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Q&A: Brain Corp to provide AI services to Walmart (Includes interview)

Brain Corp, a Soft Bank and Qualcomm-backed tech startup specializing in building ‘brains’ for autonomous systems. As well as the adoption for retail, as with the Walmart project, the technology can also be seen in airports, malls, government offices, warehouses and other big box retailers across the U.S., and more recently in Japan where it’s powering the Whiz robot with SoftBank Robotics.

To understand more about the application Digital Journal spoke with David Pinn, VP of Strategy Brain Corp.

Digital Journal: How fast is artificial intelligence developing?

David Pinn: Artificial Intelligence (AI) has experienced lightning speed growth in recent years, and there is no place where this is more evident than in the retail sector. The application of AI is impacting the entire retail spectrum – from empowering smarter business decisions around product design and improving shipping efficiencies and product placement, to greeting customers with a friendly humanoid Robot named ‘Pepper’ and helping store associates perform higher value tasks in their daily work lives.

Improving the lives of associates through autonomous mobile robots is where we see the most exciting growth at present. Massive retailers like Walmart, Kroger, and Giant/Martin Food Stores are rolling out a number of these solutions, including BrainOS-powered self-driving floor scrubbers, shelf-scanning robots, driverless delivery vehicles, and robots that detect hazards and improve in-store safety.

Of course, there are other examples of AI and autonomy that go even further afield, including ANYbotics’ ‘ANYmal’, the world’s first autonomous offshore robot which is used on offshore converter platforms to perform various inspection tasks. The examples are endless, and developing faster than ever.

DJ: What are the advantages of AI for retailers?

Pinn: For retailers, AI is all about maximizing operational efficiencies and freeing store associates to focus on higher value tasks.

In today’s competitive retail landscape, the customer experience is crucial to success. By allowing the AI to focus on boring, repetitive tasks, employees are able to spend more time providing customer service. For example, automation can handle tasks that are repeatable and predictable, like scanning shelves for out-of-stock items, incorrect prices and wrong or missing labels. This frees up time for associates to focus on serving customers and selling merchandise.

In addition, AI can provide cost-savings to retailers because they can spend resources more thoughtfully. By having an autonomous robot handle rote tasks, employees can focus on the more challenging and fulfilling work.

DJ: What is the focus of Brain Corp?

Pinn: Brain Corp is a San Diego-based AI company creating foundational technologies for the mobile robotics industry. Brain Corp develops end-to-end solutions that allow the builders and users of today’s autonomous machines to successfully develop, deploy and manage robots across commercial industries and applications.

Our BrainOS technology platform powers autonomous machines, such as floor scrubbers, in some of the nation’s largest retailers, airports, and malls. The intelligent, self-driving technology enables machines to navigate complex and dynamic environments, ensuring the highest level of safety and cleaning performance. More recently, BrainOS was rolled out in Japan and is powering SoftBank Robotics’ Whiz robot.

While our current deployments are focused on the floor care industry, our engineering teams are working on other applications in areas such as delivery and security robotics. Ultimately, we envision a world where every aspect of people’s lives is improved with the help of robots.

DJ: How have you recently collaborated with Walmart?

Pinn: Our BrainOS platform powers Walmart’s autonomous floor scrubbers. Walmart’s associates partner with robots through what we call ‘collaborative robotics.’ The associate helps train the robot on cleaning routes, and preps areas to maximize the efficiency of the robot. The two work together, allowing the associate to focus on higher value tasks. In other words, BrainOS helps Walmart associates focus on customer satisfaction.

DJ: What were the main challenges with this project?

Pinn: Retail spaces, airports, malls, and other open-to-the-public spaces are full of people and are thus tremendously complex and dynamic environments to operate in. But as the machines get smarter, they learn, adapt and are able to overcome these challenges.

DJ: What does your WhizRobot do?

Pinn: It’s important to note that we don’t manufacture robots, but instead provide the technology to help manufacturers make them autonomous. Whiz is an autonomous floor-cleaning machine made by SoftBank Robotics. It is designed to clean carpeted floors in businesses, and is currently available for sale in Japan.

The relationship between the robot and the janitor is collaborative. The janitor is the expert, and the robot comes with a handle that a person uses to “teach” the robot the layout of the space. After the initial training, the robot can perform cleaning tasks and avoid obstacles on its own using a predetermined path.

DJ: What other projects are you working on?

Pinn: For now, we’re focusing on our firm base in floor care. That said, we are always exploring new avenues for our technology, from different verticals, to new markets, applications and form factors. Good things are coming!

DJ: How much further can AI and robotics develop?

Pinn: We’re just getting started. At Brain Corp, we view the robotics industry today as being similar to the internet in the ’80s and mobile phone in the ’90s. The robotics industry is in its infancy. Robots will develop quickly and broadly to help humans where they live and work.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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