He can quickly be “taught” to perform an array of new tasks
The problem is that nobody likes the mundane tasks in life – fetching, carrying, taking out the laundry, cleaning the toilet, mopping the floor, watering plants, cleaning windows…
The solution is Gary, a robot that will do them all, and more, without a word of complaint.
He’s been designed to do the “boring jobs” in a whole range of workplaces, from hospitals and factories to hotels and airports.
There are plenty of robots around these days, but Gary is special, says Guy Altagar, CEO of Unlimited Robotics, who took the name from the initials of his children Gali, Rani and Yael.
Gary is special because he has two fully functioning arms. That may not sound like a big deal, but it’s extremely complicated, Altagar says, to build a robot with two arms.
A single robotic arm is challenging enough. “To coordinate two arms working simultaneously makes the challenge exponentially difficult,” says Altagar.
Gary is also special because he’s autonomous, which means he functions with minimal human intervention, as distinct from the more common automatic robot.
“There is a huge difference between an automatic device and an autonomous one. An automatic device means that I direct the device the machine to do a certain activity every day, the same performance every day.
“Autonomous means the robot uses its ‘initiative’ and doesn’t rely on a series of minute-by-minute instructions.
“Gary is the first robot in the world that has two arms, and is fully autonomous,” says Altagar.
But even beyond that, what sets him apart more than anything from other robots, is the fact that he can readily be taught (or programmed) to perform new tasks.
Most robots are designed for a single task – assembling products in factories, sanding or polishing them and packaging them – and that’s all they’re good for.
But Gary is more adaptable. He’s been designed from the start with a wide range of talents and he can readily pick up new skills with a (relatively) few lines of additional code.
Gary can master a new task in a matter of days that might otherwise take months. Unlimited Robotics says it’s doing for the world of robotics what Google did for the world of smartphones. It’s making them endlessly adaptable.
The company has developed an open-source platform called Ra-Ya, which allows software developers with no prior experience of robotics to build applications on robots.
“Building applications for electronic devices is extremely complicated,” says Altagar. “You have to know electronics, mechanics, kinematics (the geometry of motion), AI, software. So usually there is a big group of people working on building one application.
“We have simplified all that by building a layer on top of the hardware that enables developers to write very specific and very easy lines of code in Python. There are 25 million Python developers worldwide, so it’s a popular building language.
Sign up for our free weekly newsletterSubscribe
“The fact that any Python developer can program on it very easily to do things is really the biggest innovation of all.”
And while Musk’s robot is three to five years from being released, Gary is already working at Beilinson Hospital, in Petach Tikva, guiding visitors to the hospital and helping with inventory management.
So what might a developer want to teach Gary?
Gary, go to the kitchen, identify the refrigerator, open it and bring me a Coke.
“The developer needs to explain to Gary, what a refrigerator is and what a bottle of Coke is,” says Altagar. “But they don’t have to deal with movement, navigation, obstacle, avoidance, grasping, manipulation, cameras, so it shortens the way people build applications.”
More and more businesses will be using more and more robots in the coming years, but it’s already clear that single-job robots aren’t going to be of much use.
“If you’re a business that wants to deploy different types of devices, each doing only a single job, you’ll end up with a fleet of devices, each of them doing just one thing,” says Altagar.
“And that’s going to be a huge problem for businesses in the near future. This is one of the problems that we’re trying to solve by providing businesses with one device with multi-purpose functionality.”
In a hospital setting Gary can ease the workload for nurses. More than half the calls that they deal with from patients are non-medical.
“Gary will approach the patient and ask them what they need. If it’s something which is non-medical, like a pillow or water, Gary can provide it.
“Gary will save the nurses time so they can focus on other tasks. After the patients go to sleep Gary can help the operational team, cleaning the floor, sanitizing beds, helping them deliver dirty laundry from place to place, and helping deliver blood tests.
“Hotels are having tremendous difficulty finding employees. Gary can deliver things, use the elevator, and help the cleaning staff with bringing things, sanitizing restrooms, cleaning floors, vacuum-cleaning, directing guests to their room, and carrying their luggage.
“The same applies to nursing homes, office buildings, governmental institutions, schools, universities, museums, airports, train stations – you name it.”
Gary is 140cm high (4ft 5in), and is equipped with six cameras, 20 sensors, and four wheels. He’ll go to places humans won’t or can’t go, because they’re radioactive or infectious, or too hot, too moist, or too smelly.
Unlimited Robotics, founded in 2020 and based in Petach Tikva with around 30 staff, recently signed a deal with Matrix Software Products to market Gary. So far there are just 10 Garys, but the company aims to have 500 by the end of next year.