Clearpath Robotics: Rugged-Mobile Robots For A Brave New World

In 2006, Bill Gates wrote an article entitled A Robot in Every Home; it was a play on a piece written in the 80s called A Computer in Every Home. What was once science fiction and a crazy concept is now a modern day reality. Kitchener-based Clearpath Robotics recognized that like computers and Internet, robots are an industry growing with infinite potential.

The company originated in 2009 at the University of Waterloo, when the Mechatronics Engineering Program was still in its infancy. It was there that the team at Clearpath Robotics discovered their passion for developing field robots and unmanned systems.

“When we weren’t busy cramming for exams, we were building robots in our spare time,” said Matt Rendall, CEO of Clearpath Robotics and 2013 finalist for the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

From humble beginnings to winning the 2013 Silver Edison Award, Clearpath Robotics develops their innovative robots with the costumers and projects in mind. Understanding that field robotics, automated systems, driverless cars and other advance technology are complicated systems; the team’s goal is always to make things easier, whether it is to work with, to prototype or to develop.

“We build platforms,” said Rendall, “using the 80/20 analogy. It is our job to solve 80% of the problem and we work with our costumers and clients to solve the remaining 20%. All research is unique, that is the nature of research. So the first way we make things easier is that we offer a common starting point. Because that starting point is common, it has been through vigourous testing and it’s off the shelf, so it has a lower cost—it is just a better starting point than doing something from scratch.”

Over the years, Clearpath Robotics’ vision has matured. But simplicity, efficiency and safety are still the three main pedestals for building robots. The team takes that philosophy and applies it to automate the world’s dullest, deadliest and dirtiest jobs. “In outdoor environments there are a lot of opportunities to help make certain things easier, safer and faster,” said Rendall.

One prime example of Clearpath Robotics’ ingenuity is their 2013 Silver Edison Award Finalist, the Kingfisher. With the sleek look of a miniature speedboat, the Kingfisher’s featured applications include bathymetric data collection, shore erosion monitoring, sediment mapping, flow rate measurements, dam inspection, harbour safety and others. The remote water-monitoring robot allows surveyors to work safely on the shore in a task that once required manpower out in the water.

“Environment Canada measures a lot of different things about the country’s water supply,” said Rendall. “Often these are remote locations through fast moving and cold water with opposing hazards, so we built a robot to assist them. We are very pleased with it.”

But like all things technology and fashion, improvements are always being made. Clearpath Robotics’ active researching team is constantly seeking areas of advancement whether it is on the platforms that already exist like the Kingfisher or a prototype still in the early stages of conception.

Earlier this year, Clearpath followed up the Kingfisher by introducing the Grizzly, a robotic utility vehicle with big 26-inch tires that allows it to operate in mining, military and agricultural settings. From navigating tough terrain to spraying dangerous pesticide, the Grizzly does it all unmanned, which will only make life easier for us fragile humans.

Perhaps one day we’ll all have robot butlers like the Jetsons or maybe Skynet will rule over us. Nobody can really be certain what the future holds. But from the way things are looking, robots are going to be more relevant than ever and Clearpath Robotics is leading the charge and hoping to inspire people to take part in the upgrade.

“We are going to start seeing a lot of purpose built robots to solve specific problems,” said Rendall. “So there is going to be a massive industry behind this and we need more people and more entrepreneurs and more companies focusing on it. The barrier for entry is quite high, but there are a lot of opportunities.”

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