Everyone dreams of robots that help them with their everyday chores such as vacuuming, mowing the lawn and caring for their elderly parents. That is what Bret Wallach envisioned when he founded Personal Robotics Inc. in 1999. His goal was to develop autonomous robotic solutions that focused on vision-based mapping. At that time a convergence of favorable cost factors, the need for more efficient labor solutions across multiple industries and consumer markets, and advances in robotics technology indicated that robotics was ready to move out of the lab and into the marketplace.
Bret and his co-founders Tony Koselka and David Gollaher quickly realized that their two-robot technology enabled robots with inexpensive (at that time) components to efficiently perform surface coverage tasks such as vacuuming, mopping and even land-mine detection. After incorporation in 2000, the team began developing the technology and seeking strategic partners. In late 2001, the company closed its first round of financing from both strategic alliances and private investment and work began in earnest on consumer applications. These partnerships, which remain confidential today, have enabled the company to create a uniquely robust and cost effective approach to robotics.
The company was renamed Vision Robotics Corporation (VRC) in 2003 to better reflect the technology that drives VRC's proprietary SLAM technology. Meanwhile, the company continued development of its household cleaning robots with its strategic partners. That project is in active development and the company expects a commercial release soon.
In 2004, the company was approached about applying its technology to agricultural applications. After determining that the same pre-planning approach applicable to household cleaning could be the missing component for the harvesting of tree fruit, the California Citrus Research Board (CRB) funded a feasibility study. The results of the first phase of the robot harvester project resulted in a product concept, project plan and financial analysis that showed an autonomous harvester can operate at the same or lower costs than manual labor.
The CRB continues as a strategic partner in the development of the Robot Mechanical Harvester. In 2006, the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission joined in endorsing VRC’s approach and has funded the building of a prototype Scout robot for detecting and sizing apples on trees.
Autonomous robots have many applications. Since 2005, VRC has worked with medical professionals to design robots to assist the elderly and the disabled. At this time, the company is seeking an appropriate partner to help bring these products to market.
A VRC subsidiary, Vision Robotics Federal Systems, LLC, has begun collaboration with the Department of Defense Joint Robotics Program. Upon receipt of a 2007 defense appropriation, the company has begun work with the Space and Naval Warfare Command (SPAWAR) to build a vision-based navigation module for small robots such as the bomb defusing robots used by the police and troops overseas. The technology will enable these robots to navigate on their own in urban, indoor, or underground environments
VRC’s technology is applicable to household cleaning, agriculture, homeland security, risk management, hazardous materials handling, security, home health care, agriculture, industrial design, military and other applications. The company is always willing to sit down and discuss how vision robots may be incorporated into new markets.