Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Synapse unveils Gerard, a contextually aware robot

Steve Rogerson
December 18, 2018



Cambridge Consultants subsidiary Synapse Product Development has combined machine vision, voice and gesture recognition, 3D mapping, and autonomous robotics to create Gerard to give a glimpse of a future where context-aware digital assistants move closer to human communications.
 
Today's voice-controlled assistants are reaching mainstream adoption in the home but are limited by a lack of the critical context that people take for granted in everyday interactions with others. Gerard understands its environment as well as voice and physical gesture commands. In the future, digital assistants will understand context, such as body language, emotions and physical surroundings.
 
To bring that future closer, Synapse engineers integrated machine vision, voice and gesture recognition, 3D mapping, and autonomous robotics to give Gerard eyes, ears and mobility. The robot autonomously explores physical spaces, becoming aware of where it's been, its current location and objects in its environment.
 
With all these capabilities combined, Gerard understands who someone is, what they're saying and what their gestures mean in the context of the surroundings. This allows for instructions such as "Gerard, turn on that light" while pointing to the light the person wants turned on.
 
"Voice interface technology has come a long way in a few short years, but is still well short of resembling human interactions," said Jeff Hebert, vice president of engineering at Seattle-based Synapse. "Gerard uses contextual awareness to make digital interactions much more natural and efficient."
 
With this technology in the home, Gerard could support many use cases. Imagine the benefit it could bring to an elderly relative, making home automation accessible without requiring mastery of a screen-based user interface. In an office environment, Gerard could control conference room technology, enabling automatic meeting minutes with attribution to the correct speakers, or intuitive gesture and voice control of a videoconferencing camera, allowing commands such as: "Zoom in on that whiteboard."
 
In industrial settings, Gerard could improve safety as well as productivity. A factory worker could control heavy equipment without sharing their attention with a display or control panel or needing to remove protective gloves, while automated equipment could anticipate the movement of workers to enhance safety.
 
Gartner has predicted that by 2020 about 30 per cent of web access will take place without the use of a screen. Synapse says it is at the leading-edge of developments in interaction technology, harnessing the latest in sensing, machine learning, spatial awareness and inputs from voice, gesture and haptics to develop completely natural user interfaces that bring richness to human-digital experiences.
 
Synapse is a product development and consultancy firm, part of Cambridge Consultants, which develops products, creates and licenses intellectual property, and provides business consultancy in technology-critical issues for clients worldwide. With a team of more than 700 staff, including engineers, scientists, mathematicians and designers, in offices in Cambridge (UK), Boston (USA) and Singapore, Cambridge Consultants covers a diverse range of industries including medical technology, industrial and consumer products, digital health, energy, and wireless communications.
 
Cambridge Consultants is part of Altran, a specialist in engineering and R&D services that works alongside its clients on every link in the value chain of their project, from conception to industrialisation. In 2015, the Altran group generated revenues of nearly €2bn. With a headcount of more than 27,000 employees, Altran is present in more than 20 countries.