Ben Wolff, Chairman and CEO of Sarcos Robotics, a maker of robotic exoskeletons that is set to go public in a SPAC merger with Rotor Acquisition Corp ROT soon, talked with Benzinga about industrial robots and the relevance of Tesla Inc’s TSLA foray into the industry.
Exoskeletons Or Full On Bots: Fictional machines — like Tony Stark's exoskeleton from "Iron Man" and the B-9 Robot from “Lost in Space” — are getting closer to reality, but which one is a better approach when it comes to removing humans from dangerous, repetitive, and boring tasks?
Sarcos’ industrial exoskeletons, for one, are specifically designed to undertake work that isn’t repetitive in nature. “We focus on tasks that are diverse and dynamic in nature, where human judgment, wisdom and intuition are important to getting the job done, all while reducing the risk of human injury or death,” Wolff told Benzinga.
Recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that the automaker was foraying into making Tesla Bots — humanoid robots that utilize the same software used in the company’s self-driving system. The robot’s prototype is expected next year.
Wolff said that autonomous walking robots are far more complex than even self-driving cars, which are yet to “come on the scene.”
“Self-driving cars have ‘the rules of the road’ that constrain the data sets they have to deal with, but autonomous humanoid robots have no ‘rules’ that limit the variables they would have to deal with,” he said.
Don't Bet Against Musk: Wolff is not dismissive of humanoid robots and accepts that they have a place. As for Musk, the Sarcos CEO appreciates his ability to “identify huge market opportunities.”
“It often takes longer than [Musk] predicts. Still, he has proven it isn’t wise to bet against him,” said Wolff.
Expressing agreement on Musk’s case for robotic systems, Wolff said that Sarcos was combining the best of humans and machines to ensure a safe and more productive workforce.
Wolff also agreed with Musk that Tesla is a robotics company. He said that the closest analogy to what they do at Sarcos is the electric vehicle.
“Tesla’s vehicles and our robots are comprised of electric motors, batteries, compute power, software, firmware and sensors. The form factor is different, but there is more in common than different from a pure technology perspective.”
Sometimes, Humans Are Needed: Sarcos’ approach for combining humans with exoskeletons is based on the premise that, ultimately, as of now human brains are faster.
Wolff said that the fastest supercomputer can only process a number of operations per second - which is 1/10,000th of the number that the human brain can process and to do that the computer uses electricity equivalent to power approximately 8,000 homes.
The Sarcos CEO said that autonomous machines are best suited to repetitive tasks, but when “variables” are inserted into the tasks or environments, then the going gets tough for robots.
“If the number of variables is high, and the predictability of occurrence or ability for a machine to recognize the variables is low, then it's a job for humans, and in many cases a job for humans augmented with robots.”
Robots Are No Self-Driving Cars: Wolff took stock of Tesla’s massive resources and its ability to attract “incredible talent.”
“I have no doubt they will make a positive contribution to the robotics industry,” he said.
However, making humanoid robots is not an overnight task, as per Wolff — Tesla has its work cut out.
“It is far more complex than creating self-driving cars,” said Wolff. He said that there are few companies with meaningful experience and track records in robotics.
“One of them is Boston Dynamics, which was recently acquired by another car company, Hyundai. Sarcos is another.”
Is Tesla A Latecomer? Certainly not, if you ask Wolff.
He said that the industry was still at the early stages of developing autonomous robots that can “navigate and manipulate objects in the real world — a world that has been designed throughout the ages to accommodate the human form factor.”
The Blank Check Deal: Sarcos’ Special Purpose Acquisition deal has $220 million private investment in public equity or PIPE component, which includes names such as Palantir Technologies Inc PLTR, Caterpillar Inc CAT, BlackRock Inc BLK and Schlumberger NV SLB.
The merged entity is to be named Sarcos Technologies and Robotics Corporation and is expected to trade on Nasdaq under the symbol “STRC.”
Rotor Acquisition has set a voting date of Sept. 15, as per a definitive proxy statement filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.
On taking the SPAC route, Wolff said it had the benefit of allowing Sarcos to talk more about its vision. “The SPAC route enables investors like you and me to invest at a stage and valuation that would typically require us to be investors in a fund of some kind with our capital tied up for years.”
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