Interview with Pal Robotics’ Francesco Ferro

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Pal is a global biped company in biped humanoid robots based in Barcelona. Their mission is to develop service robots that enhance people’s quality of life. Headed up by Francesco Ferro, and founded in 2004, Pal Robotics has developed 7 models in total. We got the opportunity to catch up with Francesco and put our questions to him. Here is what he had to say:

What do the different models do?

REEM: is a humanoid service robot for events and public places, such as shopping malls, museums, airports, etc. It is a human-sized robot (1.70m tall) that can be a dynamic information point, guide, entertainer, or even provide logistics or surveillance services. REEM can speak in many languages, recognise faces, make gestures, show information/applications on its touchscreen, and move around with a mobile base. REEM also has a base behind where it can carry luggage. It is usually rented by companies to have REEM at their stand on a fair or exhibition, since it attracts a lot of people and thus becomes a very powerful marketing tool – it has been to more than 100 events so far. Some universities and innovation labs use REEM for research purposes too.

REEM-C: is the other humanoid human-sized that we have (1.65m tall). Its uniqueness is on the fact that it is a biped robot, something very exceptional due to the complexity of making a human-sized robot walk, weighting 80Kg, while maintaining the balance. REEM-C is being used for research in robotic dynamic walking, Human-Robot Interaction and manipulation tasks in some universities all around the world.

TIAGo: TIAGo is a mobile manipulator with applications in many fields, especially suitable for helping in ambient assisted living (with elderly, disabled or ill people) and light industry (as a collaborative robot in the industry 4.0). Its modular features and the combination of navigation, perception and manipulation, make it ideal for collaborating with people in many situations.

StockBot: is a robot that takes inventory autonomously every night, without supervision, in retail stores. The robot uses RFID technology to detect all the items of the shop, combined with autonomous robotic navigation to go around the environment while adapting to any furniture distribution change or obstacles. Every morning StockBot can provide a report with the stock in store and also their 3-D location, detecting misplacements and out-of-stock situations. The robot saves time and effort, increases inventory-taking frequency to daily, eliminates human-error and opens Big Data opportunities for the shop.

TALOS: is the latest creation of PAL Robotics. The humanoid is fully electrical, measures 1.75m high and can walk at up to 3Km/h, with a payload of 6 Kg at each arm. This high-performance humanoid robot stands as one of the most powerful bipeds of its kind, also due to unique features such as Force/torque sensors and EtherCAT communications bus, which speeds up its capabilities of responding to any external stimulus. This makes the robot very adaptive and suitable for accomplishing tasks in environments shared with people. TALOS has been designed for industrial purposes, to perform heavy, non-ergonomic actions that can be dangerous for factory workers in industry 4.0.

How do you plan to penetrate international markets?

We have sales and projects in over thirty countries around the world, and in every market, we have taken an approach that was best suited at that time, be it direct sales or through partner companies. Our market is very global and we hope to continue expanding.

What other fields do you see Pal Robotics entering?

We are already in multiple fields within service robotics such as research, industry 4.0, retail, assisted living and logistics, among others. We are open to any kind of field that matches our core values, which is to increase people’s quality of life, and that excludes military applications.

What would you say to those who say that this will take away jobs from the human labour force?

Robots are currently transforming our society on multiple levels and that, to us humans, means things are changing. With every change, our natural reaction is to be afraid of what is coming and how it will modify our world. 

Employment has been constantly redefining itself in the last 200 years, and we are at a point where some tasks that we are doing are sometimes repetitive and dangerous. We hope that those tasks can be safely handled by a robotic platform so that we can dedicate our time to other tasks.

Imagine, for example building a road. Nowadays, we use multiple tools and drills to help us build this road and we are not thinking of going back to hammering by hand every small peddle that forms the roadway. In robotics it is the same, we should find the correct tool to help us with every task.

At this moment, robotics is creating over 2 million new jobs directly per year and that is having a huge and positive impact in countries that are leading this field.

What advice do you have to those start ups entering the market?

Robotics is a very complex field that integrates every advancement from the different technologies, be it algorithms, AI, sensors or new manufacturing methodologies. We are happy when people enter into robotics because it makes the ecosystem bigger, which is something that is needed nowadays.

The most important advice we can provide to startups, in any field, is to always be listening to what is happening around, be it with customers, research or the major players in the field and be able to react as fast as possible based on those inputs. The biggest advantage startups have is always speed, which should always be maximised.

Robotics News, November 20