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Brain Corp., maker of robot janitors for Walmart, moving into European market

Mike Freeman, The San Diego Union-Tribune on

Published in Science & Technology News

SAN DIEGO -- Brain Corp., which recently nearly tripled its orders from Walmart for self-driving, floor-scrubbing robots, is now making its first foray into Europe by opening a satellite office in the Netherlands.

The San Diego-based company makes an artificial intelligence based operating system to power robots. Last year, Walmart contracted to deploy 360 in-store autonomous floor cleaners -- or robot janitors -- using Brain Corp.'s operating system.

Then in April, the nation's largest retailer added an additional 1,500 stores -- bringing the total deployment of BrainOS powered scrubbers to 1,860.

"We are still going through the deployment right now," said Phil Duffy, vice president of Innovation for Brain Corp. "Not all the units have been deployed. But it has been a great ride with Walmart."

Founded in 2009 by neural networks researcher Eugene Izhikevich, Brain Corp. aims to become the Microsoft of the robotics industry -- not making the robots themselves but building the software that powers them.

For now, it partners with the makers of floor scrubbers including Tennant, Minuteman, ICE and Softbank Robotics to offer its self-driving sensor and artificial intelligence operating system primarily to retailers. It sells the operating system as a software as a service subscription.

 

The sensors and operating system allow the floor scrubber to detect objects in their paths and maneuver around them automatically.

"Retail is an area that we focused on because it is scalable, and it is also a really complex problem," said Duffy. "When you are in a retail store late at night, there is a lot of restocking going on. There are people operating fork lifts, plus a lot of these stores are open 24 hours to the public. So from an engineering perspective it is a really complex problem to solve, which is one of the reasons why we targeted that. "

In addition to Walmart, the company also has BrainOS powered floor cleaners running in airports, shopping malls and other locations. The company also has unveiled an operating system to power delivery robots -- allowing them to move an object from one point to another.

Most of the company's current business is based in North America, though in 2017 it opened a satellite office in Japan.

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