attribute is valuable in these times of social distancing and may grow in favor over time.
An obstacle in the business game is the conservative approach that manufacturers have with new ideas. Qobotix spends considerable time on building trust between provider and consumer. Like many other startups, it takes time to establish that they will stay around and be able to provide continued support.
Thus far, Qobotix has been able to self-fund its development and is aiming to attract $6 million from investors to mainly focus on boosting its commercialization.
“It’s an exciting business that will be mainstream in coming years,” Korneev said.
The company presented during the 2020 Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium.
-By Krystal Hakes
Hakes is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication