James Klassen, CTO of Genesis Robotics of Langley, with an articulated robot arm. He hopes new actuators made by Genesis will allow robotic devices to be cheaper, faster, and safer for humans. (Matthew Claxton/Langley Advance)

Lower Mainland firm wants to revolutionize robotics

A new technology could make robots cheaper, faster, and better, said the firm’s CTO.

Behind the walls of an unassuming industrial building in Langley, a local firm is working to revolutionize robotics.

“We’ve finally solved a 50-year-old problem in robotics,” said James Klassen, the chief technical officer and one of the founders of Genesis Robotics.

Genesis is focused on actuators – the parts of the robot that create movement, allowing mechanical arms and legs to flex and swing.

Traditionally, actuators required both an electric motor for power, and a gearbox to control that power and provide sufficient torque.

“The problem with the gearbox is it’s heavy, and it’s expensive,” said Klassen.

It can also cause the “herky-jerky” movement that is typical of older models of robots.

After two years of work, the engineers at Genesis have come up with a new type of electric actuator – they’ve dubbed it the LiveDrive – that does away with the gearbox entirely. It has three times higher torque-to-weight-ratio compared to other similar motors.

That means it can be smaller, lighter, and in many ways, safer than older actuators for robots, said Klassen.

Genesis didn’t start as a robotics company.

As Genesis Advanced Technology, Klassen and CEO Michael Gibney, another founder, tackled technological problems for other firms, building things like pumps and suspension systems.

One area they worked in was medical robotic devices, and they decided to focus on trying to create an improved actuator.

They suspected it was possible, but the choice was a leap of faith.

“We set out with the confidence that we were going to make a discovery,” said Klassen.

A combination of “eureka!” moments and a lot of work did more than that.

“We actually made three major discoveries,” said Klassen.

One of those includes a new way of integrating the magnets into the electromagnetic motors that helps shrink their size.

The second two were necessities of the first – creating a rigid enough motor to withstand the forces generated, and a way of dissipating the heat of the motors.

It will be a year or two before LiveDrive components start showing up in robots, but Klassen said the company expects they will make an impact.

“We expect a number of applications that aren’t possible with present technology,” he said.

One of the big differences will be in getting industrial robots to interact with humans.

Many industrial robots currently live in “cages,” either literal metal enclosures or behind safety markings. That’s because a large industrial robot can’t stop if it encounters a squishy human while swinging its arm.

Klassen said the LiveDrive allows better “backdrive ability,” which is the ability to stop instantly if the robot senses it has hit an obstruction – whether another piece of equipment, or one of those fragile human beings.

Because of their precision, strength, and lightness, helping humans is one of the ways the company would like to use the LiveDrive motors.

They’re considering using the machines to create robots such as mobility aids, even exoskeletons, for people with limited mobility.

With more than 60 employees in Langley right now, the company has been expanding rapidly.

They also recently entered a new deal with a huge American firm.

KCTG, the industrial arm of Koch Industries, has bought a controlling investment in Genesis Robotics.

But Klassen said the team won’t be moving out of town.

They’ll be staying here and using the investment to keep working on bringing their device to market in practical commercial applications.

Members of the Genesis team recently returned from the Hannover Messe, a major industrial trade fair, in Germany.

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