Who loves programming robots? Who wishes it was easier? Here comes Flowstate
Google X-born upstart pushes graphical approach to industrial control
Intrinsic, a robotics platform upstart founded in 2021 by Google's X "moonshot" research group, showed off its first product and announced a partner on Monday.
The product, Flowstate, is more bankshot than moonshot – a bid to lay the groundwork for relevance and revenue for the biz. It's a low-code platform for designing, programming, and deploying automation control software for a broad spectrum of industrial robotics hardware, some of which can be had from partner and automation integrator Comau.
"Our mission is in short to democratize access to robotics," said Wendy Tan White, CEO of Intrinsic, during a streamed announcement aspirationally described as a "keynote" despite the absence of a live audience. "We're making the ability to program intelligent robotic solutions as simple as standing up a website or mobile application."
If you've tried to design a website or mobile application, you may recall it's not necessarily all that simple. Flowstate isn't entirely uncomplicated either – industrial automation is a non-trivial activity.
But the software platform's menu-driven approach for linking sharable, reusable modules governing hardware behavior, with Gazebo simulator support, looks like a significant improvement to reinventing the wheel – or an assembly line gripping routine – for every implementation. And there's always the option to drop into a Python environment if necessary.
"A massive amount of time is still spent on the plumbing that supports robotic solutions while ultimately essential," explained Torsten Kroeger, CTO.
"Solving this complicated puzzle takes away from the process of creatively solving the problem or task at hand. Imagine if every mobile app developer had to build their own operating system from first principles simply to publish a new mobile app."
Kroeger, arguing that it's common for robot developers to spend years on engineering, said Intrinsic created Flowstate to lighten the burden of developing automation infrastructure that takes into account the need for safety, security, and privacy.
Asserting that no single product or service will bring robotics hardware and software together, White said, "This is an ecosystem effort."
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Last December, that effort took the form of acquiring one of the industry leaders, Open Source Robotics Corporation (OSRC), the for-profit arm of Open Source Robotics Foundation, which makes the widely used Robot Operating System (ROS), as well as Gazebo, and Open-RMF.
Flowstate interoperates with ROS and other common robotics tools to make graphic programming and system design accessible within a common framework. Part of its reason for being is to make robotics programming accessible to people who aren't necessarily robotics experts.
"You'll be able to simulate and validate solutions without touching a single piece of hardware," said Jake McCarter, head of platform product, at Intrinsic. "And a graphical process builder removes the need for extensive programming experience, giving new developers the tools they need to get started in no time."
Pietro Gorlier, CEO of Comau, explained how Intrinsic and Comau collaborated to automate a sub-assembly process for electric vehicles and he said the module assembly task developed will be useful for other kinds of assembly tasks. And that in turn should accelerate the deployment of industrial robots.
"We believe that Intrinsic Flowstate will make it much faster to design, program, and reprogram robotic work cells, saving hundreds of manual programming hours on every project," said Gorlier, during the video presentation. "This way we also tackle the shortage of qualified programmers in the industries that are approaching automation for the first time."
Flowstate can be tried by signing up for a beta test scheduled to begin in July. ®