Drives and Controls Magazine
Google’s robot software arm unveils easy-to-use platform
Published:  17 May, 2023

Intrinsic, the robotics software company launched by Google’s parent Alphabet in 2021, has announced a robotics development platform that it believes will speed up access to industrial robotics for many more developers. Intrinsic has also announced that the Italian robot manufacturer and systems integrator Comau is its first industrial partner.

The new low-code, Web-based platform – called Intrinsic Flowstate – will help to build robotic applications from concept to deployment. A small number of developers will be invited to take part in a beta test programme later this year.

Intrinsic’s CEO Wendy Tan White says the company wants to make advanced robotics and AI simple to use, including for non-experts. “We’re building with future roboticists and developers in mind too,” she adds, “bringing modern software development practices such as object-oriented and visual programming to the robotics and automation industry.

“Intrinsic aims to pave the way for a new generation of roboticists and developers,” she adds. “Our mission is to democratise access to robotics. We’re making the ability to program intelligent robotics solutions as simple as standing up a Web site or mobile application.

The falling costs of  robots and components is crucial to Tan White. “I cannot over-state how transformative this trend is. It removes a crucial barrier to robot adoption across industries. Now, advances in software, data management, infrastructure and AI can amplify the progress we’ve experienced in hardware, and when AI and software unlock developers to do even more, the value and demand for robots, cameras, sensors and grippers will increase as well.”

An important aspect of Intrinsic Flowstate is its interoperability, making it easier for developers to work across different types of hardware and software. Other key characteristics include:

The ability to get started without deep expertise: The platform includes a graphical process-builder that removes the need for extensive programming experience, giving developers tools to get started quickly. “Behaviour trees” make it easy to orchestrate complex process flows, supporting faster application building. The platform’s process editor includes a flowchart-inspired graphical representation to help design behaviour trees.

Rapid iteration: By offering developers ways to lay out workcells and design processes in the same virtual environment, it will be possible to iterate rapidly without needing to switch between tools. Developers can design and build in a single experience – whether working in the cloud or locally – and transition easily between them.

Unlocking the power of simulation: Users will be able to simulate and validate systems without touching hardware. Real-time visualisation of processes will make the experience more intuitive and efficient.

Intrinsic CEO Wendy Tan White says the company is aiming “to pave the way for a new generation of roboticists and developers”

Re-usable and scalable skills: Domain knowledge can be encoded in custom “skills” that can be used and re-used, speeding up the system-building process and making it more scalable. Skills such as manipulation, force-based insertion and path planning will not need to be hard-coded repeatedly.

Alphabet announced Intrinsic in 2021, following more than five years of stealth development inside its secretive X “moonshot factory”, which works on future technologies. CEO Wendy Tan White is a British entrepreneur who founded the Moonfruit Web site development business in the 1990s.

Last December, Instrinsic acquired the Open Source Robotics Corporation (OSRC), the commercial arm of Open Robotics, the developer of the open-source Robotic Operating System (ROS).

Intrinsic has been working with Comau for several years to validate its approach through real-world use cases. Using Flowstate and its underlying platform, Comau – a member of the Stellantis automotive conglomerate – has recently created a modular system for assembling plug-in hybrid electric vehicle modules.

Intrinsic will be demonstrating Flowstate as well as Comau’s modular cell at the Automatica exhibition in Munich, Germany, in June.

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