We just returned from a robotics exhibition in San Diego. That was not the long strange trip I had in mind however. Okay, the robot (Vigilus-MCS) that we brought along had a long strange trip – including a short stop by the security team at the Hoover Dam, but I was thinking more about the trip that we began about 4 years ago, when we started on the current robot platform. The philosophy at Gamma Two has never been tightly aligned with the current trends in research. We are not big on large, all encompassing theoretical research. We focus on solving real-world problems. Sometimes that means we need to do cutting edge theoretic research to come up with the solutions.
We were driven by a question when we started this project: “Why don’t we have robots working along side us every day?” Or, to put it more simply “Where’s my robot?” That led to several years of theoretic research, which culminated in two things. The second was our technical book “Robots, Reasoning, and Reification,” which summarizes the open problem that stood between us and functional robot co-workers. The book outlines a theoretic solution to the problem. I suppose that we could have stopped there.
But, like I said, we are out of step with the pure research community. We knew that this was the case, since we have been active members of the Performance Metrics for Intelligent Systems (PerMIS) community for over a decade. This conference is run by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST), they have an interest in measuring the ‘intelligence’ of intelligent systems. For the last several years, Louise and I have been on the program committee for this conference. Every year we would be part of a group of researchers pushing the limits of what we know about making computer and robotic systems smart. We would see dozens of new and untested theories every year. But, we weren’t willing to propose a theoretic solution, unless we knew that it worked.
So, the first thing that came out of the years of research was a functioning robotic brain, one that enabled the robot to see the world in a way that is similar to the way living systems see the world, and reason about the world in a way that is similar to the way living systems reason about the world. Of course the brain wasn’t complete, but we had a ‘proof of concept’ prototype that people could work with. It didn’t do much, but it did things in the right way. There’s a short video of the robot updating its model of the world, and keeping track of objects. This was done in November of 2008, and shows the first generation proof of concept robot. When I compare that system with the robot we took to San Diego, I realize just how long a trip it has been.
Up to this trip we have been focused on researching the theory of robotics, then the practicality of developing a robot. Then we spent enormous amounts of time and energy looking for money to fund the R&D. But we turned a corner this month, a big corner for the business. We were invited to pitch our company to the assembled investors of the Angel Capital Summit, put on by the Rockies Venture Club. We were also selected as one of six companies to present “cutting edge technology” in ground robotics to the buyers at the NDIA Ground Robotics Conference an Exhibition. They both occurred on the same days, last week. The same days that the PerMIS 2012 conference was running.
This is where the long strange trip really became apparent. Five years ago, there would have been no question, we would have been trading ideas with some of the best researchers into machine intelligence in the world. Two years ago, we would have been pitching our hearts out to a group of investors, in hopes that one of them might be interested in becoming part of the ‘next big thing’. This year there was no question, we were going to be presenting our robots to the people who can buy them and put them to work, making lives better.
Like I said, it has been a long, strange trip.
Where’s your robot? Ours are being built by Gamma Two Robotics, here in Colorado.