We had the chance recently to sit down with ANYbotics CEO Peter Fankhauser to learn more about the company and the product. ANYbotics was started in 2016 as an extension of Fankhauser's research at the Technical University of Zurich. The company has grown to 50 people and operates out of Zurich.
Real Applications for Legged Robots
The first ANYbotics product is ANYmal C. ANYmal is a legged, autonomous mobile robot platform and it is currently one of only a handful of commercially viable legged robots.
ANYbotics is targetting the ANYmal C for industrial inspection. Inspection requires a mobile platform that is able to operate in difficult to maneuver places. The environment may include all kinds of obstacles including stairs, cables, pipes, and wet or slippery unstable surfaces.
Construction sites and offshore oil and gas rigs are two of the first working environments for ANYmal C. Both of these environments are difficult for wheeled AMRs to operate effectively.
ANYmal C has different types of "poses", including a walking "crouch", which enable it to duck under an obstacle or sidestep to move through some "maze-like" working environments.
The robot is a little spooky to watch operate. The "eye-like" sensors on the front and rear give it its own unique personality.
ANYmal C is designed to be reconfigurable, to carry different sensor packages. The robot base includes LIDAR and cameras for navigation, but it can also be fitted with additional 2D/3D cameras for inspection, or thermal cameras to track temperature (or to see a hotspot / fire). It also includes acoustic sensors and can be fitted with gas detectors. All of the sensor data is fed to a remote operator to help the operator triage the situation.
With optional GPS, ANYmal C can operate outdoors. This opens up a whole new class of applications enabling ANYmal C to walk across terrain that would be difficult for wheeled AMRs.
ANYmal C is currently in the pre-commercial stage. They have deployed ANYmal C into several real-world working environments, to put it through its paces. The company has also built a whole fleet of ANYmals which are deployed in research labs around the world. All of these research labs help to advance the capabilities of legged robot locomotion and make the ANYmal C platform more capable.
Inspection as a Service is Around the Corner
Fankhauser also says that the company is open to renting the ANYmal C units, for clients who may be skeptical about the viability of ANYmal for their application. This also helps to lower the initial cost of the solution, which may be another barrier to purchase.
The company is also developing a robots-as-a-service (RaaS) business model that will be based on inspection-as-a-service (IaaS). In this case, the client will pay for the output of the actual inspection, rather than owning the actual robot. ANYbotics will own and operate the ANYmal C units and deliver the inspection results to a client who is subscribed to the IaaS.