Gregg Ratanaphanyarat and Dawei Ding joined the ranks of college dropouts in 2016, leaving Penn State to launch a robotics startup for outdoor cleaning.
Today that gamble appears to be paying off. The duo’s startup, ViaBot, is completing a pilot with a major firm to keep a Bay Area parking lot clean with its robots, an arrangement that is going well and could expand into more business.
The founders say that outdoor maintenance is underserved by robotics because developers typically focus on just one area but building managers need multiple services.
ViaBot aims to serve multiple needs for outdoors maintenance with a modular approach to its robots.
“This will make mobile robots efficient, productive and cost effective in a way robots couldn’t be before,” said Ratanaphanyarat, the company’s chief executive.
ViaBot is like many robotics upstarts using sensors and cameras along with object detection algorithms and mapping running on NVIDIA Jetson to process all the data for navigation.
Jetson offers robotics developers high performance processing at low power consumption. Our latest module packs the processing of a GPU workstation for next-generation robots and autonomous machines.
Cleans, Recycles, Scans
Ratanaphanyarat and Ding designed their four-wheeled RUNO robot to clean, recycle and scan license plates.
The RUNO has docking stations that charge separate bins for garbage and recycling collection. The bots can wheel up and fit themselves onto the collection bins, making a run with the garbage bin to sweep up debris after making a pass with the one for recycling.
Running up to four hours on a charge, the robots pack a Jetson TX2 to process all the data from seven cameras, four sonar sensors and GPS to help navigate.
ViaBot’s founders used the Yolo image network and ran 500 images specialized on recycling to retrain it to identify objects. They used a conventional algorithms to scan license plates.
“All the sensor readings get fused together with the GPS to know where the obstacles are with those points. And we can figure out from there where to go and the area we need to sweep,” said Ding, ViaBot’s CTO, who later graduated from Penn State.
ViaBot’s service is set up to be an entirely autonomous operation. Maintenance crews simply need to empty its recycling and garbage bins.
ViaBot offers its robots-as-a-service, or RaaS, as a monthly subscription. In addition to the base sweeping service, customers can purchase additional features such as recycling, scanning license plates, and even physical attachments such as a lawnmower. Each of the services is a separate cost based on the number of robots at the facility.
The pair added in the license-plate scanning in parking lots because it was an easy computer vision task for them to handle with ViaBot, they said. It’s also an area that companies normally have to separately hire security contractors to manage.
ViaBot offers an added benefit to customers — bragging rights as good corporate citizens for properly separating recycling and trash collection, the founders said.
Next up: ViaBot plans to include a modular grass-cutting bin option for customers seeking autonomous lawn maintenance, expected by year’s end.
ViaBot is a member of the NVIDIA Inception virtual accelerator program.
Photo credit: ViaBot
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