BeBop Sensors is a company that leads the way in smart fabric sensor technologies. Founder Keith McMillen is an expert on trends in robotics, skin, and fabric sensors. BeBop Sensors has just launched their new RoboSkin line of skin-like coverings for tactile awareness for humanoid robots and prosthetics. Described as a nervous system for robots at less than 1mm thick, RoboSkin is the only technology that fits all robotic body parts: limbs, fingers, feet, head, and torso, to make robots “feel” better. BeBop Sensors has millions of fabric sensors in daily use in military, corporate, and research facilities around the world.
Keith McMillen made his way into technology via his love for music. As a musician, he sought to find ways to invent better instruments. In 1979, Keith developed a technology-infused violin that was used by famous musicians such as Yanni and Jean luc Ponty. Keith eventually sold his musical technology company to Gibson Guitars and subsequently served as the VP and Head of Research at the company. In 1999, he started a second company focusing on internet telephony conferencing technologies and that business was subsequently sold to PolyCom.
In 2008, Keith decided to turn his focus back to creating high-tech instruments; especially ones that are lightweight and easy to carry on and off planes. Keith started to experiment with fabrics and nanotechnologies and established KMI Music. It soon became apparent that these materials could service technologies beyond instruments. Keith realized that fabrics and nanotech could be used to help humanoid robots detect surfaces under their feet or—perhaps most promisingly—feel sensations in their hands and fingers akin to human senses. Keith and his team got to work designing a RoboSkin that is essentially a very complex system which took the team fifteen years to perfect; it launched in May of 2022.
“We consider ourselves to be similar to tailors,” Keith explained. “We can customize everything. As a team of designers made up of musicians, we understand the importance of accuracy, speed and dynamic range.”
Keith noted that robots are currently being used to perform tasks ranging from putting auto parts together to security work. RoboSkin is simply a step closer to making robots more human than human. The invention is presently being sold to robotics companies across the globe and it will be presented at Expos in 2023.
Bebop Sensors also creates AR technologies which have been sold to NASA, the Airforce, and training companies. Within ten years, Keith predicts that both AR and humanoid robots will become more commonplace, especially in warehouses a where they can feel objects to place in boxes. To date, Bebop Sensors has 33 patents on their cutting-edge technologies. At present, their main initiative is to partner with robotics companies to raise public awareness about the uses of RoboSkin across a range of fields.
Keith is most intrigued by human’s evolving relationship with artificial intelligence for co-performance of new music, and he has established a nonprofit—The BEAM Foundation—to explore this more.
“The best test of a humanoid robot will be its ability to make a cup of coffee, especially in an unfamiliar kitchen,” Keith stated. “This is essentially the Turning test (as defined by Steve Wozniak) for robots that we are trying to reach. This is an easy task for most humans, but it’s very tough and detailed for a robot. Once they can do something involved, novel and precise like that, we’ll know we’ve been successful.”