RoadNarrows LLC (2002 - 2020)
It has been quite the journey, but now is the time to explore new frontiers.
RoadNarrows LLC (“RoadNarrows Robotics”) was a small robotics and intelligent systems company located in Loveland, Colorado. The company developed software platforms using artificial intelligence techniques for advanced robotics research applications, in particular, hybrid robot collaboration and manipulation in semi-unstructured environments. This included vision, 3D sensing, sensor networks, neural networks, genetic algorithms, multi-agent cooperation, and parallel, distributed systems.
RoadNarrows sales division had distribution partnerships with several Swiss robotics companies, namely K-Team S.A., makers of the Khepera robot line, GCTronic S.A., manufacturer of the open-source epuck and the elisa robot, and Cyberbotics, creators of Webots software.
RoadNarrows was founded by Robin D. Knight and Kim M. Wheeler in 2002. Ms. Wheeler was the CEO from January 2002 to January 2014. Mr. Knight was the CTO during this period. As of January 2014, Robin Knight performed both the CTO as well as the CEO functions.
Kim Wheeler is a graduate from the McGill Centre for Intelligent Machines (M.Sc. EE), and Robin Knight studied applied mathematics and computational systems at University of California, Santa Barbara (M.Sc.). Prior to founding RoadNarrows, both Robin Knight and Kim Wheeler were part of Qualcomm’s CDMA engineering staff. Robin Knight had also worked at Bell Labs, and Kim Wheeler worked on the Mars Observer Camera navigation software with Malin Space Science Systems.
RoadNarrows grew to be a small, self-sustaining research and development business generating revenue from sales, contracts, and grants. RoadNarrows partnered with many international robot companies to resell and support high-quality robots and software to the academic and research communities.
These relationships and revenue boot-strapped RoadNarrows to develop value-added software and hardware technology to these products, as well as provided funds for the research and development of new products.
In 2007, RoadNarrows collaborated with Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) on the National Science Foundation (NSF) Phase I grant “STTR Phase I: General Robot Controller for Legged Mobile Robots with Integrated Open Source Software”. RoadNarrows subsequently was awarded a Phase II grant, for the period March 1, 2009 extended through August 31, 2011. Kim Wheeler was the Principal Investigator (PI) for the project and Robin Knight led the engineering team. Prof. Jerry Weinberg from SIUE was the co-PI, and Kim Wheeler led the research and project management. Team members included engineering intern Ian Bernstein (RoadNarrows’ first employee). Ian Bernstein went on to co-found Sphero in 2010, a robotics startup in Boulder, Colorado. SIUE interns included Ross Mead, who went on to complete a PhD. in robotics at University of Southern California and then founded the robotics startup Semio in Los Angeles in 2016.
In 2011, RoadNarrows was awarded a new NSF SBIR Phase I grant for the Development of Computer Cluster Architecture Applied to Intelligent Robotic Manipulators, titled: “Scalable Computer Clusters Applied to Sensing and Control of Intelligent Manipulators for Agile Manufacturing”. Kim Wheeler was the Principal Investigator.
RoadNarrows was awarded a Phase I SBIR from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) titled: “An Extensible 6DOF Vision Framework for Accurate Location and Pose Estimation in a Scene Graph Context.” Robin Knight was the Principal Investigator on this effort.
RoadNarrows grew to 13 employees in 2013, including a mix of part-time, full-time, and contract staff. Research and development work and intellectual property seeded by the founders, grants, sales, and contracts contributed to further development work with several startup ventures. In addition, RoadNarrows developed several of their own robotics systems products that were sold world-wide to academic institutions.
In the fall of 2014, RoadNarrows down-sized their staff and business and focused solely on their Hekateros robotic manipulator and Laelaps product line, while continuing to provide 3rd party robots, sensors, and parts from their distribution partners. RoadNarrows moved their headquarters to Boulder, Colorado from November 2014 through 2016. At the end of 2016, RoadNarrows moved the headquarters back to Loveland, Colorado and provided remote sales and support. At the end of 2020, RoadNarrows officially dissolved the business. Existing academic and startup customers will continue to be supported through 2020 and 2021 in collaboration with partners and suppliers.
RoadNarrows’ Manufactured Products
RoboSight™ and CogniBoost™
RoboSight™ was developed by RoadNarrows in 2008. It is a small sensor module which includes a simple camera integrated with a CogniMem™ neural network chip for easy training and control applications. It can be used stand-alone or in conjunction with a controlling computer. The CogniMem™ neural network chip was developed by General Vision Inc. of Petaluma, CA. RoadNarrows developed a simple serial command-level embedded API to manage the CogniMem chip functions.
CogniBoost™ was developed as a computer peripheral module similar to RoboSight, but with a USB instead of a serial interface, and no camera. Instead, a host computer provides the data input, either from a camera or other types of data sets to feed to/from the CogniMem chip. Both products have full software API tools developed by RoadNarrows. In addition, RoboRealm Inc (founded by Steven Gentner) provided a high-level GUI interface to the two products.
RoboSight and CogniBoost are discontinued products and are no longer manufactured by RoadNarrows.
SkewlZone™ was a family of products to make off-the shelf legged robots “intelligent” for purposes of STEM teaching and research. It was a collaboration between RoadNarrows and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville (SIUE) and partially funded by the National Science Foundation STTR Phase I and II grants. Hardware products included a customized embedded computer board running Linux, smart foot sensors, hands with sensors, a gyroscope/accelerometer board, and sensor interface board. The software architecture and command and control messaging API were developed by RoadNarrows. This software package is named BotSense. The higher level teaching and research applications were developed by SIUE and used the Tekkotsu robotic software platform developed by Carnegie Mellon University. One of the goals of the project was to encourage and promote open source, standard, modular software and hardware environment.
Kuon™ and Laelaps™
RoadNarrows designed and manufactured a rugged outdoor wheeled robot with full integration of an embedded computer, sensors, and motor controllers. With Robot Operating System (ROS) now mature and available to the open-source community, RoadNarrows’ evolved their BotSense architecture to include support for ROS, which opened up the access to ROS-supported higher-level applications developed by the community. Laelaps is a miniature version of Kuon, with the same hardware and software infrastructure support.
Hekateros is a 1 meter long robotic manipulator designed and manufactured by RoadNarrows. It was developed as a response to the gap in affordable, capable intelligent research robotic arms. The hardware and software architectures evolved from the SkewlZone project and shared common processing hardware with the Laelaps and Kuon projects, including full ROS support. Hekateros was first introduced to the public during the 2011 Advanced Association of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Small-Scale Manipulation Challenge: Robotic Chess held in San Francisco.