Originally a project within Google’s X research group, Intrinsic graduated as an independent business from Alphabet. This means that he will leave the rapid prototyping environment of X and seek development partners.
CEO Wendy Tan-White explained that conventional industrial robots are difficult to program, often taking hundreds of hours of manual programming to perfect repetitive tasks. Some tasks, such as sanding surfaces of different shapes and sizes or plugging in electrical cords, are beyond the reach of robots because they require a subtle knowledge of environments and surfaces.
Intrinsic wants robots to perform tasks like these. He also worked on programming multiple robots to work together on complex tasks.
Intrinsic uses various techniques, including artificial intelligence (AI), to facilitate these programming tasks by “teaching” robots how to perform them. The company also experimented with deep learning, which uses more layers in a neural network to refine machine learning results and reinforcement learning, which uses feedback about the robot’s performance to improve its attempts at a task over time.
Other algorithms in its toolbox include automated perception and motion planning, as well as force simulation and control so robots can adjust the pressure they apply.
The company wants robots to apply their training to similar tasks without engineers reprogramming them from scratch again. He also hopes that by becoming aware of their surroundings, they will adapt to changing environments rather than restricting them to specific fixed conditions.
The idea is to make robots more affordable and usable, by opening up the technology to more companies. It will also allow companies to manufacture products closer to where they are used, which will make supply chains more efficient, Tan-White said.
The Intrinsic team spent five years developing the technology inside Building X.
Google has already tried robotics, acquisition of Boston Dynamics in 2013 before integrating it into its Replicant robotics division after its reorganization into Alphabet in 2015. Internal cracks and concerns about brand optics forced him to sell the company to SoftBank in 2017.
Google acquired other robotics companies in 2013, including Redwood Robotics, which focused on making robotic arms that were easy to program, and robotic camera system maker Bot & Dolly.
Intrinsic is the latest initiative to graduate from X, including autonomous driving startup Waymo and drone delivery company Wing.
Other projects still in development within Google X include the Everyday robot program, a separate robotics program investigating whether robots can operate in changing environments. His team has developed a robot capable of sorting recycling waste, which is a difficult task given the unpredictable contents of recycling bins.