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3:02 PM  September 1, 2020

Maternity for robots: Cognitive Pilot about tasks of Tomsk enterprise

© предоставлено пресс-службой гендиректор Cognitive PilotMaternity for robots: Cognitive Pilot about tasks of Tomsk enterprise

TOMSK, Sep 1 – RIA Tomsk. The Tomsk production of robotic systems cost the Cognitive Pilot company 5 million dollars and by the end of 2020 should reach industrial production volumes. So far, we are talking about "brains" for unmanned combine harvesters, but in the near future Tomsk residents can start delivering smart systems for foreign public transport and not only.

How the pandemic helped open the enterprise and where the products of the "robot factory" are already operating told CEO of Cognitive Pilot Olga Uskova to RIA Tomsk in an interview.

Earlier it was reported that in 2018 the Tomsk region and the Cognitive Technologies company agreed to cooperate in the development of unmanned systems. In 2019, in one of the agricultural enterprises of the Tomsk region, the first field tests of a combine equipped with a robotic control system from Cognitive Technologies took place, in the development of which scientists from Tomsk also took part.

© РИА Томск. Павел Стефанский
Signing agreement with Cognitive Technologies
According to the press service of the Cognitive group of companies, in November 2019, Cognitive Technologies joined forces with Sberbank in a project to create a new company, Cognitive Pilot – a company that produces robots and artificial intelligence systems. The largest investor of new company besides Cognitive Technologies with share of 30% is Sberbank. Uskova became the CEO of Cognitive Pilot.

Why in Tomsk and not in Malaysia

– Olga Anatolievna, what is the Tomsk division of Cognitive Technologies today?

– We have been thinking about the need to organize the production of small and medium batches of smart components for unmanned vehicles for a long time. Medium series – are thousands of pieces, but last year all experts (our partners and investors) did not unanimously recommend Russia: "we do not have this practice in our country," "let's go to Malaysia or China," "look at the American experience". We drove, looked around the world.

But we are still not like 99% of standard productions. In terms of knowledge content, functionality, such products as ours are hardly produced anywhere else in the world. In general, it looks more like a maternity hospital than a factory. The dominant factor for the Cognitive Pilot was the availability of highly qualified and specific personnel both in scientific areas and for work on the production block.

We made the decision to locate the factory in Tomsk back in October – when there was no COVID, nothing. The research center with its university background and high level of specialists – university graduates – is unique. Yes, we considered the issue of logistics – that there is no direct railway line, and we assessed future risks.

In Tomsk, we rented a building for a robotic factory in a good location, in a research center – this was helped by the regional leadership and COVID – the area suitable for all counts was vacated. The quality of the premises was very important for us, because we plan to supply products all over the world. Now we are bringing it to an exemplary state, so that we would not be ashamed to bring our partners and customers here.

© предоставлено пресс-службой Cognitive Pilot
Cognitive Pilot

COVID to help

– By the way, how has the pandemic affected the company's plans?

– When the pandemic began in January, we became even more convinced of the correctness of the Tomsk choice. In winter, there were serial failures of foreign factories. Due to antiviral restrictions, "fell off" two European production. We just crossed ourselves: thanks to the fact that we started assembling in Tomsk, we had no delays for almost a single day.

We did not find ourselves in a situation where the borders began to close one after another. Physically, the production team assembled in January, but additional purchase of equipment was carried out for several months: sometimes one was missing, then another. The production is complex – even those who designed it could not fully foresee all the subtleties.

© предоставлено пресс-службой Cognitive Pilot
Now production is gaining momentum, and by the end of the year we have to deliver several thousand devices to customers. In August-September, we start production facilities.

– What were the costs of opening a production in Tomsk? How has the pandemic affected spending?

– The total investment is about 5 million dollars. At the beginning, we planned that we would buy some of the components in China, and then we would build up the Russian component. But it turned out that we could not order anything in the Middle Kingdom. There were a number of force majeure events that changed our original plans. But in the end we won, including because of the ruble exchange rate.

For example, we needed metering pumps for harvesters. The main thing in this market is the Danes – the Danfoss brand. During the pandemic, they closed, our order was not fulfilled. And thanks to incredible efforts, we found a Russian-Bulgarian manufacturer, whose products passed all our tests. As a result, we won almost 40% in price.

– What can you tell about specialists employed in production?

– The director of the factory is Sergey Slushko from Tomsk, a very young smart guy. Other production employees are also 80% from Tomsk, the rest are from neighboring Siberian regions.

For us, the launch of the factory in Tomsk – is a very big event. Cognitive Pilot did not have the opportunity to first open its R'n'D, then expand production and then create service companies. We have a very powerful start and the load was immediately distributed on all fronts. This is due to the emerging demand and the peculiarities of the market – it is still just being formed, it is empty. There is no time for buildup.

Sometimes I had concerns about whether it would be possible to withstand such a load, especially since the team is very young. The average age of our Tomsk employees is 30-35 years. It is clear that the guys have no experience of such an emergency work. I was afraid that someone would ask for mom when we had to work for 18 hours all summer.

– What is already being produced in Tomsk?

– In Tomsk, now we are collecting "brains" for unmanned combine harvesters – agrodroids, which are now being supplied to Russian and Belarusian customers. There are several copies for Latin America, but they were not included in the series. We have a five-level certification system for our own products, which can then become serial.

Now on the way of certification there are two more types of products: Cognitive Rail Pilot, which is being tested in the Russian Railways system, and the radar series, which Korea and China are interested in. Production is scheduled to start in the fall. Radars in Asia are used to control autonomous public transport (these are "light rails" – something in between a tram and a metro, there is no such thing in Russia).

Combine operator is still needed

– What is happening with the introduction of unmanned systems in the farms of the Tomsk region, where you announced the start of the project?

– Tomsk is also native to us because it was one of the first to make it possible to conduct field tests of control systems for unmanned combine harvesters. We understood that for agricultural enterprises that undertook to test our solution, this is a great burden.

When we persuaded them, the regional administration provided them with benefits. Some cunning guys took benefits, but they did not sign contracts with us – out of four farms, two did so. But others – you can visit them now during the harvest – are working.

In Mezheninovsky we have updated the version of the system. Now the combine moves autonomously, and the combine operator, who can monitor the angle of the header, threshing speed and other parameters, now sits and controls the technological process. Together, this reduces grain losses, saves fuel and ensures profitability for the farm.

– And when will the combine operator not take part in harvesting at all?

– We have just started testing the full autonomy mode, and this system is still far from being launched into industrial production. This robot is now being tested in one of the agricultural enterprises of the Tambov region. And this unique device was produced in Tomsk.

– And what about other regions? Did the farmers believe in robotic harvesters?

– In Russia, hundreds of combines with our Cognitive Agro Pilot system have already harvested this year: from Kaliningrad to the Tomsk region – Siberia is still the very east for us. Our largest customers are such holdings as EkoNiva, Rusagro, Steppe, which own land in several regions at once.

The Rusagro project – the first of the major customers – involves the installation of autopilots for 240 combines. There have never been such large-scale implementations in the world. We will supply EkoNiva with autopilots in 35 regions of the country. In three years, virtually every tenth combine in Russia can become unmanned.

РИА Томск, Таисия Воронцова
Unmanned combine harvester

– How profitable are the farmers today? Do current farmers have the opportunity to acquire innovation?

– The once widespread opinion that agriculture – is a difficult and low-income business has long been untrue. I see the real financial picture of modern farmers and I want to say that if the rate of profit for advanced farms suddenly dropped to 30%, then this is a scandal. IT-business with its indicators "rests" in comparison with them.

For example, I had a meeting with a customer in the Tambov region, where I arrived in an SUV, and the agronomist and the head of the farm arrived in two helicopters. It is clear that these are the most advanced farmers, who have several thousand hectares at their disposal. Those who want development will not buy Lamborgini, but invest in technology.

There are now 25% of such leaders in the country. They travel around the world and collect the best practices. They want to enter foreign markets. I myself look out for the land to invest and create a robotic farm.

Other representatives of domestic agriculture are mostly rudiments left over from the times of the USSR, without business skills. In my opinion, such enterprises may disappear in the horizon of five years.

Market of the future

– What other international projects is Cognitive Pilot involved in?

– Now we are entering one of these projects to launch a neural city in Shanghai. There is a very active young mayor who loves the topic of artificial intelligence, and they are now making just candy out of the city: everything should be safe, technologically advanced and beautiful. We are there as subcontractors.

This topic has not yet been discussed in Russia. For example, in Tyumen such conversations began earlier than in Shanghai, but there were no people who were ready to take risks, this is still a very expensive and complex project.

– What else is planned to be deployed in Tomsk in the future? What projects can residents of Tomsk still take part in?

– Here I try to be careful and not talk about upcoming projects, which we are still only discussing. Tomsk was once regarded as the "radar capital" of the Soviet Union. You have created a scientific school, specialists receive the highest level of qualifications. Now the topic of sensors is no longer the defense industry, these are mass markets.

Radars are needed everywhere. And our Tomsk department has created a unique 4D radar capable of giving not only the coordinates and speed of objects, but also seeing their shape like a video camera in any weather. We have developed a mini-radar, the size of a toothpick, which can monitor the space around the perimeter of the vehicle, solve similar problems in robotics and multicopters.

This is now one of the richest and most anticipated markets in the world. The intrigue with sensors is as exciting as the intrigue with microprocessors. Only if in one case we missed everything, then in the story with sensors we have very high chances. Russia and Tomsk citizens, in my opinion, are the best here.

Наверх
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