The Young CEOs Of Cobalt Robotics Are Making Robot Security Guards A Reality

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Movies and TV shows have long imagined robots as a fixture of our daily lives. As early as 1927’s Metropolis, we’ve imagined the heights robotics could reach and the humanoid functions these robots might fill. From murderous terminators to sweet little love struck Wall-E to replicants in the midst of an existential crisis, we’ve pondered the role robots could have for decades now.

For many of us, the idea of robots as a part of daily life started in childhood, while watching reruns of the Jetsons. We couldn’t wait for our flying cars and robot maids to be invented. And while flying cars are still a wee bit off (though we remain very hopeful), robot maids may be just around the corner.

Because thanks to the work of Cobalt Robotics, Robot security guards are a current reality.

The Security guards of the future, the Cobalt robot.

Travis Deyle and Erik Schluntz, the founders of Cobalt, met while both going through a program called Y Combinator. Y Combinator invests in start-ups and provides rigorous support to get businesses off the ground. At the time, Deyle was helming his wife’s fashion auction site, and Schluntz had started a business to help streamline customer service surveys.

“Going through Y Combinator was like getting an MBA,” Deyle says. “That normally takes a couple of years, but we did it in like three months before being slapped in the face with reality.”

In the program, both entrepreneurs learned a great deal about the business side of innovation. They also became friends and connected over a shared love of robotics, which led to plenty of plotting for a future company.

The two went their separate ways after Y Combinator ended. Schluntz sold his initial company and finished up at Harvard, while Deyle moved on to new projects and began making a name for himself in the engineering field. In 2015, he was awarded the prestigious MIT Technology Review, “35 Innovators Under 35” Award. Both men seemed to be on separate paths to success. But as fate would have it, the two were destined to cross ways again — a few years after their time at Y Combinator, both ended up at Google X where Deyle was working on a smart contact lens and Schluntz was interning.

Connected once again, they decided to make the leap to create Cobalt Robotics.

“I left Google without having any idea of what we were going to work on,” Deyle says. “And I managed to convince Erik to turn down a pretty amazing job offer at Space X to come join me.”

It was a leap of faith, but one that has produced quite impressive results. In only a year, their company, Cobalt Robotics, has made the news recently with the announcement that they’re ready to begin putting security robots into the workplace. Much like self-driving cars, the robots are equipped with highly sensitive technology that allows them to interact with their surroundings intelligently.

“We have more than 60 sensors total from cameras,” Schluntz explains, “thermal cameras, microphone array, laser scanners, all these different tools that the robot can use to see the world around it. Plus, we have a high end super computer in every single robot to process all that information using the latest techniques.”

Cobalt – Indoor Security Robots from Cobalt Robotics on Vimeo.

The robot’s main job will be to patrol office buildings and look for any people or situations that are out of the ordinary. And while they are highly equipped to react to any unusual stimuli, Deyle and Schluntz are quick to point out that the robots are not meant to replace human personnel. When a robot finds a person or activity that isn’t where it’s supposed to be, it will Skype in a human pilot who will take control and talk to whoever is in the space.

So rather than replacing a flesh and blood person, these robots enhance the human’s abilities and scope.

“The robot is a tool for a very capable human security guard,” Deyle says. “(With Cobalt) that guard can project their presence throughout the entire organization by controlling 20 or 30 of these robots. And then when it detects something, that person can actually provide high level, human level intelligence and respond.”

Deyle and Schluntz have worked incredibly hard with the help of outside experts to make the robots aesthetically pleasing and as pleasant as possible for workers at the companies they’re deployed.

“We worked with some of the top HRI (human robot interaction) experts,” Deyle says. “These people come from a robotics background, but also a psychology, and even a divine background.”

The duo wanted to make sure at every step of the design process that people would respond positively to the help rather than be fearful of the futuristic technology.

“The robot’s designed to be friendly and approachable,” Schluntz continues. Because as he points out-most of the time even if someone is in the office at 3am, it’s much more likely that it’s simply an employee who forgot their computer than an intruder.

“You want (the robot) to welcome them and say, ‘Hey, how can I help you?’ and ‘Touch your badge,'” Schulntz says, “rather than be intimidating or scary.”

Cobalt’s main goal is to make employees feel safer in the workplace. And testing so far has revealed that employees enjoy and are excited about the bots.

“The reality is that security can be very expensive and it’s often cost prohibitive to have security everywhere,” Deyle says. “A robot navigating around through one of these enterprise offices is a great way to make employees feels safer, and to have someone who you know is always available at a moment’s notice.”

Deyle and Schluntz eventually see the robots as being able to perform many tasks around the office.

“We want (our robots) to help facilities do inspections and maintenance, figure out what needs to be brought to their attention, and then also during the day act as a virtual receptionist,” Schulntz says enthusiastically.

As the reality of technology speeds up to meet our collective imaginations, Deyle says that the team is just excited to be a part of moving that reality forward. “We’re finally at a time where robots entering everyday life and not just factories and warehouses is a real possibility, and so we’re excited to be at the forefront of that and pushing our humble vision of what the future involving robots could be.”

Cobalt is about to begin deploying their robots into real companies. Schluntz and Deyle are thrilled, but they also can’t wait to see what the future brings. They suspect great advances are coming in all areas of science and technology, and the fact that they’re a part of it all continues to amaze them.

“For me, it goes back to Arthur C. Clarke and his famous, “Any sufficiently advanced technology would seem like magic,” Deyle says. “I love living in a world where I can walk around and just everything seems like magic all the time.”