Innovation Drives Canadian Robotics Vision, Mobility

In the News
July 19, 2016

Canadian robotics has come a long way from the days when the Canadarm flew on over 90 Space Shuttle missions. While Canadarm 2 is currently an essential part of the International Space Station, Canadian robotics companies are now reaching into a growing number of fields. They include transportation, health care, and various types of robotic vision and mobility technologies.

Robotics companies can be found across Canada, but Ontario can make a solid claim to being the hub of Canadian robotics. Local universities, particularly the University of Toronto and its internationally recognized Institute for Robotics and Mechatronics (IRM), have led to the formation of numerous robotic startups led by scores of young, eager tech entrepreneurs.

Another, although less well-known, center of Canadian robotics education and research is the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario. The school’s Robotics and Control Group, operating under the auspices of its Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, focuses on advanced robotic systems.

The group is designing devices and controls for minimally invasive surgery and therapy. It is also working on applications for next-generation mobile systems, including underwater robots.

Basement beginnings for Clearpath Robotics

Many Ontario-based robotics companies have origins reminiscent of Silicon Valley high-tech startups. Kitchener, Ontario-based Clearpath Robotics Inc., for example, was launched in a basement seven years ago by Matthew Rendall and three friends who enjoyed tinkering with robots while in college.

Frustrated by their own robot design experiences, and with just a $50 investment, the foursome set out to develop systems that to solve real-world problems through a process of persisting, failing, iterating and ultimately succeeding.

The company’s most successful product to date is OTTO 1500, a heavy-load material transporter. With a payload capacity of 1500 kg, OTTO 1500 can move both large items and standard pallets using Clearpath’s own localization and mapping software. This eliminates the need for magnetic tape, bar codes, or any other fixed infrastructure for navigate around a distribution site, storage facility, or production floor.

As workflows change, waypoints are simply uploaded with a click of a button. OTTO intelligently detects and avoids obstacles using dynamic path planning and built-in safety-rated sensors, including front and rear lidar sensors.

Other Clearpath products include Grizzly, a large all-terrain robotic utility vehicle that combines the performance of a tractor with the precision of an industrial robot. The all-electric vehicle offers a 600-kg payload capacity.

For the research market, Clearpath offers Husky, a medium-sized robotic development platform that can accommodate a variety of customized payloads. Husky can be configured to incorporate stereo cameras, lidar, GPS, inertial measurement units (IMUs), manipulators, and numerous other devices.

Also aimed at robot researchers is Jackal, a small, entry-level field platform. The system features an onboard computer, GPS and an IMU. Like other Clearpath robots, Jackal is plug-and-play compatible with a variety of robot accessories.

Canadian robotics enables R&D and surgery

Another Kitchener-based robotic company, Redtree Robotics Inc., builds Hydra, which allows engineers and technicians easily connect sensors, actuators, components, and other essential parts without juggling complex circuits, specialized hardware, or device drivers.

Redtree claims that its development platform is ideal for...

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