Heartland Robotics targets a $5000 robot that is an alternative to low wage workers. It will be a hardware platform that will use an iPhone application model to customize its software.
Since the company isn’t talking, I spoke to three people who have visited Heartland and seen demos of its technology. All were impressed — “The road map is pretty compelling,’’ said one. They had questions, though, about how long it will take to get the product ready for customers, and how to market a general-purpose robotic technology. It is not focused on addressing a specific pain point that one particular industry faces (such as the robotic agricultural helpers being developed by Harvest Automation Inc., another Massachusetts robotics company that has raised significant funding).
Visitors to Heartland describe a robot that looks like a human from the waist up, with a torso; either one or two arms with grippers; and a camera where you might expect the head to be. The robot is on a rolling base rather than legs; it can be moved around but doesn’t move autonomously. The arm and gripper can be quickly trained to do a repetitive task just by moving them, no software code required.
And I’m told the robot has a sense for when people get close, so it doesn’t pose a safety hazard to humans working alongside it.
The company is apparently targeting a $5,000 price point.
Brooks apparently likens Heartland’s robot, which is intended to perform assembly and packaging tasks that low-wage factory workers do today, to Apple’s iPhone. He’s interested in encouraging a community of software developers to create applications that would teach the robot to do tasks such as using its camera to recognize a defective widget and pulling it off the conveyor belt.