Jacobi Robotics: Tackling Singularities In Robot Arms


It’s easy to lose track of the fact that robotics is as much a software problem as a hardware one. The programming understandably gets overshadowed by the allure of mechatronics, but without the proper software solution, you’ve got little more on your hands than an expensive paperweight. The road to widespread robotics adoption is fraught with unexpected problems that can ultimately hamper real-world use. There are plenty of problems in search of software solutions.

Key Takeaway

Jacobi Robotics is addressing the critical issue of singularities in robot arms, aiming to streamline robot path planning and deployment, potentially revolutionizing the industrial robotics landscape.

The Challenge of Singularities

Jacobi Robotics was founded in 2022 with one specific problem in mind: singularities. Confusingly, the word means something wholly different to robotics than it does in the world of Ray Kurzweil’s AI advancement projection. In robot-land, the concept is far more subtle, while requiring some real knowledge of the category to fully understand. It’s the sort of term one rarely encounters outside of research papers. It is, however, a very real issue with real-world implications.

“Singularities are the Achilles’ heel for industrial robots,” Jacobi notes. “In repetitive tasks, where the robot follows the same motions repeatedly and blindly, robots can be programmed to avoid singularities through weeks of tedious manual fine-tuning of robot paths. But for many robot applications, the robot paths must be modified periodically due to small changes in materials or thermal expansion.”

Robotics and Degrees of Freedom

If you’re at all familiar with robotics hardware, you’ve likely heard the term “degrees of freedom” in reference to, say, a robot arm with six or seven degrees of freedom. This refers to the system’s joints and the axes along which those joints are capable of moving. Singularities are points in space where the robot cannot move. When that happens, a human generally needs to intervene to get things up and running again.

The Solution: Jacobi Robotics

Jacobi Robotics takes its name from the Jacobian matrix, which — in turn — is a reference to pioneering nineteenth-century German mathematician, Carl Jacobi. In the world of robotics, the concept refers to the relationship between the velocities of joint and end effectors. To further simplify something I’ve already oversimplified, the concept and the company named after it are concerned with robot path planning.

Jacobi Robotics was founded by a quartet of UC Berkeley robotics students, along with professor Ken Goldberg. Along with serving as the company’s chief scientist, Goldberg is also a co-founder of package sorting robotics company Ambi Robotics, so he’s been through this rodeo before.

Partnerships and Future Plans

Jacobi has been in pilots with select partners. That list includes automation deployment firm Formic, as well as a larger consumer electronics firm the company isn’t quite ready to name just yet. According to Formic, Jacobi’s approach to attacking singularities has significantly reduced deployment times, even in this early stage. It’s certainly in a startup like Formic’s best interest to address as many potential problems during the deployment process, rather than having to send technicians in after the fact.

Along with Goldberg, the company’s founders include CEO Max Cao, CPO Yahav Avigal, Chief Architect Lars Berscheid, and Chief Roboticist Jeff Ichnowski. Jacobi closed a $1 million pre-seed in early 2023 and is currently focused on raising a proper seed as it looks to bring its solution to market. Current investors include Swift Ventures and Berkeley SkyDeck, the UC Berkely accelerator, which included the startup as part of recent demo day.

The software currently offers support for a number of the biggest robotics arms vendors, including ABB, Fanu, Universal, and Yaskawa.

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