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Olis operating system
Olis Robotics’ operating system is designed to provide added safety, efficiency and semi-autonomous smarts for remotely operated robots. (Olis Robotics Photo)

For five years, a University of Washington spin-out called BluHaptics has been building up a business focusing on robotic control software for underwater robots — and now the Seattle startup is stepping things up a notch under a new name: Olis Robotics.

Olis is also acquiring another Seattle startup, White Marsh Forests, which is expected add new machine learning capabilities to the company’s control system for remotely operated robots undersea, out in space and in other challenging environments.

“With the acquisition of leading-edge machine learning technology, we seized the opportunity to sharpen our vision of disrupting the emerging robotics operating system lindustry,” Olis CEO Don Pickering said today in a news release.

Olis’ operating system provides tools for precision control, progressive levels of autonomy and situational awareness for remotely operated robots. The machine learning techniques developed by White Marsh Forests are expected to improve the robots’ ability to recognize objects and “remember” how to use them.

For example, an underwater robot working underwater on an offshore oil rig could use its semi-autonomous smarts to identify the proper wrench for a job, apply the right amount of pressure to open a valve, and take note of where it left the wrench to speed mission efficiency during future operations.

“Olis Robotics is extending human reach into the most extreme environments,” Pickering said. “We’re adding new time-saving technology which is safer and more precise than anything on the market currently.”

Pickering said the company’s operating system has already demonstrated improvements in precision and efficiency in the offshore energy industry, while reducing downtime and cost.

Last year, BluHaptics raised $1.3 million in fresh funding to expand the reach of its robotic operating system. Since then, the company has won a $750,000 grant from NASA to adapt its software for robotic operations in space, and it’s gearing up to take on subcontractor roles in other NASA and commercial space projects.

Robotic control systems are expected to find applications in space for on-orbit manufacturing, satellite servicing and remote caretaking. For example, NASA’s lunar-orbiting Gateway, due to be built in the 2020s, is supposed to be designed for remote operation when a human crew isn’t on board.

“Our technology unlocks the ability for robots and sensors to conduct breakthrough work in offshore energy, nuclear decommissioning, environmental and health crises and in the infinite domain of space,” Pickering said. “Closer to home, our technology can be deployed for elder and disabled care, maintenance and service of bridges and buildings, and efficient inspection and repair of dams and other infrastructure.”

Pickering said the name was changed from BluHaptics to Olis in order to reflect the company’s broader focus. It’s no longer just about haptic control systems in the deep blue sea.

“Olis Robotics is the opposite of siloed technology, so we reversed the word into ‘Olis,'” Pickering explained. “Instead of a singular siloed approach, we process a network of sensor data to extend the human senses of 3-D vision, simulated-touch technology and semi-autonomous movement and reactions.”

As part of the acquisition deal, White Marsh Forests’ president, Steve White, will stay on with Olis full-time as vice president of engineering. White is a veteran software developer whose resume includes stints as a software architect at Microsoft, chief technology officer at MSNBC.com and director of technology at Corbis.

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.

Correction for 7:40 a.m. PT Sept. 19: The headline has been fixed to refer to machine learning, not machine language.

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