The Silicon Review
“Perception Robotics is the first company to give robots an integrated sense of touch and vision, much like the hand-eye coordination of humans and a gecko-inspired gripper.”
Perception Robotics develops touch- and vision-based sensing solutions for modern industrial robots and next-generation assistive robots. The organization’s compliant rubber tactile sensors (“skin”) give robots a sense of touch, equipping automation systems with robust material handling capabilities.
The company develops polymer based sensors; algorithms and material handling Solutions. It specializes in machine touch, robotic integration, machine vision, and reach and grasp algorithms.
What is your core technology? How is it applied in your products?
Most industrial robots have no senses, some are vision guided, but rarely do they have a sense of touch and vision – we are changing that. By endowing robots with our inexpensive vision and touch (our PolySkin) and smart software, we’re enabling industrial robots to perform complex tasks like bin-picking at a fraction of the price of high-end vision-only systems. We are also developing a gecko inspired gripper that can rapidly attach and detach from flat surfaces – just like a real gecko. Unlike a vacuum gripper, its competitor, the Gecko Gripper™ requires no external power or air source to attach and can function in outer space; our first customer was NASA.
How does your company contribute towards the progress in the robotics industry?
Perception Robotics develops robotic technology inspired by nature – “we focus on robots that grip and grab things.” Generally speaking, there is a push in robotics to make them more collaborative, to make robots easier to work with and alongside humans. In order to cope with the unstructured environment that humans navigate and create, robots will need to sense their surroundings. We believe our core technology is the state-of-the-art, giving robots the tools to not only simply automate processes, but to have the tools to effectively collaborate within the human workspace.
In the case of our Gecko Gripper, we feel that we have made a significant breakthrough in automated materials handling. In the realm of space robotics, the Gecko Gripper offers a solution for in-space repair and satellite salvage and repair that simply does not exist with conventional solutions. With mechanical grippers’ limitations handling flat objects and vacuum grippers obviated by the vacuum of space, as well as the relative weakness of the current electrostatics on the market, our Electrostatic Gecko Gripper is an important evolution in this area. For terrestrial applications, the compressed air required for traditional vacuum grippers stands as a significant cost factor for industrial automation. The Gecko Gripper rapidly engages and disengages with no external power and no air system, providing an effective, energy efficient alternative to the status quo.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs in the field of robotics?
Believe in your ability to make an impact. Now, with computer learning and the maker movement that’s happening, inventors, entrepreneurs and small startups have the ability to make tremendous innovations in the field. With all the innovations happening today, it is exciting to think about what a robot will look like 50 years from now. Also, we would not be in position that we are today if we had not taken advantage of the non-diluted funding provided by our Small Business Research (SBIR) grants. Programs like these can be of real benefit to young technology companies, so I would definitely recommend pursuing them.
Robotics is a highly sophisticated industry. How does Perception Robotics differentiate its technology from its peers?
Part of what makes our technology novel is it has robust capability, durability, and it is easy to use. Our novel visual-tactile systems have applications in a broad set of automated functions. We believe that their functionality combined with their ease of use make them a perfect solution for first-time automation buyers and retrofitters. Our gecko-inspired adhesive pads utilize the same architecture that allows a gecko to run up walls to the handling of flat objects. By requiring no external power source or air supply to engage and disengage, it is an energy and cost-saving solution for industrial automation. Gecko Gripper technologies have grip strength and adhesion time that is many times better than current electrostatic gripping solutions.
Meet the founders
Dr. Nick Wettels, CEO, CTO, Founder:
Dr. Wettels possesses 11 years of sensor development and robotics experience. His expertise is in rapid sensor prototype development as well as grip control algorithms for robot hands, machine learning and signal processing. He has significant management and entrepreneurial experience from his service as a submarine officer (he is a Commander in the U.S. Navy Reserve - Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command) and his three years as Chief Operating Officer of Technology start-up SynTouch, LLC. As part of his graduate training, he was awarded a graduate fellowship from NASA and worked closely with the Robonaut Nicholas is also a former post-doctoral researcher for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA.
Dr. Helena Yli-Renko, Business Development, Co-Founder: Dr. Yli-Renko is a Professor of Clinical Entrepreneurship at the Marshall School of Business at USC and Director of the Lloyd Greif Center in Entrepreneurship. Previously, at the strategy consulting firm McKinsey and Company, she led teams for Fortune 500 clients in technology-based sectors. She has a doctorate in strategy and entrepreneurship. For her Master’s degree in industrial engineering, she specialized in industrial automation system design and management.
“Our gecko-inspired gripper integrates nanoscale “hairs” with electrostatics to enable efficient on/off adhesion for handling flat objects.”