SAN DIEGO -- Ten years ago computational neuroscientist Dr. Eugene Izhikevich walked away from a successful career in academia to co-found Brain Corp. with the ambitious goal of building artificial brains for robots.
These days when the Russian-born Izhikevich lands late at San Diego International Airport, he sometimes sees the fruits of that decision rolling along the airport halls.
The squat, half-ton robot powered by Brain Corp.'s technology isn't sexy. It scrubs floors at a leisurely pace.
But under the hood, it does things that many robots can't -- navigate safely in unpredictable, public places with no driver.
"Anything with wheels can be turned into a fully autonomous, self-driving robot using the BrainOS operating system, provided that the speeds are slow and stopping is never a safety concern, which means we are staying away from driving on public roads," said Izhikevich, Brain Corp.'s chief executive.
Self-driving cars get a lot of hype. But the technology and infrastructure needed for widespread adoption of autonomous cars is likely years away. The market is not a priority for Brain Corp. for now.
But a few under-the-radar industries are ripe to automate with self-driving robots, including large venue floor cleaning, retail restocking and health care equipment delivery.
Industrial/commercial robots have been around for years to help build cars or fetch merchandise at warehouses. But these machines are not well-suited to operate around people. They're often caged off from workers. The robots find their way by following wires in the floor on pre-programmed routes.
In the last five years, a new type of robot has emerged in commercial markets. These robots aren't tethered to specific routes. They can operate safely alongside people.
"If the robot encounters something and it doesn't know what to do, it can stop and wait for people to walk away or the situation to clear up," said Izhikevich.