Remotely controlled robotic systems are increasingly important for tasks that are dangerous or impossible for humans to complete. Robots can be deployed to deep-sea environments, for example, to remove explosives or conduct environmental cleanup while a human operator directs the robot’s movements from a safe, remote location. In order for complex robotic systems to operate optimally, however, operators must have the ability to complete tasks as if they were doing it with their own two hands.
To meet the need for precise control of remote operations, BluHaptics, rebranded as Olis Robotics in 2018, was founded by UW Electrical & Computer Engineering (formerly EE), faculty and students in 2013. Based in Seattle, the company grew out of work Professor Howard Chizeck and alum Fredrik Rydén were conducting on haptic interaction, which relays forces, vibrations and motion to operators of robotic systems. Building on this research, software developed by BluHaptics applies haptic feedback together with 2D and 3D video in real-time to enable precise control of robotic systems in underwater environments. The software has applications such as underwater explosives removal, where precise, human-like touch is critical to complete dangerous tasks. The first iteration of the software, which will be released in 2016, focuses on enabling underwater welding and cutting. Target customers include the oil and gas industry and military, both of which have the need for precise manipulation of underwater objects.
Growing from a research prototype to a start-up company, BluHaptics benefited from UW support. Funding was received from what is now known as the CoMotion Innovation Fund, which supports projects that are in the early stages of development and have a strong likelihood of being commercialized. Rydén also received a commercialization postdoctoral award and the UW Applied Physics Laboratory provided the company with initial lab and office space.
To support company growth, BluHaptics recently moved to office and laboratory facilities in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood. Two additional employees, both of whom are UW ECE (formerly EE) alumni, joined the three co-founders, and the company anticipates hiring more staff in the coming year. Initial funding for the company was raised from angel investors, as well as external grants and contracts, and Series A funding will be sought in the coming year to support further expansion.