The NZ company propelling the robotics industry worldwide

Vomle Springford

In ten years’ time, the world will look radically different as the use of automated robots picks up, predicts Aucklander David Inggs, CEO and co-founder of Rocos, a cloud operations platform that allows people to control autonomous fleets of robots from anywhere in the world.

He says the Covid-19 pandemic solidified robot capabilities after huge demand from hospitals around the world for UV-sterilisation robots, cleaning robots, and teleoperated robots so medical staff could talk to infected patients remotely without using up vital PPE gear.

There’s been a rapid advancement in robotics in the last few years, evolving from applied robotics to practical robots that can handle unpredictable environments, says Inggs. And there are far more uses beyond cleaning floors.

“We’re working with a New Zealand company called FreightFish which builds hydro-foiling boats that deliver shipping containers at high speed. We’re working with security robot companies in the U.S, drone companies that inspect docks in the Nordic region ‒ we’re working with a really wide variety of robotics.”

Rocos has partnered with Boston Dynamics in the U.S, providing operations for their Spot robot ‘dogs’, of which there are only two in the world ‒ so far ‒ Boston Dynamics recently announced Spot can be pre-ordered for USD $74,500 (NZD $115,490). It can navigate difficult terrain, cope with cold temperatures, reach speeds of 1.5 metres a second and has 360-degree cameras for eyes.

Overseas, Spot has been used for maintenance inspections in places like energy facilities, substations, and train stations.

“Imagine a hydroelectric facility, you want to make sure there’s no leaks in the pipes, no temperature fluctuations where there shouldn’t be. Instead of an engineer going around to check these things, you can send a robot and the remote operator can gather all the telemetry.

“What our system does is automate a mission; we can drop waypoints in the environment to tell Spot to go here, take a photo, take a gas reading, take a 360 capture and return to base. We provide the mission planning execution and sensor data capture for those missions.”

Inggs see potential for automated robots in New Zealand in horticulture, particularly vineyards, where they could be used to capture growth data and carry out yield prediction. “They can even replace individual vines versus a whole row.”

Their next big project is for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Teaming up with iFLYTEK, YunJi, and UU Robot, the Rocos platform will be used to manage delivery robots in hotels and humanoid service robots at the Shougang Winter Olympic Park.

South African-born Inggs and co-founder Richard Stinear started Rocos in 2017, after working together on and off for 20 years building large cloud IOT infrastructure platforms. They both have an interest in robotics and spotted a gap in the market for an off-the-shelf platform for robotics companies. “We felt there was going to be a groundswell of robotics companies scaling up in the next few years.”

He says in ten years’ time the world is going to look incredibly different as he is seeing more and more startup robotics companies coming onto the scene.

“Our children’s generation will say, ‘how on earth did you do all those things without robots?’. I think there’s a massive generation shift about to happen in terms of automation.

“I liken it to the mobile app industry in the early days when people had BlackBerry phones; people thought there was only going to be a calendar, email and maybe a game, like Snake. Whereas now there are hundreds of thousands of apps, and I think robotics is similar.”

Vomle Springford

Vomle is a journalist who enjoys writing about people doing interesting things in New Zealand and abroad. She was most recently editor at noted.co.nz.

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