Jiří Krejsa and Stanislav Věchet are two of the founders of Bender Robotics which is celebrating 2019 as its tenth year on the market. They are also colleagues at the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at Brno University of Technology where they pass on their love for robotics and, mainly, their valuable knowledge.
They founded the company because they both longed to create interesting projects on robotics and because neither of them had enjoyed university projects in the past. “This has improved since, but too much of the research at that time led nowhere. We wanted to create something that would work in the real world,” remembers Věchet.
This is why in 2009, together with their colleagues, they designed and built the Advee advertisement robot. And with this project they joined the JIC business incubator, where the company gained the know-how as well as the facilities it needed and has been using ever since.
“Before we founded the company, we participated in a robotics competition. The assignment was to create a robot that could transport a small keg of beer. For us, the only name that fit was Bender, the robot from the Futurama series that always drank a lot of beer. We won the competition and the name stuck,” remembers Věchet.
The prototype of Advee has won a number of awards. The project ultimately turned out to be ahead of its time in regards to the economy. In the Czech Republic, this what the time when the global economic crisis was culminating and companies weren’t too interested in it, so the group had to decide what to do next: “We learned a lot thanks to the robot; a team of just several people relatively quickly created a comprehensive functional thing, so we decided to keep offering our know-how,” adds Krejsa.
“At the beginning, nobody believed we could ever build such a robot. And when the robot was standing in front of them, nobody believed it was us who had built it and thought it had been purchased from Japan,” remembers Věchet. Advee is 160 centimetres tall, moves on its own and talks with people near it. It recognizes people’s faces, prints out fliers, and provides information on specific products or companies.
From airplane engines to coffee machines
Bender decided to downsize its robotics program and focus on custom-made products for third parties. “We still wanted to keep working on projects we found interesting and enjoyable. And that’s what we still do; we don’t want to end up working on routine engineering jobs,” adds Krejsa.
Currently, Bender Robotics is working on projects mainly in the automotive, aerospace, and medical fields. However, its work is already improving products all around us – in cars, lawn mowers, concert hall lights, insulin pumps, airplane engines as well as coffee makers. In short, they can develop just about anything that incorporates electronics.
Even though they aren’t allowed to describe any projects in detail, it was the development of the coffee maker that was a very interesting experience for Bender Robotics, as it took a surprisingly long time: “In the beginning, we thought we would continue with the old version of the coffee maker, which turned out to be impossible and we had to create the whole thing from scratch. On top of that, the customer had a long list of requirements and it almost seemed like the coffee maker was even supposed to be able to kill someone,” remembers Věchet, smiling.
The company hasn’t abandoned robot development, though. Most recently it developed a robot to guard data centres. The downside to robotics is their complex use of technologies, which makes them both expensive to create and less applicable in wider contexts. “Eventually, a real person needs to clean a data centre or use a screwdriver to fix something, which makes the robot suddenly a bit useless. Data centres need to be designed already fully adjustable to the technology which will take care of them,” says Krejsa.
“I see people have their heads full of science fiction movies packed with robots and AI, so they think they are more advanced and competent than they actually are. And when they eventually see an actual robot, they tend to be disappointed,” says Stanislav Věchet.
Robotics is essential
Today, around 25 people work for Bender Robotics. Fun fact: no sales department here, only developers. Věchet likes to describe the company as a slightly developing hacker space, and adds that the main challenge for him is doing the actual business: “We are more the do-it-yourself type, you know.”
Sales and marketing activities are taken care of in part by consultants, along with anything else the guys at Bender Robotics aren’t so experienced in dealing with. “We recently dealt with a small-scale production of vibrators for Czech designer Anička Marešová. We weren’t entirely sure how to do it, as we mostly produce prototypes only, so we invited a consultant from JIC. It’s always good to have somebody from outside the company with no interest in the whole thing to check it out for you,” says Krejsa in appreciation of the availability of JIC as well as other technology companies in #brnoregion.
Sought-after experts in Bender Robotics
The company has been growing without pushing too hard. What’s important is that each new member brings something new to the team and fits in. Most often it happens that the company hires people on somebody’s recommendation. Also, Krejsa is proud to say that some of their employees turned down work at larger corporations to keep working on interesting jobs at Bender Robotics.
At the moment, the company has to refuse some incoming jobs, most often due to insufficient capacity. Sometimes, however, even a meaningless job arrives. According to the developers, some customers don’t fully realize what they’d like to do and their ideas are impossible to implement. “People have no idea how long it takes to get from a prototype to actual production. They think the development would cost certain amount, but – given our experience – we know very well that it can be easily ten times more,” adds Krejsa.
However, further growth is important for the company in order to ensure some kind of momentum. “We’d be able to accept jobs that are very complicated and be free to choose projects we are interested in as well,” adds Krejsa.