Beyond Imagination Introduces All-Purpose Robot Beomni
When Harry Kloor was born, the doctors told him he would never be able to walk.
Kloor was born with his legs backward — 210 degrees from where they should be. So, while other kids were out playing sports or chasing each other around the playground, Kloor would daydream about inhabiting a robotic body that would allow him to play with the other kids in the neighborhood.
Kloor’s robotic fantasies were fueled in part by his mother Mary Conway Kloor, who pondered extraterrestrial societies in a science fiction novel she wrote while she was pregnant. Sharing his mother’s imagination, Kloor thought about inhabiting millions of robots across the earth and the galaxy at the same time.
With his mother’s research into physical therapy, Harry Kloor would eventually overcome his disability and go on to earn multiple black belts in martial arts.
In 1994, Kloor became the first person in the world to earn two doctorate degrees at the same time, according to the Council of Graduate Schools. He studied physics and chemistry.
Still, Kloor’s dream of inhabiting millions of robots remained alive — and he may finally be on his way to achieving it.
Kloor and his team at Beyond Imagination are introducing humanoid robots that can be operated remotely through virtual reality headsets and gloves.
As artificial intelligence and machine learning technology has progressed, more and more companies are entering the robotics market. Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently said he aims to have a humanoid robot prototype in the next year, adding that he thinks it has “the potential to be more significant than the vehicle business over time.”
Several other companies have already developed humanoid robot prototypes. Hanson Robotics’ human-looking social robot Sophia, for example, has generated buzz with its televised conversations taking place on 60 Minutes and The Tonight Show. Then there is Boston Dynamics’ Atlas, which can walk, jump, dance and do backflips.
Instead of spending time and energy making a robot walk, Kloor and his team focused on using robotic hands and arms for more practical, real-world applications, such as assisting elderly people who want to remain in their homes.
The robot, named Beomni, moves around with wheels and can lift up to 35 pounds with each arm. Unlike other specialized robots, Beomni can be trained to do any number of tasks by somebody using a virtual reality headset and gloves to see what the robot sees and touch what the robot is touching.
The company has published videos of human operators using Beomni to remotely open a bottle, turn a door handle and add a pinch of salt while cooking.
Beomni was developed with an AI brain that learns over time, allowing a robot to get better at specific skills to the point where it becomes semi-autonomous, and eventually, autonomous, Kloor said.
The robot’s AI brain is trained initially by guiding the robot manually with VR gloves, but it can also be trained through virtual twin data gathered through users on a virtual reality app.
Similar to a human brain, Kloor said Beomni’s brain was designed with multiple “lobes” that process and execute specific skills or sets of skills. This compartmentalization prevents Beomni from gaining sentience — a concern that is not lost on Kloor.
“What we’re teaching the robot to do would never enable it to become the Terminator,” he said. “It’s learning to do tasks. It’s not gaining consciousness.”
“We’re not trying to make an AI that knows everything, that can have a conversation with you for an hour about Kierkegaard,” added Bill Fischer, the company’s chief production officer. “What we’re talking about is something that can make a sandwich, help around the house and do other various things, learning on a task-by-task basis.”
The use cases for Beomni are “endless,” Kloor said, but he is particularly enthusiastic about taking care of senior citizens, like his 93-year-old mother who lives 1,000 miles away.
With the help of Beomni, he envisions a world where he could make her meals, help her with her exercises and assist her in the garden. Through Beomni’s software, he would be able to schedule other family members to take over caretaking shifts when he’s not available. His mother could also use the VR equipment to do things she is not able to do.
In November, Beyond Imagination tested Beomni’s caretaking abilities during a four-day pilot study at TRU PACE elder care facility in Lafayette. Beomni was used to take the temperature of patients, move items from room to room and dance with senior citizens.
With Beomni, Kloor said one nurse or doctor could treat patients in multiple locations. As the robots become more skilled in basic tasks, Kloor said robots could help address the shortage of medical practitioners in the U.S.
Beomni also has a platform that could schedule medical appointments, handle insurance information and allow doctors to order prescriptions. It could also be used in bio-manufacturing, logistics, housekeeping, restaurants and airplane inspections, Kloor said.
“I would never be able to do in a decade what I could do in a month with the robot,” he said.
Kloor is also passionate about the role Beomni could play in aeronautics and space research. With Beomni, researchers from a wide array of disciplines could take turns conducting experiments at the International Space Station. Beyond Imagination has partnered with Zero Gravity Corporation to test Beomni’s ability to conduct scientific experiments in zero-gravity environments.
Ultimately, Kloor believes that robots will be able to not only make workplaces more efficient by automating tedious and dangerous tasks, but also address humanitarian issues that are limited by the ability to deploy humans to certain areas.
“I could easily see global organizations having tens of thousands of robots in areas that need help,” Kloor said.
Beyond Imagination was founded in 2018, and the company finished its first iteration of Beomni in January of 2021. The robot was first introduced to the public at the Consumer Electronics Show one year later.
The company is currently working on Beomni 2.0 and talking to potential customers about the robot’s potential uses so those abilities can be implemented before production begins. Kloor and his team are also working to improve Beomni’s turning ability as well as its ability to sense its surroundings. The team is also adding haptic technology through the VR gloves, giving users a more tactile sense of what the robot is touching.
In early 2023, Beomni will be used on a space mission. Later in the year, Kloor hopes the robot will be used for bio-manufacturing, logistics and eldercare.
In early 2024, Kloor hopes to have the first viable product that can be sold to enterprise clients for around $150,000. As production increases, Kloor expects to sell to consumers with the price eventually dropping to about $60,000.
“I expect five years after we hit the market, households will begin to get them as the price drops down,” Kloor said.
Beyond Imagination has less than 20 full-time employees and has raised just under $5 million. The company is currently raising a post-seed round, which Kloor said would allow the company to triple its workforce.
The robots are manufactured in Colorado Springs. The rest of the team is based remotely.