Why companies invest in magical robots to autonomously help them.
What a man can do, a robot can do better!
Although not entirely true. This statement is valid for many industrial and manufacturing floor activities. That’s because robots can be taught to be quite mobile on their own and work in unstructured environments. This is why companies are investing heavily to develop and deploy the next magical robot that can operate autonomously on the factory floor. And don’t worry about robots taking over – they will be trained to be our companions and partners.
In this episode, the first part of two, Ed Bernardon interviews Marc Theermann, Chief Strategy Officer at Boston Dynamics that makes the most advanced mobile humoind robots on earth. Today, he’ll help understand what their robots are used for and the progress they’ve made so far. He’ll also share with us the role that robots can play in solving real-world problems.
Some Questions I Ask:
- What is Boston Dynamic’s mission? (03:18)
- What’s your biggest priority as you move from r&d mode? (04:47)
- How do you see robots enriching our everyday lives? (07:37)
- What does the market out there really wants with robots? (19:26)
- How did you get inspired to be in robotics? (26:00)
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- The difference between Boston Dynamics and other robotics companies (03:54)
- What they are doing to make humans excited about robots (10:43)
- The difference between how robots are viewed in Asia versus in North America (13:11)
- The role robots can play in bridging the last 50 meters of package delivery (17:25)
- Features of Boston Dynamic robots (27:28)
Connect with Marc:
Connect with Ed Bernardon:
Ed Bernardon: Marc, you’ve had a passion for robots your entire life. So, if you think back from when you were growing up to the current time – of all the TV shows and movies you’ve seen, what’s your favorite robot?
Marc Theerman: It has to be R2D2. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, so certainly R2D2 probably has been influencing my robotic thinking all my life, and I’m sure I’m not alone here.
Ed Bernardon: Do you think R2D2 has had any influence on the Boston Dynamic robots?
Marc Theerman: Oh, for sure. I think when I roam the halls here, a lot of the engineers have R2D2 models in their offices.
Ed Bernardon: Can we expect maybe an R2D2 coming out sometime in the future?
Marc Theerman: You never know. I don’t know if you saw, actually, two of our Spot robots were in the latest Boba Fett TV show. There is a little bit of a connection already between the Star Wars galaxy and our robots.
Ed Bernardon: So, if one ever comes out, it’s already got some competition on the Hollywood stage, it sounds like.
Marc Theerman: Yeah, for sure.
Ed Bernardon: Robots have been a part of our lives in one setting or another for many years, and that presence is growing quickly. From industrial robots to vacuum cleaners, we are becoming quite comfortable with the functionality they provide. But as they get smarter, more independent, and qualified to do much more in our lives, how will we respond? Will we be excited or will we be terrified? A future with robots is certainly something we all need to come to terms with. So what will this future look like? In what ways will robots integrate into our daily lives? And will we eventually get to the point where we can’t live without them?
Ed Bernardon: Welcome to the Future Car podcast. I’m your host, Ed Bernardon, the VP of Automotive Strategy at Siemens Digital Industries Software. And as always, we touch on things related to mobility, including things related to cars or car companies. Last year, Hyundai did something very interesting – they acquired a controlling interest in Boston Dynamics, which makes some of the most advanced humanoid robots in the world that can do many things that even the average human can’t do, including being on Superbowl ads.
Ed Bernardon: Today, we have with us, Marc Theerman, Chief Strategy Officer of Boston Dynamics, a company whose mission it is to imagine and create exceptional robots that enrich people’s lives. He’s going to tell us about Boston Dynamics and its robots. And we’ll even talk a little bit about where things might go in the future. So whether you’re a lover of robotics like Marc, or still apprehensive to the idea, I’m sure you’ll find our discussion fascinating and excellent food for thought.
Marc, welcome to the Future Car podcast.
Marc Theerman: Thank you so much, Ed. It is a pleasure to be here.
Ed Bernardon: Well, let’s start off. Tell us a little bit about Boston Dynamics. What’s the company’s mission, its driving force? What’s it all about?
Marc Theerman: So, Boston Dynamics is a small startup-type company in Boston, Massachusetts. We’re really a 30-year-old startup because we’ve been building magical robots for quite some time. But we’ve really only started to commercialize our robots in the last three years or so. And our quadruped robot, Spot, has been commercially available for about two years. Our mission is to build magical robots that change humanity for the better and really are here to help humanity.
Ed Bernardon: If you had to compare Boston Dynamics to other robot companies, how do you see it unique or different?
Marc Theerman: So, stationary robots have really played a very large part in manufacturing in the United States for almost 50 years or so. But Boston Dynamics builds mobile robots, which means our robots can go anywhere where a human can go, which includes going up and down stairs, going on uneven terrain, and navigating through unstructured environments. So, the dawn of mobile robots walking into our daily lives has really just begun. At first, these robots will walk into our academic lives, but soon they will walk into our work lives, and then, of course, also into our homes at some point. So, the difference between us and other robotics companies is really that we are a mobile robot company.
Ed Bernardon: You said you’ve been a startup for 30 years, and started to commercialize within the last three years. And you said some really interesting things too about your robots are very dynamic, they can work in unstructured environments. As you move from a startup mode, say, or an R&D mode into truly a more commercial mode, what are your priorities? What’s most important as you take this big step?
Marc Theerman: So, I think the biggest priority for us is really finding product-market fit and solving real-world problems, because we’ve proven to the world that we can build magical robots that spur the fascination of many folks, but can these robots really solve real-world problems at scale? So, we have three robots at the moment: We have a quadruped called Spot; we have a humanoid called Atlas; and then we have a logistics robot called Stretch. And for each of these robots, we’re trying to make sure that these robots are solving real-world problems.
Ed Bernardon: I like your use of the word “magical.” So, you named three different robots; you’ve got Spot, Stretch, and Atlas. So, tell me a little bit how each one of them, in your opinion, is magical.
Marc Theerman: So, when I first started working here – which is almost two years ago at this point, I suppose – I was fascinated because if you walk into our office here in Waltham, Massachusetts, there’s lots of robots walking around. Even after all this time, I still find it absolutely magical that I sit in my office and a robot walks by my office all the time. Behind me, you can see, is our Spot lab, there’s half a dozen robots walking around at any given time. So, it truly feels like you’re stepping into the future when you’re stepping into the Boston Dynamics office. And that magic is, I think, what brings lots of folks to Boston Dynamics to work here.
Ed Bernardon: Do the robots, every now and then, unexpectedly walk into your office? Is that what you were saying?
Marc Theerman: Well, they might do that at night, because at night, we actually test our newest features and our newest autonomy features as well. At the moment, the robots that walk around the office are often controlled by humans. But at night, we test autonomy features. So, if you were to walk into the Boston Dynamics office, it would probably be a little bit like “Night at the Museum” where a lot of things come to life here.
Ed Bernardon: Have you ever snuck in and hidden behind a couch or something just to see what they’re doing?
Marc Theerman: Unfortunately, I don’t even need to sneak in. I often have late nights, so I’m often here past the sun going down.
Ed Bernardon: So you never come in in the morning and all your papers are messed up, or your laptop was pushed onto the floor or anything like that? They’re well-behaved.
Marc Theerman: They’re well-behaved, Ed.
Ed Bernardon: So, you stated that you’ve had a lifelong ambition to develop companion robots that are lovable creatures that enrich our everyday lives. So, how do you see robots enriching our everyday lives?
Marc Theerman: So, that is my lifelong ambition, and that’s certainly one of the reasons that I started working at Boston Dynamics. At the moment, we are building industrial robots. So, I want to be clear that our mission at Boston Dynamics is to build industrial robots. But I think it’s true that from a mechanical and hardware standpoint, we are probably the furthest along when it comes to mobile robots. And you will notice that if you drive one of our robots manually, if you’ve ever driven a remote-controlled car, you know that you have to be very precise, otherwise, the remote-controlled car drives into the wall. If you’re driving Spot, you cannot drive Spot into a wall because he’s always in semi-autonomous mode, meaning you tell the robot the rough direction that you want him to walk in, and he will walk in that direction. And if there’s a staircase in between you and the end goal, then he will walk up the stairs without you doing anything specific. So, our robots are very advanced in terms of their hardware, and they’re becoming very advanced in terms of their autonomy software. And both of those things are sort of foundational capabilities that you would need for a robot that lives in your home, and might be a companion robot. And we might be a decade or two away from that really happening. But the truth is almost 20 million consumers already have mobile robots in their home in the form of vacuum cleaners and lawnmowers. So, I think there is a consumer interest for allowing robots into their daily lives. But when I say “loveable creatures and companions,” specifically, I’m worried about an aging population in the larger cities that is really very lonely. And surely it would be better if they purchased a dog or cat as companionship, but that might not be allowed in many of the metropolises — in Seoul, in Shanghai, in Tokyo, in Berlin. So, if you can’t have a real pet and you are lonely, then in the future, I think robotic companions could play a very big role in letting you communicate with the rest of the world in a way that is intuitive and easy to do. As you get older, sometimes the newest technology is not that easy. I for myself cannot even operate my TV anymore.
Ed Bernardon: You need three remotes to get it to do what you want.
Marc Theerman: Yeah, you need three remotes. You press one wrong button and you don’t know what to do anymore. So, I think that we’re at the very beginning where all of a sudden we can talk to our computers, we can communicate with our computers. And if they could communicate back to us in an intuitive way that is packaged in a hardware that is lovable and interesting, I think that would be a game-changer.
Ed Bernardon: You’ve said so many interesting things here, when you bring them all together, I think it starts to create this companion robot. One of the first things you said was unlike a little robot RC car, you don’t have to tell Spot “left leg on the first step, other leg on the next.” You say, “Hey, go up the stairs.” It knows how to handle the low-level things. You can give it intention or direction. And the first time we met we were at the Indy Autonomous Challenge – it was an autonomous car race – and afterwards, there was a dinner. And you brought Spot in, and everyone was standing around having their drinks and their snacks, and Spot would go up to people, and it truly seemed like it was a little dog with a motion that was responding to you with the cute little head moving. Are those types of moves built-in, like, “Hey, give me that cute little head look so someone will want to pat me.” I’m sure it has its industrial applications. But it does start to have that bit of emotional connection with the people that are around it.
Marc Theerman: So, it’s interesting. We were trying to build a robot that can go anywhere where a human can go. And it turns out that evolution headed right, and that legs are particularly a good way to get around. And so, you end up with a form factor that has four legs. And then, already, you’re starting to look a little bit like a dog. And our industrial designers have really created a robot that, I think, is beautiful. But also, the form language really doesn’t say “cute and cuddly.” The form language says, “Hey, this is a power tool.” Just the way that you wouldn’t think about using a screwdriver to screw a screw into a wall; these days, you would use a power tool. The same is true here. But you’re right that the anthropomorphism in this robot, meaning the human projecting human emotions into this machine are particularly strong. And then if you pose him a certain way, then it gets even stronger. And evolution gave us the core design. We are turning up the volume a little bit more these days on this anthropomorphism because we want humans to be excited about this robot as a tool. And so, we think that there’s an amazing opportunity in front of us, for humans to accept robots into their daily lives, especially at work. And so we’re turning up the volume on the cuteness factor a little bit to facilitate that.
Ed Bernardon: You mentioned you’re turning up this emotional side of the robots. But emotion can take a lot of different paths right. I’ve watched some of your videos, like the “Do you love?” video where they’re dancing and doing all that. And I think “Oh, my goodness, that’s exciting.” But there’s some people that say, “Oh, my goodness, I think they’re going too far. These robots are becoming more like people, maybe they’re going to take over the world or who knows what.” So, there is a little bit of both of those sides. How do you see that affecting what you do or how you present your robots?
Marc Theerman: What I find so fascinating, Ed, is that in North America and parts of Europe, the fictional narrative around robots is pretty dark and pessimistic – starting with Frankenstein over Terminator to Black Mirror, Hollywood is not really helping the situation here. When, in reality, of course, these are tools and not sentient beings, despite the fact that they look like a dog or like a human. So, we’re trying hard to let the rest of the planet know that “Look, these are really harmless tools that are here to help and do your job better.” What’s so fascinating, and maybe not a surprise that we were purchased, or that Hyundai took a controlling interest in our company, because that fictional narrative is not that way in Asia. In South Korea and Japan, people are very excited about robots. There is no negative sentiment. And if you land in Seoul, there’s multiple robots in the welcoming area of the airport greeting you. So, I think it’s interesting the cultural differences here between North America and Asia.
Ed Bernardon: Why do you think that is? Why such a different attitude in Asia versus Europe and North America, say?
Marc Theerman: I think the fictional narrative was always brighter in Southeast Asia. And so I think that certainly plays a role. People are very technology affine and there’s a lot of gadget freaks over there. I count myself among them, so I’m using the term lovingly. That makes a big difference.
Ed Bernardon: Yeah, it’s amazing how Hollywood and movies – depending on what country you’re from – can have such an impact on perception of technology, regardless of what that technology does. Google took an interest in Boston Dynamics, sold it, then Hyundai came in; what do you think the motivation was for Google? How do you think the motivation of Hyundai is the same, different? And certainly, how’s the whole Hyundai acquisition impacted you? It’s been almost a year now.
Marc Theerman: I don’t think we want to speculate on Google’s intention of why they purchased us or why they ended up selling us. It probably had to do a lot with Andy Rubin, who was the person at Google who drove the acquisition. And after his departure, I think Google divested of most of their hardware robotics interests, and so we were part of that. I think, more importantly and more excitingly, why did Hyundai acquire us? I think Chairman Chang is a visionary who is very excited about robotics and his team is as well and they have been super supportive in everything that we want to do. I think the general excitement about robotics probably helped here. But certainly Hyundai believes that robotics will play a very large part in the future. Hyundai’s mission is to help humanity and so there’s a strong overlap with what we want to do here. So, I think, at the highest level, there was a good fit between the missions and the path that we’re going down. And then from our viewpoint, of course, we have high hopes that we will sell tens of thousands of these robots. And so, in order to do that, we need to manufacture them at very high-quality levels at a reasonable price. And Hyundai is known throughout the world for doing just that with cars; they’re producing very high-quality cars at a reasonable price. And so for us, it was a match made in heaven, because we think they can help us with that future.
Ed Bernardon: When you think about mobility, there is certainly the mobility of cars, buses on streets. And now you’ve got micro-mobility coming in and other types of vehicles, so the sidewalk starts to play. And of course, if you’re delivering packages, as well as people, you go from street to sidewalk to inside the building. And we’re not going to get rid of stairs overnight and elevators and all; do you think somehow there could be a melding of the robotics of an autonomous car with what happens on the sidewalk, with what happens in the building, maybe a handoff of the packages? So, when you say, “Don’t just take me to this address, take me to Floor 5, Room 402.”
Marc Theerman: For certain. I think we’ll start with packages first. We are certainly thinking a lot about could our robots play a role in bridging that last 50 meters? The Last Mile has been figured out. And folks like Hyundai’s subsidiary Motional, or Google’s Waymo are working hard on building autonomous wheeled robots, aka cars, that can deliver packages to your almost front door; they can deliver it to the curb. So, how does the package get from the curb to the door? We think that a mobile robot could be the answer here. And I think from a technology perspective, we’re not that far away from that being a reality. I think that the first couple of times, we would see a particular door, we would might have to practice with the human at the wheel, but I think the autonomy could follow very quickly. So, we are thinking about that. And I think you’re absolutely right.
Ed Bernardon: Sometimes even humans; you go up to a door, you push it, “Oh, I’m supposed to pull.” Or you don’t know which direction to turn the doorknob. It’s not going to be any different for robot. There is another investment by Hyundai, it was Motional, a joint venture with Aptiv; are you doing any work now with Motional to move in this direction?
Marc Theerman: We happen to both be located here in Boston, so there’s a regular, vibrant exchange between the two companies.
Ed Bernardon: You mentioned you were on a listening tour to assess where different market verticals are headed, trying to assess the needs for the marketplace. Can you give us any surprises or anything interesting that you’ve found so far on your tour? So, what the market out there really wants with robots?
Marc Theerman: It has changed over the last couple of months from us going into meetings and people saying, “Oh, that’s a cute robot, can you let it dance?” To people saying, “Hey, I get that you have very strong autonomy features, and that this robot can autonomously roam the halls of my manufacturing environment. While it does that, can it do inspections of my machinery? Could it listen to a pump? And can it look with a thermal imaging camera at an electrical panel? And can it zoom into an old-fashioned gauge to read the pressure? Can it then upload all that information into the cloud, where machine learning can then detect anomalies, and then you can tell me, ‘Hey, this pump sounds different than it sounded yesterday, maybe it’s about to break.’ Or ‘this electrical panel is hotter than it should be, maybe have a human take a look at it.’” So, we think that our robot can play a strong role in dynamic sensing, meaning bringing the sensor to the asset and letting our clients look into the future a little bit, because the robot sees things that humans don’t see, and the robot does it with an unbelievable amount of repeatability and standardization. And that lets our clients look into the future.
Ed Bernardon: Gets rid of that human bias: “Oh, there’s nothing wrong in this gauge. It’s always perfect.”
Marc Theerman: That’s certainly one thing, Ed, but we’re also hearing, from a lot of the folks that we talked to, that the next generation that is currently going into retirement are taking a lot of information with them. Because you have Mike that goes to the manufacturing plant, he puts his hand on the pump and says, “Yep, that’s still fine.” But the next generation of folks that are just coming out of school and taking that job, they don’t know, they don’t have that knowledge. This historical knowledge that’s currently walking out of American factories, standardized data capture through robotic means can certainly assist the humans that will be there.
Ed Bernardon: I love your example. I’ve seen these experts that have been around for a long, long time. They put their hand on the pump; “Oh, there’s something amiss here.” But a robot could measure it from a thermal aspect or a vibrational aspect. You actually start to quantify some of this expertise you’re talking about, that could get lost if we don’t. And that’s truly a companion. I’ll teach Spot a few things about inspecting transmissions or transformers. I love the Super Bowl ad. Can you tell me a little bit? I mean, how do you create an ad like that? Was there a lot of programming involved? And for those that are listening, make sure you google “Boston Dynamics Superbowl ad,” and I think you’re going to see some very, very interesting things. How do you go from nothing to an ad like that? How do you get the robots to become actors?
Marc Theerman: First and foremost, of course, it was only possible because of a deep partnership with our friends at Sam Adams Brewery. We get a lot of inbound requests for people wanting to do things with our robots. And you’ve seen our robots with Katy Perry, you’ve seen them in the Star Wars, Boba Fett, and now with Sam Adams. But we thought Sam Adams was such an amazing partner because Sam Adams revolutionized the craft beer industry in North America. If you look back before Sam Adams came along, certainly for me as a German, the beer landscape was a little bit sad. And in comes Sam Adams and says, “Okay, we’re gonna really focus on quality and local craftsmanship in the Boston area.” So, when they approached us with an ad that is part of a series called “My Cousin from Boston,” we thought it was such a good brand fit, because we too are focused on quality and craftsmanship, and we’re from Boston, we have Boston in the name. And so it was sort of an amazing match. Together with their agency, we came up with this concept, where two night guards are working at Boston Dynamics, and then they start getting intoxicated, the robots start getting intoxicated, and a giant party ensues, just like you had imagined earlier, Ed, happens here every night. The truth is, maybe this is how it looks every night and we didn’t have to imagine anything. They just came and filmed what happens every night here. But yeah, the outcome is fantastic and it really was fun to have all three of our robots in the final advertisement. And of course, you notice at the very end, there’s a small cameo of our founder, Marc Raibert, who was the gentleman in the Hawaiian shirt.
Ed Bernardon: “Call security.” I think it was, right?
Marc Theerman: Yeah, exactly.
Ed Bernardon: If Spot could talk — you mentioned Sam Adams beer, and I were to ask, “Spot, how do a Sam Adams beer compared to those German beers you had when you were in Germany?” You mentioned German beers. What do you think he’d say? Sam Adams? German beer? Which one? What do you think?
Marc Theerman: He would say that both, BMW and Ford, are both interesting cars. BMW probably makes good sports cars, and Ford makes good trucks. There’s a beer for every occasion.
Ed Bernardon: Perfect answer. We’ve got to maintain robot sales, both in Germany and in the Boston area. You grew up in a small town, 400 person town. I think it has one supermarket in the town. What was your inspiration? How do you go from that to where you are now?
Marc Theerman: Yeah, it was a small town. We had a supermarket only when I was young, and then the supermarket closed and we were left with the church and a pub. I loved growing up there, and some of my dearest friends still live there. It was a very loving environment growing up there and very nurturing. I had two loving parents, so I was definitely blessed. And then I moved to Heidelberg to go to college. And from there, I went to grad school here in the United States, where I met my wife and then I ended up staying, and now I’ve been in this country for almost 30 years, I think. So, Boston has been my home for quite some time. America has been good to me, and it’s been a fantastic time. So, no regrets at all.
Ed Bernardon: How did you get inspired to be in robotics?
Marc Theerman: I think when I was eight, my father bought me my first robot, which I think were called Tommy Robots at the time. Basically, a plastic toy that looked magical, but was very underwhelming in terms of its functionality and autonomy, and certainly didn’t hold up to the promise of the pictures and advertisements. Ever since then, I think I’ve purchased every commercially available robot that was meant for the home. They’re continuously underwhelmed in their functionality. You want them to be better than they are, especially because of all the wonderful movies that we see where some robots are so lovingly portrayed. So, I always had ambitions to say, “Okay, fine. If nobody else can figure this out, then I’ve got to figure this out for myself.” And when I started talking to Rob, our CEO, I think he shared that long-term vision, and so that’s what got me in the door here. When I called my dad and said, “Hey, I just got a job at Boston Dynamics.” He said, “It’s about freaking time. You’ve been talking about it since you were eight years old.”
Ed Bernardon: So, do you have a room at your house that’s full of robot toys?
Marc Theerman: Yes.
Ed Bernardon: So, when you go home then, you can go from playing with robots at work to playing with them at home. It’s just like one continuous robot world?
Marc Theerman: Yes, that’s right.
Ed Bernardon: Let’s talk a little bit about the three different robots; they’re Spot, Stretch, and Atlas. How do they complement each other? How are they different? Tell us a little bit about them and what they do.
Marc Theerman: So, what they have in common is a certain level of autonomy, meaning, you can control all these robots with a handheld controller that looks pretty much like an Xbox controller. You can log into these robots through web interfaces. So, you can be in Germany and control the robot that’s in our office here in Boston through a web interface. But then, of course, most excitingly, these robots are autonomous, meaning you can program a certain route and tell the robot, “Hey, this is the route I want you to walk every night at five.” And then the robot will execute that route even if the route changes on him. So, for example, if you teach the robot a certain tour through our facility here, and then somebody leaves a desk or a chair in the way, the robot will realize that “Here’s an obstacle in the way that wasn’t here before. I know where I need to go, so I’m gonna circumvent the obstacle and find a different route.” And so that level of autonomy is sort of new for robots. And even in the short time I’ve been here, the autonomy features have grown exponentially. So, the robot doesn’t really get lost anymore and it’s super exciting to see the robot autonomously walk through these buildings. So, that’s what they have in common is mobility, autonomy, and of course, they share certain hardware and software features. And the three robots – Spot, Stretch, and Atlas – serve different markets. Spot, the four-legged robot is an industrial inspection robot, so it can autonomously go through your facility and record things that a human can see, as we’ve talked about. Then you have Stretch, which can autonomously unload a floor-loaded container, meaning a logistics container where the goods in the container are not on pallets, but the goods in a container are floor-loaded so packages are stacked on top of one another. Today, you have to do that with two humans. It is the most hated job in a warehouse because it’s dark, it’s cold in the winter, it’s hot in the summer, there’s no windows, and you often get hurt.
Ed Bernardon: You’re lifting up big boxes.
Marc Theerman: For eight hours a day. There’s a lot of injuries in that job. So, this robot is meant to autonomously unload the container; you open the door, you hit the go button on the robot, and the robot unloads the container onto a conveyor belt. And when he’s done, he says, “Okay, I’m done. You can turn me off.”
Ed Bernardon: How would you say Stretch compares to some of these other warehouse robots we’ve seen? I mean, you can go online and you can see videos of, for instance, in an Amazon factory or something like that robots buzzing around moving. How is it different?
Marc Theerman: There’s a lot of attention currently being put on what happens inside the warehouse. And there are basically two types of robots in the warehouse at the moment. There are ASRS systems, Automatic Storage and Retrieval Systems that basically replace the entire warehouse with a giant robot that knows at any given time where any package is located. And then if you’re trying to get a specific package out of the warehouse, that giant system goes, picks up that package, and brings it to you. Those are very, very sophisticated systems and they come in different shapes and sizes. And that’s also what Amazon uses after they acquired Boston-based Kiva systems, which is basically a type of Automated Storage and Retrieval System – super sophisticated, they work phenomenally well. But of course, they are spectacularly expensive because you’re, in essence, replacing the entire warehouse with a giant robot that costs between $20 and $80 million. The second type of robot that you often find in a warehouse is a robot, also from a Boston-based company called Locus Robotics, that helps workers in a traditional warehouse to identify packages that need to be picked. So, this is actually a type of companion robot that’s very successful, and they are assisting the workers that are there today. And our robots fall more into that category. Without putting any bolts into the ground and without adjusting any infrastructure that’s currently in place, our robots work with your current infrastructure and unload the containers into your existing warehouse. But if your existing warehouse was in fact an ASRS system, those ASRS systems are not yet unloading containers. So, our robots could also work with existing larger systems that might already be in place.
Ed Bernardon: So could this be like a semi-truck or something pulls up to your loading dock? Could it unload a truck like that and know where to put the boxes? Is that the idea? Or take things off of a pallet?
Marc Theerman: Imagine you have a warehouse that is filled with racks and humans, and no automation is in the warehouse. What happens today is that the semi-truck pulls up to the warehouse, the door opens up and then between two and four humans unload the packages that they find in a container into the warehouse. And then other humans store the packages somewhere in the warehouse; sometimes they use forklifts for that, sometimes they do it manually, sometimes they use ASRS systems. But the typical way a warehouse works is goods come in on one side, get stored in the middle, and then go out the other side.
Ed Bernardon: So, complementary then to the systems that may exist in a lot of factories today.
Marc Theerman: Correct.
Ed Bernardon: And it’s sold out right away. So, that’s a good sign.
Marc Theerman: Our go-to market is that we’re going deep with a handful of customers that really understand where we are in our development lifecycle, that want to be part of this journey, see the potential of this warehouse, and we’re really creating deep partnerships with these companies. It’s been going great. And these companies, folks like DHL, HMM, CEVA, and others. It’s been going great because they are such deep partners of ours. So, it’s not really a client-vendor relationship. But instead, we’re developing this robot together with them.
Ed Bernardon: What about Spot? What markets is Spot targeting?
Marc Theerman: So, Spot appears to be working particularly well for process industries. So, when you are building something, or you’re manufacturing something, and there’s a lot of processes that happen as you’re building this — that could be your brewery where you’re brewing beer, that could be a chip manufacturer, but there’s multiple steps involved and there’s likely a basement that has good old-fashioned knobs and instruments and pumps and things that break a lot. And without standardized and repeatable data capture, those assets tend to break. And once they break, your entire process stops and that costs you a lot of money. And sometimes you actually need to throw out what you were in the process of making. So, our robot will help you look into the future a little bit and avoid those unnecessary shutdowns.
That’s part 1 with Marc Theerman. Join us on our next episode with Marc when we’ll learn more about the robots at Boston Dynamics and even what a world with robots might look like 50-100 years from now.
Ed Bernardon: And as always, for more information about Siemens Digital Industries Software, make sure to visit us at plm.automation.siemens.com. And until next time, I’m Ed Bernardon, and this has been the Future Car Podcast.
Marc Theermann – CSO Boston Dynamics
In his role as Chief Strategy Officer, Theermann oversees development and implementation of Boston Dynamics’ commercialization strategy and is responsible for product, marketing, shareholder management, and business development functions. He joins Boston Dynamics from Google, where he was responsible for cross-product strategy and has more than two decades of experience working with high-growth companies, including PlaceIQ, AdMeld, which (sold to Google $400M), and Millennial Media (sold to AOL/Verizon $250M). He holds an MBA from Northeastern University, and Masters in International Management from Thunderbird.
Ed Bernardon, Vice President Strategic Automotive Intiatives – Host
Ed is currently VP Strategic Automotive Initiatives at Siemens Digital Industries Software. Responsibilities include strategic planning in areas of design of autonomous/connected vehicles, lightweight automotive structures and interiors. He is also responsible for Future Car thought leadership including hosting the Future Car Podcast and development of cross divisional projects. Previously a founding member of VISTAGY that developed light-weight structure and automotive interior design software acquired by Siemens in 2011. Ed holds an M.S.M.E. from MIT, B.S.M.E. from Purdue, and MBA from Butler.
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The Future Car Podcast
The tech-driven disruption of the auto industry cuts across domains, from silicon and software to sensors and AI to smart traffic management and mobility services. Get the chip- to city-scale story in regular interviews with technologists at Siemens and beyond.