Most Innovative Companies

How Clearpath Robotics is helping machines think for themselves

The Kitchener company does much more than just build robots

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Clearpath's Husy (left) and Jackal autonomous robots. (Hannah Yoon/CP)

Clearpath’s Husky (left) and Jackal autonomous robots. (Hannah Yoon/CP)

Most industrial robots are riveted to a factory floor, performing one basic task over and over again. The unmanned vehicles made by Clearpath Robotics are more likely to be found navigating the surface of a simulation of Mars.

The company, founded in 2009, has developed a large clientele of academic research institutions, space agencies, mining firms and defence departments for its signature yellow-and-black products, thanks in part to the fact that Clearpath robots don’t need someone holding a remote control to operate them. But Clearpath’s autopilot software isn’t restricted to the bots it manufactures, and that’s where the company’s opportunity lies.

With a sizeable client base in the mining industry, Clearpath is applying its software smarts to some massive machines: multi-ton mining trucks. The company outfits the vehicles with sensors and computational power to record and process the its environment. “And then our software is sort of that magic piece that says, ‘Okay, we have all this, now we can drive this truck by itself, on autopilot,’” Adam Gryfe, Business Development Manager at Clearpath.

Mining sites can be dangerous environments for humans, and Clearpath’s slew of product and service offerings aim to mitigate that risk. Instead of exposing engineers to chemical hazards, Clearpath’s Kingfisher robot measures tailings on its own. Rather than expose miners to the risk of a human error-induced accident involving a multi-ton vehicle, Clearpath takes the driving out of human hands.

The company has also developed specialized robots to work in chaotic warehouse settings, interacting with pallets and shelves and avoiding humans working beside them. And it’s looking at military solutions as well, using robots to do reconnaissance work that would exposure human serviceman to unnecessary risk.  “Our core software allows all those platforms to navigate by themselves, but we need to customize the application layer of software to make it specially tailored to that unique environment,” says Gryfe. “It’s sort of this white canvas that you can paint on and do what you want with—you make the robot what you want it to be.”

By uncoupling its software capabilities from the hardware it manufactures, Clearpath has the flexibility to sell to clients with a wide variety of needs. “The goal is to automate the world’s dull, deadly and dirty jobs,” Gryfe reiterates. “Sometimes you need the robot to go with it, sometimes you don’t. In either event, we’re ready to take on the job.”