About: Martin Kefer - Founder
Martin is an accomplished robotics engineer who has worked several years as a researcher for ABB, the largest robot manufacturer in the world. With ABB he was part of several robot projects, building entirely new robot prototypes, resulting in several patents along the way. Martin worked on robot vision applications for the industry, as well as algorithm design for various technical applications. He has published several IEEE papers and patents. After leaving ABB in late 2016, Martin founded Motus Operandi, which is set to revolutionize robot motion as we know it. Motus Operandi is about optimizing robot applications, intelligent planning, and usage of robots in the industry, to reduce their energy consumption and increase their productivity. Their intelligent solution allows programming a robot’s motion with no effort, with just one click.
1. What evolution would Motus Operandi bring in the world of a robotic industry? Can you please elaborate?
a. You know how, we humans grow up developing our skills. One skill is moving. Like crawling, standing up, walking, feeding with a spoon, etc. Once we grow older we become masters of our motor skills.
b. Industrial robots are like human arms, yet they move like if they were just born. The natural evolution Motus Operandi brings to the robotics industry is smooth motion, and I am not talking about “fly-by-motion” or “CNT100”. We have found a way to bring human motor skill to the robot arm, to any robot arm, with astounding benefits. Human-like motion lets the robot speed up, and save energy.
c. What we have developed is a novel optimization tool that takes any existing robot application, optimizes it, and generates a new application file with updated motion instructions. The keyword here is path-planning. Only, we do it fully automatically and in real-time. The result is an optimized path either faster or more energy-efficient than its original. We are talking about efficiency improvements of up to 15% speed and up to 40% less energy (at the same cycle time).
d. This means, plenty of applications in automated factories such as in the automotive industry can benefit from it. Saving millions of dollars every year.
2. Working for ABB as a Robot Research Scientist for several years, what made you to start-up your own venture? Kindly share your insights.
a. Unofficially, I was told that many competitors to ABB are trying to hire ABB engineers as they are considered among the top of the class. I am not the type of person to praise myself, but I will say this, ABB was a great school for me. Working in research is both demanding and fun. You can literally play around with your ideas, on the computer or in the lab with all resources that you need. No limits. The challenge though is to not get lost in cool tech ideas, but to maintain a sense of real problems that need to be addressed. Plus, all the PhDs around are great teachers.
b. After going through this alternative education path, I felt I had the tools and skills and enough market insight to try it on my own. And I wanted to experience what it was like to completely own the idea, to entirely own the project. Also, I had already assembled a team that gave me the confidence to give this my full attention.
3. Can you please share your thoughts about the various challenges involved in automation industry and what are the ways to overcome those obstacles?
a. Automation industry is rather conservative. And that is often overlooked by startups coming from outside this industry. In our everyday lives we have gotten used to a constant flow of technological innovation. Every 6 months new smartphones promise to make our lives better. The internet has changed so much, has influenced so much of our lives, has made it faster. But automation & manufacturing is a rather steady industry, relying on what works. After all, it is just one step in the long process of putting that Smartphone in your hand, putting that car in your garage.
b. Now, everyone is talking about Industry 4.0, or as some call it, the 4th industrial revolution. Whenever I explain it in one sentence, I usually say “bringing the internet into the factory”. And certainly, connecting all machines and devices allow for wild ideas. But one can never forget, that the number one priority for any manufacturing process is that it needs to work in a timely fashion. And such a strict requirement does not exist in our everyday lives. In other words, those AI concepts that make our lives better do not necessary work in the industry. Many startups come up with interesting ideas that usually promise some solution with some novel form of AI. But one should never forget, regardless of the topic, if the solution does not make things more reliable or faster, it will have a hard time to come to life in the automation industry.
4. The field of robotics engineering is in the booming stage - Could you please express your views?
a. Robotics is growing, industrial robots market is exploding due to a strong push in Asia, especially in China. China has an aggressive plan to increase robot automation rapidly. And naturally, the more robots are being used, the more engineers are needed. Speak about losing job to the robots! Not quite.
b. We ride on this wave, this boom, by focusing on a topic that is not in everybody’s mind yet, and that is energy saving. You saw what happened to cars from their conception to our cars today. Sure, they look a lot different, but also the fuel consumption has drastically reduced. In the beginning, no one cared how much fuel is consumed by a car, 40 to 50 liters of gas was okay. But more and more people bought cars, and today the fuel consumption is 5 to 10 liters. The world has become energy-conscious. And the more factories are automated with energy-hungry robots, the more robots are deployed, and the more companies will seek a solution to reduce their energy consumption.
c. We estimate that energy costs on industrial robots in China alone will be around $3-4 billion USD annually by 2020. If their plan comes true, they will have 1 million robots operational by then.
5. In what ways, the application of robotic technologies will gel with our everyday life in coming future. Could you please through some examples?
a. Robots at the workplace are a reality already. Collaborative robots have taken the world by storm, and those robots have the potential to be used in other forms. I would like to see a cooking robot arm, that takes care of steering soup in the pot, flipping burgers, mixing my drink. A robot that where people can get creative and make it do other things too.
b. Elderly care. Japan is researching and developing robots for centuries, and it is agreed among experts that this application of real-life humanoid robots is one that actually makes sense. Lifting patients, monitoring them, talking to them, etc. The only question to me is, will it be affordable?
c. Self-driving cars, self-driving everything. We don’t see it as such, but anything that controls itself is a robot. We will completely rely on robots in that respect. Everything that rolls, flies, or swims will do so completely autonomously.
6. With more than 8 years of experience, could you please share your journey so far in automation industry and your vision moving forward?
a. I started with ABB during my studies of robotics. That gave me a first idea of how the industry works. I was hooked. I went on and was part of a research project during my master program related to self-driving cars. Before graduation, I reunited with ABB, in Shanghai this time, and I stayed for more than 3 years after graduation. Now I am working on my startup Motus Operandi, and that is a whole different experience compared to employment.
b. What I have learned in China is that even though the industry is growing so rapidly, finding qualified people is hard. While companies, and therefore technologies, can be bought, no one can buy experience. And in terms of experience, China has still some catching up to do. I have seen some really adventurous robot applications, and I have heard stories that paint a similar picture. Robotics is growing, but the engineers still have to learn in order to come close to the guys you find in the west. But it is China, they will master this challenge, they are quick to adopt.