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The Man Who Wants To See Robots Everywhere—Data Sheet

July 23, 2019, 1:04 PM UTC

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A week ago Walmart CEO Doug McMillon spoke in Aspen, Colo., about his company’s autonomous floor-cleaner robots. Yesterday, I met in San Diego with the company whose software is behind those robots, Brain Corp., the brainchild of a former mathematical neuroscientist named Eugene Izhikevich.

Izhikevich is an unabashed proponent of robots. “I want to see robots everywhere,” he says. He has started in a seemingly unlikely place: floor-cleaning devices. Brain Corp., originally exclusively funded by Qualcomm—hence its San Diego location—and later by SoftBank, decided that floor-sweepers were a good place to begin because they operate indoors, work in a controlled environment, and are a market that is ripe for disruption. Izhikevich believes that if his company can prove its value to cleaning floors, it can succeed in any application that has wheels. “It’s not difficult to build a robot,” he says. “It’s difficult to program a robot to do what you want it to do.”

Brain Corp.’s ambitions are massive. Izhikevich believes his company can be as central to the robotic revolution as Microsoft was to personal computers. The robots Brain Corp. currently supplies use chips from Nvidia and Intel, but they also can accommodate Qualcomm’s designs. A key manufacturer is Tennant, the century-plus-old company that is a leader in floor-cleaning equipment. “We turned Tennant into the biggest robotic manufacturer in the country,” boasts Izhikevich.

I watched a demonstration of Brain Corp.’s robots in action. They’re good at stopping when there’s an obstacle in front of them. The company is considering indoor delivery vehicles next. It believes that janitors won’t feel so much displaced as upskilled into robot operators.

It’s a brave new world.

Adam Lashinsky

On Twitter: @adamlashinsky



The Vitruvian man. Speaking of A.I. software, the research group OpenAI signed on to use Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform and got a $1 billion investment from the software giant. Originally co-founded by Elon Musk, OpenAI will use the new money to focus on “Artificial General Intelligence,” the effort to make computers think more like humans.

Home cooking. Investors cheered Qualcomm’s settlement with Apple in April that brought the iPhone maker back into the mobile chip giant’s orbit. But the victory may not last. Apple is in advanced talks to buy the remnants of Intel’s 5G modem business for about $1 billion, The Wall Street Journal reports. In other phone-related news, rumors are building that the federal government will approve T-Mobile's merger with Sprint this week, with some assets being sold to Dish Network.

Closing the barn door. In other settlement news, credit bureau Equifax will pay at least $575 million, and up to $700 million, to settle probes of its culpability for the 2017 data theft of financial records of millions of consumers. Payments will include $300 million for consumer credit monitoring services, $175 million to states, and $100 million in federal penalties.

Don't squeeze too hard. President Trump met with the CEO's of Alphabet, Broadcom, Cisco Systems, Intel, Micron Technology, Western Digital and Qualcomm on Monday to discuss the trade war with China, the ban on sales to Huawei, and other economic issues. Trump agreed to a rapid decision-making process for approving sales to Huawei.

Free as in speech. Six-year-old free stock trading service Robinhood raised $323 million of fresh VC money in a deal valuing the company at $7.6 billion, a 36% increase from its value a year ago. And cloud restaurant software developer Brightloom struck a partnership with Starbucks for an undisclosed amount. The goal is to use Brightloom's tech to get more of Starbuck's franchisee partners around the world to use the coffee company's mobile app platform.

A little of this, a little of that. How many of Uber's services do you use? The startup is testing variations on a $25-per-month subscription that includes features like ride discounts, free food delivery via Uber Eats, and free scooter and bike rentals via Jump. So far, the pass is available in San Francisco and Chicago.

Informing the masses. If you want more in-depth coverage of artificial intelligence, don't forget to subscribe to our weekly Eye on A.I. newsletter. The newest issue comes out later today.


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