Meet Intrinsic Flowstate: A new robotic app dev platform

Kerem Gülen
May 16, 2023

In the ever-evolving landscape of robotics, the spotlight has shifted from the physical machines to a captivating realm of software and programming. While companies have made significant strides in deploying robots across warehouses and factories, a crucial puzzle remains unsolved: the art of effectively managing and programming these mechanical marvels.

It seems that the path ahead is rather hazy, as the proprietary software employed by these robotics systems poses challenges in terms of development and compatibility with third-party systems. The heart of the matter lies in the need for a more accessible and adaptable approach to navigating this exciting corner of the robotic space.

In an announcement made in 2021, Intrinsic, an accomplished graduate of Alphabet X, shared a glimpse into its future plans:

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications. Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Today, the company made an exciting announcement unveiling its maiden product, Flowstate. This groundbreaking development platform aims to fulfill the company's ambitious promises, serving as a catalyst for progress in the realm of robotics. With a focus on inclusivity, Flowstate empowers individuals with non-robotic backgrounds to effortlessly create and customize workflows for these advanced hardware systems

“Our first product is a solution builder. With Intrisic Flowstate, what we’re saying is: you can design it, build it and deploy it. We’re very aware the world is still early in the skills available. They can be put together in this workflow that we’re offering. We’re also going to allow [third-party] skills to be available, too. We want the broader ecosystem to start to be involved. One of the advantages of coming out of Alphabet is some of the more sophisticated skills like vision and force feedback where you require some machine learning or even deep reinforcement learning. We’ve been able to create some of those skills as well. What you’ll find in flow state is not just the solution builder itself, but a library of skills, some of which don’t exist or are not easy to access today”, told Wendy Tan White, the company’s CEO, to TechCrunch.

At the core of this innovative system lies a visually intuitive graphical tree, empowering users to seamlessly compose intricate workflows. Within this framework, existing skills such as pose estimation, manipulation, force-based insertion, and path planning offer a solid foundation for building sophisticated operations. However, the system's true strength lies in its commitment to inclusivity and collaboration. Third-party developers will have the opportunity to contribute their own unique talents, expanding the capabilities of the platform and enriching the range of available skills.

Image source: Intrisic

In addition to its versatile workflow composition, simulation plays a vital role in contemporary robotics deployments. It serves as a cornerstone, enabling users to simulate and analyze real-world outcomes within a virtual environment. This powerful capability significantly enhances the efficiency and effectiveness of robotics development and deployment. The platform harnesses the capabilities of Gazebo, an open-source platform managed by Open Robotics, the same organization behind the widely acclaimed Robotic Operating System (ROS). Notably, Intrinsic made a significant move in December by acquiring Open Source Robotics Corporation, the for-profit subsidiary of Open Source Robotics, further solidifying its commitment to driving innovation in the field of robotics.

According to Brian Gerkey, CEO of Open Robotics and now the director of Open Robotics at Intrinsic, the acquisition has resulted in the integration of the core engineering team that previously operated under the Open Source Robotics Foundation (OSRF) into Intrinsic. This move positions Intrinsic as a significant player within the robust ecosystem of the Robotic Operating System (ROS). Gerkey emphasizes that Intrinsic's role should be viewed as a contributor and supporter of the ROS community, with a dedicated team of engineers committed to developing and contributing back to the community.

This development comes in the wake of substantial layoffs that impacted various Alphabet entities, including Every Day Robotics (EDR). Tan White, from the EDR team, explains that they have now joined forces with Google Brain, and the product has merged with Google DeepMind. This integration allows for closer collaboration with DeepMind, leveraging their expertise to enhance the development of new skills, some of which were originally intended for use with EDR.

Despite a reduction of around 40 employees, Tan White assures that Intrinsic was not heavily impacted by the layoffs. Rather, she characterizes the recent changes as a minor pivot within the company, reflecting its ability to adapt and evolve in a dynamic industry.

“We made some specific layoffs. We graduated and we’ve actually made a couple of acquisitions. We were getting clear on what this project was. There were a couple of projects that were more hardware based, and we made a choice to not focus on that. That’s what the layoffs were actually about. It was to focus on the software and the AI part of what we’re doing and that first product. I think what confused the external world at that time is we were obviously doing the acquisition with Open Robotics. They were related in the sense that we’ve decided we want to be software focused, which is where Open Robotics fit in really well,” she states.

In addition to its previous acquisitions, Intrinsic made another notable move in April of the previous year by acquiring Vicarious. Tan White reveals that approximately 80% of the Vicarious team remains with Intrinsic, their expertise proving to be invaluable for the company. The applications developed by Vicarious have played a vital role in shaping the skills offered by Intrinsic, and their contributions have been instrumental in enhancing certain areas of expertise.

Excitingly, Flowstate has now entered the beta phase, marking a significant milestone for Intrinsic. The demand for this innovative platform has been remarkable, with over 100 signups within the first hour of its launch. This strong initial response is a testament to the industry's anticipation and enthusiasm for Intrinsic's cutting-edge offering.


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