Five questions for CTO Alona Kharchenko
by Kim Nilsson
What made you choose to work in robotics?
It certainly does not feel like I chose to work in robotics, but rather I chose to follow my passion in robotics. Back in 2015, when I was studying Robotics, Cognition, Intelligence at TUM, I saw a poster with (back then) Roboy Junior on it. This poster brought me to a first meeting with Rafael. I vividly remember how he dismantled the robot’s head to access a beamer inside, so he could show slides with his vision to a freshly assembled group of curious students. Seeing Roboy back then left a mark on me. The thought of immense potential impact on our society with this technology reverberated in my mind very loudly and clearly. Compelled by the challenge, the vision and brilliant minds around, I joined Rafael and the Roboy Student Team to build robots as good as the human body. What do you love about working in the robotics workshop?
I love the creativity in the work that we do. We have so many technical challenges, we are building something no one has ever built before. Sitting with the team and discussing ways to solve these problems, testing out solutions, and going on to see something work in practice is a fantastic feeling.
One of Devanthro’s values is “Playcuriousity”. It’s a word we made up to illustrate how critical it is for us to stay curious and how freedom to play is crucial in finding unusual solutions to unusual problems. This is what we do in the workshop, resulting in our unique Robody development.
Another component I love is people. Being a moonshot project, Devanthro has attracted brilliant, hard-working, forward-thinking and cheerful people. Working towards a common vision together in an environment like that is one of the most rewarding and transformative things I’ve ever done.
Why are you building your product specifically for elderly care?
We are building Robody which is a humanoid robot, closely resembling humans, and specifically robotic avatars, which means they do not operate autonomously but rather are the physical emanation of the human using the VR interface. This means that it is perfectly suited for work that humans do today.
When we researched which industries would suffer most from lack of talent over the next decades, health care and specifically elderly care stood out to us. Most of the world have aging populations, Europe especially so. This means more people who will need care, and fewer to be able to care. Ambulant care, where nurses drive to patients’ homes to help out on a daily basis, is particularly difficult to scale as the care staff might spend up to 75% of their time just driving from house to house.
This is the perfect use case for Robody and Robody Cares, our care offering. With a Robody in your house a nurse, doctor, or even family member can check in on the patient at any time of the day with no wasted overhead time between visits. With Robody Cares we will enable generations to come to stay in the comfort of their homes much longer than they otherwise would.
Where do you see the company in 10 years?
In ten years Robody we will have the best robotic avatar on the market. It will be broadly available for anyone requiring assistance in their home, and the experience interacting with Robody will be so realistic that you will forget that the person you are talking with is not actually in the room. We will have partnered with all the major care companies in Germany and well under way expanding to other parts of Europe.
More than that, we will be branching out to other use cases where human operated robots are needed. Think waiters and kitchen staff, logistics, cleaning services… anywhere the dexterity and mind of a human is required but not a human’s physical presence. One could also imagine a corporate line where each office of a corporation could have a set of branded Robody’s, allowing team members from around the world to participate in meetings without the need for travel. The world is our oyster, really.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself!
During the first hackathon I organized I stayed up all night making animations of Roboy face in ASCII symbols.
Devanthro is a Munich-based robotics and AI business, building Robodies – robotic avatars for the elderly care market. Their partners include Charité Berlin, University of Oxford, and LMU Klinikum. An early prototype is part of the permanent exhibition at Deutsches Museum in Munich. For more information, please visit https://devanthro.com/.