A decade ago, members of the Pal Robotics team recorded demonstration videos of their first humanoids in the room of an apartment on Pariser Strasse (Barcelona), where a fireplace emerged as the backdrop. And that’s what they became famous for. “In consecutive videos, the chimney with the robot was always expected. The apartment had a very large corridor and we left the machines running to study it closely,” comments Francesco Ferro, the company’s CEO, with amusement.

From this company they defend that robots will be tools that will improve work ability, help sick people and perform dangerous tasks like disabling bombs or saving human lives in situations of natural disasters like the occurrence of hurricanes and earthquakes. But humanoids will be part of our family in about 30 years, now they’re just supposed to do a public service like the one REEM did at CosmoCaixa: the machine worked as a receptionist and provided information about the museum and its activities. And the same informative function will soon be performed by humanoids in hospitals and airports.

What’s behind it

Pal Robotics is a Spanish company now wholly owned by Francesco Ferro, who has an exclusive contract with Pal Group, a corporate conglomerate based in the United Arab Emirates. “It was this company that came to see us in 2004, my former partner Davide Faconti and myself. They wanted us to build a machine that could play chess autonomously,” says Francesco.

The two Italians settled in Barcelona and met Joan Oliver and Oriol Torres. Oliver had studied industrial engineering at the Polytechnic School of Catalonia (UPC), specializing in robotics, while Torres had also studied electrical engineering at the UPC. The four of them built the REEM-A prototype, which was completed in 2005 after 14 months of painstaking work. It was the first two-legged machine built in Europe. Thanks to the Hydra system, he could walk, reach the table, sit in front of the board, and knew how to play chess. The project cost 500,000 euros and was funded by the Pal Group.

Two years after the REEM-A, Pal Robotics released another refined model. It was the REEM-B, a prototype with voice recognition and sensors that allowed it to autonomously explore its surroundings and move around and avoid obstacles without human assistance. And in June 2009 came the REEM H1, the first publicly presented humanoid, which was followed in December of the following year by the REEM H2 – an improved version of the previous model – in Abu Dhabi. The upper part of the device was human-shaped but moved on wheels and contained a touchscreen on the chest. With this prototype, stability was gained, interaction with people in open spaces was improved, manufacturing costs were reduced, and power consumption was also reduced.

The end result of all this is the REEM model, the first that the company has launched as a result of joint work with the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) and La Salle Ramon Llull. REEM speaks 30 languages, is 1.70 centimeters tall, weighs 90 kilos and can run for up to eight hours without recharging the battery. It is managed with a video console control and has movable arms. Each limb can carry up to three kilos of weight.

everything to grow

Pal Robotics is now a globally successful company in a market as innovative as robotics. And in order to continue to lead the industry, the company invests around two million euros in research and development every year. Of the four original partners, only Francesco and Joan Oliver remain, working in business development. As CEO, Francesco is responsible for investor relations, keeping abreast of what is happening in the global robotics industry and overseeing the work done at Pal. Joan is responsible for the contact with the customer.

Due to the large volume of business that is beginning in the company, they are not ruling out a capital increase and are currently negotiating this with their Arab investors. In the event that another outside investor wanted to invest in Pal Robotics, Francesco would notify Pal Group managers and negotiations would begin.

Pal Robotics has the capacity to produce four humanoids per month. Buying the REEM model with wheels costs 150,000 euros and if you want a biped, the customer has to pay 300,000 euros. The delivery time is around six months.

Maintenance is included in the machine price. If a part breaks, Pal Robotics sends a new one; In addition, they are able to install any software remotely, and as in the case of the REEM-C that the Moscow engineering faculty bought, “we have already trained the Russians to do all sorts of repairs,” says Francesco. Another line of business is renting out the REEM for holding public events for 300 euros plus travel expenses.

The future is called REEM-C

At Pal Robotics, they have just launched the REEM-C, a two-legged machine destined for the Moscow Faculty of Engineering. The project required an investment of more than one million euros. It’s a humanoid robot that’s 1.65 meters tall and weighs 70 kilos. It consists of two powerful computers and face and voice recognition sensors. With the arrival of REEM-C in the Russian capital, university professors hope to spark interest in robotics among students.

“We have just sold another of our robots to the University of Elche. In their neurology department, they are investigating how to control a robot with their brains. In this case, they use REEM-C as a platform on which to develop their specific software,” explains Francesco. Recently, Pal Robotics has focused on making connections with academia by involving university students in their projects.