The hottest corner of robot space right now isn’t the robots themselves. Those companies have done a great job of taking their systems to places like warehouses and factories, but the broader issue of actually managing and programming them is a bit more nebulous. Proprietary software for these robotic systems is generally difficult to develop and does not work with third-party systems.
When it was announced in 2021, Alphabet X graduate Intrinsic offered the following insight into its plans:
Over the past few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn and automatically make adjustments as they complete tasks, enabling them to operate in a wider range of environments and applications. Working with teams within Alphabet and with our partners in real-world production environments, we tested software that uses techniques such as automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.
This morning the company announced its first product, Flowstate, a development platform designed to deliver on some of those promises. The software is designed to help non-robotics engineers develop workflows for these hardware systems.
“Our first product is a solution builder,” CEO Wendy Tan White tells AapkaDost. “With Intrisic Flowstate we say: you can design, build and implement it. We are well aware that the world is still in its infancy with the skills available. They cannot be assembled in this workflow that we offer. We’re also going to allow skills to be available. We want the wider ecosystem to get involved. One of the benefits of leaving Alphabet is some of the more advanced skills like vision and force feedback where you need some machine learning or even deep reinforcement learning. We were also able to create some of those skills. What you’ll find in flow-state isn’t just the solution builder itself, but a library of skills, some of which don’t exist or aren’t easily accessible today.
The core of the system is a graphical tree structure that allows users to string together more complex workflows. Existing skills include pose estimation, manipulation, force-based insertion, and path planning. The platform will also be opened up to third-party developers who can design their own skills to integrate into flows.
The other big part of this is simulation. It is the most important implementation of robotics today, giving users the ability to run scenarios simultaneously in a virtual world to determine real world outcomes. The platform uses Gazebo, an open-source platform operated by Open Robotics, which also operated the robot operating system ROS. The connected for-profit arm, Open Source Robotics Corporation, was acquired by Intrinsic last December.
“What we’ve done with the acquisition is that the core technical team that used to work under OSRF (Open Source Robotics Foundation) is now working on Intrinsic,” said Brian Gerkey, the CEO of Open Robotics who is now the president of Open Robotics. at Intrinsic. “You have to see Intrinsic as perhaps one of the most important, but really just one player within the ROS ecosystem. We happen to employ a number of engineers and we are committed to supporting them in their development and contributing to the ROS community.”
The news follows a massive round of layoffs at Alphabet, including Every Day Robotics. “The EDR (Every Day Robotics) team has moved into what has become (Google) Brain,” she explains. “That product has merged with Google Deep Mind. We already worked a lot with DeepMind. The fully integrated Google DeepMind team is fully committed to helping us build more skills, including skills that might have been used with EDR.”
Tan White says that despite a 40-person reduction in Intrinsic’s workforce, the company was not badly affected by layoffs. On the contrary, she explains, the shake-ups were part of a small pivot within the company.
“We made some specific layoffs,” she says. “We graduated and even made a few acquisitions. We got clear what this project entailed. There were a few projects that were more hardware based, and we chose not to focus on those. That’s what the layoffs were really about. It was to focus on the software and the AI part of what we do and that first product. I think what confused the outside world at the time was we were obviously taking over with Open Robotics. They were related in the sense that we decided that we want to be software-centric, and Open Robotics fits in very well with that.”
In April last year, the company also acquired Vicarious. Tan White says about 80% of that team still works for Intrinsic today. “Their expertise in certain applications has been critical,” she adds. “Some of the uses you’ll see in the skills we have are based on the placeholder code.”
Flowstate is now available in beta. Intrinsic says it had more than 100 signups in the first hour after going live.