Rise of the machines underway at UBC

A company started by UBC grads is trying to turn Vancouver into a hub for robotics. Ben Miljure reports.
Ben MiljureBen MiljureReporter, CTV Vancouver


Published Friday, October 26, 2018 3:46PM PDT 
Last Updated Friday, October 26, 2018 6:48PM PDT

Once the stuff of science-fiction plots, robots are now working alongside human counterparts at UBC’s Point Grey campus.

The school has ordered seven floor-cleaning machines outfitted with sensors and powered by artificial intelligence.

The machines are designed and built by A&K Robotics, a tech startup founded by a trio of UBC grads.

“If obstacles change, it learns to adapt to that,” said A&K Chief Technology Officer Anson Kung. “And we’re constantly improving the backend algorithms so it becomes more and more intelligent and can adapt to more scenarios.”

UBC employs almost 400 custodians and many were concerned when they first heard about their new robot colleagues.

“At first it was like, my job, I’m going to lose my job,” said custodian Ariel Ramirez. “But it’s actually really good. It will help us with our daily stuff. It won’t do everything.”

UBC says it has no plans to lay off any staff because of the new machines, and the company behind them says they are meant to complement, not replace, human staff.

“People want to be able to come to a job and focus on things that are a bit more challenging, a bit more fulfilling, and robots are very good at doing simple, repetitive tasks,” said A&K Chief Operating Officer Jessica Yip.

A&K Robotics says it has also sold cleaning machines to YVR and companies in the United States and Europe. Its ambitious founders plan to build a variety of different task-oriented machines at their Vancouver headquarters.

“When people think about Vancouver, they don’t really think about robotics and we want to change that,” said Yip. “Our schools here produce some of the best robotics talent in Canada and at A&K Robotics, we want to create an opportunity for that talent to stay right here.”

The company is also working on robots using artificial intelligence and sensors to improve mobility for people with disabilities.

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