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UBC grads turn floor-cleaning machines into self-driving robots

Like something out of a Star Trek movie, robots are now working alongside human counterparts at UBC’s Point Grey campus, courtesy of three young entrepreneurs – all graduates of the University of British Columbia, who envision a future where humans and robots will work more closely together.

To that end, the trio, Anson Kung, Matthew Anderson, and Jessica Yip formed A &K Robotics in 2015, with the shared belief that robotic technologies have the potential to drastically improve the world and quality of life. They see the future with unique eyes, pushing the boundaries of robotics and seeking real-life applications of new technologies.

On Friday, Kung, one of the co-founders of A&K Robotics told CTV News Canada he sees “A future where robots and people will work hand-in-hand to increase productivity, safety and, most importantly, quality of life.” S&K Robotics specializes in artificial intelligence which “transform manual machines into self-driving robots.”

UBC Building Operations partnered with the young company in trialing the two robotic floor cleaning machines. Using their technology, an automation module developed by A&K Robotics is mounted on top of an automatic floor cleaner to create the robotic floor scrubber.

The A&K team has been working on seven models that will be used to patrol and clean the UBC campus, including one named “George.” The machines learn on the job. The machines are programmed to move around a space on their own and avoid people and objects.

“If obstacles change, it learns to adapt to that. And we’re constantly improving the backend algorithms so it becomes more and more intelligent and can adapt to more scenarios,” Kung said. “It’s super intuitive,” said Yip. Even someone with an arts degree like her can learn to use it, she joked.

Will this technology make a job redundant?
The fear that artificial intelligence will make some jobs obsolete or at best, redundant is a concern. UBC employs 386 people on its custodial staff and they are responsible for cleaning about nine million square feet of floor space. Head custodian Ariel Ramirez initially thought, “I’m going to lose my job.”

But UBC does not have plans to lay off any of its staff. Actually, many of the staff have said the robotic floor cleaners will free them to work in other areas. “It’s actually really good. It will help us with our daily stuff,” Ramirez said. “It won’t do everything.”

“It’s a common misconception that robots take away jobs because in the custodial industry, custodians have a scope of work that’s very big and they only have so much time,” said Kung.

Vancouver International Airport bought the company’s intelligent navigation system, which has also been bought by companies in the United States and Europe. A&K Robotics is planning on creating a variety task-oriented robotic machines.

“People want to be able to come to a job and focus on things that are a bit more challenging, a bit more fulfilling, and robots are very good at doing simple, repetitive tasks,” said the company’s chief operating officer Jessica Yip.

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We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our dear friend Karen Graham, who served as Editor-at-Large at Digital Journal. She was 78 years old. Karen's view of what is happening in our world was colored by her love of history and how the past influences events taking place today. Her belief in humankind's part in the care of the planet and our environment has led her to focus on the need for action in dealing with climate change. It was said by Geoffrey C. Ward, "Journalism is merely history's first draft." Everyone who writes about what is happening today is indeed, writing a small part of our history.

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