Far from STEAL­ING our jobs and mak­ing hu­mans re­dun­dant, RO­BOT­ICS are go­ing to keep us HEALTH­IER and hap­pier, ar­gues Ivan Storr.


There’s plenty of mys­tery, and even fear, sur­round­ing the new wave of ro­bots with the ever-present dread that ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence is out to steal our jobs. But Ivan Storr, CEO of Blue Ocean Ro­bot­ics Aus­tralia, is work­ing on ro­bots that aren’t out to re­place hu­mans, but rather pro­vide a com­ple­men­tary skill set to the roles that peo­ple al­ready play.

First up is fight­ing hos­pi­tal-ac­quired in­fec­tions, the dis­eases and viruses that pa­tients pick up while in hos­pi­tal for an­other ill­ness or com­plaint. They can be life-threat­en­ing, and count in­fec­tions such as pneu­mo­nia and staph among their ranks.

“Hos­pi­tal-ac­quired in­fec­tions cost the Aus­tralian health­care sys­tem AU$1 bil­lion per year, not to men­tion the hu­man cost,” ex­plains Ivan. “Peo­ple do ac­tu­ally die from these dis­eases. If we could re­duce its oc­cur­rence by just one per cent, it would free up 150,000 bed days in Aus­tralian hos­pi­tals ev­ery year, and al­low an ex­tra 38,000 peo­ple to be ad­mit­ted to hos­pi­tal, with no in­crease to med­i­cal re­sources.”

Most im­por­tantly, it would save lives. That’s why the global team at Blue Ocean Ro­bot­ics in­vented the UV-Dis­in­fec­tion Ro­bot. De­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with a net­work of Dan­ish hos­pi­tals, the ro­bot au­tonomously drives around dis­in­fect­ing all con­tact sur­faces in a room, us­ing a UV-C light sys­tem. It’s been taken through a pi­lot pro­gram and is now ready to be de­ployed in hos­pi­tals, fac­to­ries and other ster­ile fa­cil­i­ties around the world.

Hos­pi­tals will still need to be cleaned, but the UVDis­in­fec­tion Ro­bot is able to ster­ilise at a level that’s vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to achieve by the hu­man hand.

This lit­tle piece of ge­nius is just one of a slew of pow­er­ful and rev­o­lu­tion­ary robotic in­no­va­tions that could trans­form the way we live, work and in­ter­act.

With a back­ground in com­puter sci­ence and en­gi­neer­ing, and a pas­sion for ro­bot­ics that be­gan when he was in pri­mary school, it was al­most in­evitable that Ivan would end up work­ing in this space.

“As a kid, I used to tin­ker with mak­ing ro­bots and pack­ing to­gether bits and pieces of ra­dio con­trols and elec­tron­ics. Now ro­bot­ics is a real thing, and with ac­tual cour­ses that make it much eas­ier to make ro­bots than it was for me as a child!” he laughs.

Ivan has a var­ied back­ground – he stud­ied a bach­e­lor of com­puter sci­ence, then re­turned to univer­sity a few years later to obtain his mas­ters of project man­age­ment. His CV in­cludes en­gi­neer­ing and project man­age­ment for telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies, the Bris­bane City Coun­cil, and even the United Na­tions, with stints on the ground in Haiti and South Sudan. “I then started a com­pany of my own, Mac­robotix, which helps clients to cus­tomise ‘off the shelf ’ robotic so­lu­tions to their spe­cific needs. I went to Sil­i­con Val­ley on a tour of ro­bot­ics com­pa­nies and through that I con­nected with Blue Ocean Ro­bot­ics, and re­alised we were very well aligned,” says Ivan.

Orig­i­nally founded in Den­mark in 2013 by Claus Ris­ager, Rune Larsen and John Er­land Oster­gaard, Blue Ocean Ro­bot­ics was cre­ated as a plat­form to in­vest re­sources and cap­i­tal into the fast-grow­ing ro­bot­ics in­dus­try.

The com­pany in­cu­bates and leads in­no­va­tive projects where prob­lems are iden­ti­fied and robotic prod­ucts are de­vel­oped to pro­vide (at least part of) the so­lu­tion. >

As a KID, I used to TIN­KER with mak­ing ro­bots and pack­ing to­gether BITS and pieces of RA­DIO con­trols and elec­tron­ics.

The end goal is to com­mer­cialise and in­tro­duce the ro­bots to the mar­ket. Then, when the tim­ing is right, to sell, li­cense or spin out the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights, while re­main­ing closely tied to the orig­i­nal prod­uct as a strat­egy part­ner.

Ivan says the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s eye is al­ways fixed on the ‘why’.

“We’re fo­cused on the ben­e­fits for hu­mans, with par­tic­u­lar at­ten­tion on a so­lu­tion that will make jobs safer and eas­ier.” Their phi­los­o­phy, un­sur­pris­ingly, is sim­ple: ‘for hu­mans’.

Pre­vi­ous pro­to­types in­clude the Sky­line Printer, a ro­bot Ivan de­signed to paint build­ings to avoid ex­pos­ing peo­ple to the safety risks of work­ing at great heights. (“I wanted to solve a problem in the con­struc­tion arena. The high cost and long lead time in­volved in us­ing scaf­fold­ing when paint­ing com­mer­cial build­ings can cre­ate huge time and bud­get blowouts,” says Ivan.)

There’s also Romibo, a pet-like so­cial ro­bot for chil­dren with autism. Cov­ered in fur, with two eyes on a com­puter screen (that blink and fol­low faces, without the con­fus­ing ar­ray of hu­man fa­cial ex­pres­sions), Romibo moves around on two wheels, and is con­trolled via smart­phone or iPad.

The ro­bot can help stu­dents learn a num­ber of skills – it’s even ca­pa­ble of help­ing to teach a young stu­dent English. A pos­i­tive side ef­fect of us­ing the ro­bot has in­cluded less stress, and im­proved con­cen­tra­tion and con­fi­dence.

In­ter­act­ing with Romibo may also help to fa­cil­i­tate con­ver­sa­tions that nor­mally don’t ex­ist. When a 10-year-old boy with autism used Romibo, he went from an­swer­ing in short, sharp ‘yes’ or ‘no’ re­sponses to hav­ing ac­tual con­ver­sa­tions with the ro­bot. His par­ents re­ported that he was pre­vi­ously un­able to use full sen­tences and rarely spoke at all. As a safe, non-threat­en­ing friend, Romibo en­cour­ages him to want to speak – to the point where, on his birth­day, he asked Romibo if the ro­bot wanted to hear what present he re­ceived.

Romibo was cre­ated out of Blue Ocean Ro­bot­ics’ Euro­pean of­fice in part­ner­ship with US ed­u­ca­tional and spe­cial needs con­sul­tants, with the robotic as­pect taken care of by Blue Ocean Ro­bot­ics. It’s now sold by Origami Ro­bot­ics in the US for US$599.

With so many ap­pli­ca­tions, and so much scope to im­prove our lives, ro­bot­ics is “a very new in­dus­try” on the cusp of de­liv­er­ing a suite of gamechang­ing ideas, Ivan says.

“It’s very tech­ni­cally led, with new re­searchers bring­ing new ideas out of univer­sity ev­ery year,” he adds.

For this rea­son, the com­pany has adopted a global view that sees them rou­tinely work­ing with part­ners and col­lab­o­ra­tors across sev­eral con­ti­nents.

We’re FO­CUSED on the BEN­E­FITS for hu­mans, with par­tic­u­lar AT­TEN­TION on a SO­LU­TION that will make jobs SAFER and eas­ier.

The busi­ness it­self is broadly based, with the three orig­i­nal founders choos­ing to part­ner with a se­lect num­ber of in­ter­na­tional ‘co-founders’ to grow their vi­sion glob­ally. These in­clude Ivan in Aus­tralia; Hege Eiklild and John Mul­hol­land in Nor­way, Claus Lenz and Thorsten Röder in Ger­many, and Len­nart Karls­son in Swe­den. They also have of­fices in Turkey, France, Spain and the Benelux re­gion, a politi­coeco­nomic union of Bel­gium, the Nether­lands and Lux­em­bourg.

“What we’re aim­ing to do with Blue Ocean Ro­bot­ics is to draw on the tech that’s avail­able at re­search in­sti­tutes and univer­si­ties around the world, and bring that to­gether to solve com­mer­cial prob­lems,” says Ivan.

But one of the big­gest chal­lenges the in­dus­try faces, says Ivan, is aware­ness and get­ting the pub­lic fa­mil­iar with ro­bot­ics, while also work­ing through the fear that ro­bots will threaten cer­tain in­dus­tries and peo­ple’s job se­cu­rity in the fu­ture.

“We can part­ner with peo­ple across any in­dus­try and if they have a pain point, we can work with them to cre­ate a so­lu­tion,” ex­plains Ivan.

“As a project man­ager… I un­der­stand that it’s very nat­u­ral [for peo­ple] to be afraid of what ‘might’ hap­pen. But ro­bot­ics of­fers pow­er­ful new tools for growth and change. Once peo­ple know how to work with them, they’ll be ex­cited rather than afraid.”

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