Clearpath Robotics Acquired by Rockwell Automation

Clearpath Robotics Acquired by Rockwell Automation

Yesterday, Clearpath Robotics of Kitchener, Ont., Canada (and Clearpath’s mobile-logistics robot division OTTO Motors), announced that it was being acquired by Milwaukee-based Rockwell Automation for an undisclosed amount.

The press release (which comes from Rockwell, not Clearpath) is focused exclusively on robotics for industrial applications. That is, on OTTO Motors’ Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs) in the context of production logistics. If you take a look at what Rockwell does, this makes sense, because as an automation company, they’re not typically doing what most of us would think of as “robotics” in the sense that the mechanical systems that they automate don’t do the kind of dynamic decision-making that (in my opinion) distinguishes robots from machines. So, the OTTO Motors AMRs (and the people at OTTO who get them to autonomously behave themselves) provide an important and forward-looking addition to what Rockwell is able to offer in an industrial context.

That’s all fine and dandy as far as OTTO Motors goes. What worries me, though, is that there’s zero mention of Clearpath’s well-known and much loved family of yellow-and-black research robots. This includes the Husky UGV, arguably the standard platform for mobile robotics research and development, as well as the slightly less yellow but just as impactful Turtlebot 4, announced barely a year ago in partnership with iRobot and Open Robotics.

With iRobot, Open Robotics, and now Clearpath all getting partially or wholly subsumed (or consumed?) by other companies that have their own priorities, it’s hard not to be concerned about what’s going to happen to these hardware and software platforms (including Turtlebot and Robot Operating System) that have provided the foundation for so much robotics research and education. Clearpath in particular has been a pillar of the ROS community since there’s been a ROS community, and it’s unclear how things are going to change going forward.

We’ve reached out to Clearpath to hopefully get a little bit of clarity on all this stuff, and we’ll have an update as soon as we can.

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