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Tech Spotlight: BluHaptics is game-player in underwater robot controls

March 13,2017 06:19

Tech Spotlight: BluHaptics is game-player in underwater robot controls. Originally published March 12, 2017 at 5:00 pm Updated March 12, 2017 at 7:01 pm. BluHaptics' technology lets pilots operate underwater robots using equipment that resembles a ...

BluHaptics has created software to help operators control underwater robots, such as those used in the oil and gas industry. The Seattle startup pairs the software with gaming controllers to make it a familiar experience for pilots.

Gaming controllers are usually used to guide your character through an adventure on the screen in front of you. But why not use them to operate car-size, underwater robotic arms?
Seattle startup BluHaptics has created software to help operators control underwater robots, such as those used in the oil and gas industry. Instead of using traditional joysticks, the company pairs the software with gaming controllers to make it a familiar experience for pilots.
“The average age for a pilot of a robotic arm is 19 to 21 years old,” BluHaptics CEO Don Pickering said. “They’ve all played video games before, so it’s second nature for them.”

BluHaptics — named for the ocean and the sense of touch — spun out of the University of Washington’s CoMotion program in 2013. The startup originally received national grants to build software that helped the U.S. Navy clean debris from test ranges using robots. The team quickly realized the software could be used in more industries, Pickering said.

“It turns out that underwater, there are billions of dollars worth of robots, but they are all manually controlled” with limited automation to help the pilots understand the surroundings they’re operating in, he said.
BluHaptics’ software provides computer assistance to make the robotic arms easier to control.
It uses laser data and video-game technology to identify environmental and other conditions around the robot and give real-time updates to pilots.
“We need software to close the loop between what a robot views and what it does,” Pickering said.
The company, based in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood, is planning the first full launch of its software this summer.
It will focus initially on the robotic arm most commonly used by oil and gas companies and other marine industries to fix things underwater.
BluHaptics has six full-time employees and recently raised $1.36 million from investors, led by the Seattle Angel Fund.

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