Engineering Spotlight: 6 River Systems
6 River Systems is a robotics company based out of Waltham that was founded by former Kiva Systems and Mimio executives. Chuck, the company's collaborative robot, helps to automate the process of warehouse fulfillment with cloud-based software for a state-of-the-art automation experience.
We connected with Co-Founder and CTO Christopher Cacioppo to learn more about Chuck and how he works, but also to gain a little more insight to how the engineering team operates on a day-to-day basis.
Interested in working with at 6 River Systems and helping to build Chuck? Click here to check out all of the job openings at 6 River Systems!
Quick Hit Details
Year Founded: 2015
Number of employees: 100
Number of engineers: 45
Can you share a summary on what 6 River Systems does?
At 6 River Systems, we create software and autonomous collaborative mobile robots that help warehouse workers boost their productivity. Our robot Chuck helps pickers work smarter in-aisle, all through a directed approach that improves their pick rates 2-3x.
What are some of the different technologies that the engineering team gets to work with in terms of the software that powers Chuck?
On the robot side, we use ROS with C++ for the high performance lower level and Typescript on the higher level behaviors. Outside of the robot, everything else is run in the Google Cloud, using Typescript, and our frontend uses the Angular framework. We use continuous integration and leverage a lot of unit tests and automated testing.
Can you share some of the details that go into the physical design and the hardware engineering of Chuck?
Designing collaborative robots is difficult, as you have to balance many factors. We need to design robots that can work 24 hours a day, moving product efficiently and safely, but we also have to keep costs under control for our customers. Also, because Chuck works with people, Chuck has to not only be safe, but feel safe. Robotics include a wide field of technologies, from motors and overall power efficiency (charging/discharging), to various sensors like LiDAR and cameras, to lighting and the physical user interface.
What are some of the interesting projects that the engineering team is tackling?
We work on a diverse range of projects. For example, we are currently working on various ways to make our system run more efficiently, both through clever workflows, enhanced algorithms and faster robots. We are also using machine learning to better identify obstacles in the warehouse so that we can react appropriately. We are also building a full-scale simulation of large warehouses to help optimize our system.
Does your engineering team have a chance to work on projects outside of their day-to-day responsibilities? For example - skunk work projects, open source projects?
We generally do not do skunk works projects, as we try to focus on customer requirements and strategic initiatives. We do have people from different groups contributing to projects that they normally wouldn’t work on, which keeps our employees learning new things. We do contribute to open source projects. Our first project was BlueShell a ES6 Behavior Tree implementation (https://github.com/6RiverSystems/blueshell)
What is the culture like at 6 River Systems for the engineering team?
Typically we work in small scrum teams with embedded product managers. Our teams work closely together and try to collaboratively find the best solutions to customer problems. We work together in lots of ways: sometimes casual conversations, other times team meetings and yet other times, peer programming. There’s also a fair amount of inter-team communication that goes on, where members share information or ideas. In the cases where emergencies or significant problems crop up, we work as a team to solve the problems together instead of trying to find blame. Our goal is to empower our engineers to be the best that they can be.
What can a potential employee expect during the interview process?
Usually we start with a phone screen and, for software jobs, this is followed by a take-home coding test with a few options that most people seem to enjoy. After that, we bring the candidates in to talk to 4-5 people. We ask them a mix of technical and cultural questions to make sure that candidates both fit in and enhance our team. After that, our hiring teams get together and evaluate everything to make a decision together.
Are you involved in any local tech organizations or Meetups?
We have hosted a Boston Autonomous Vehicle Meetup at our warehouse facility. If you are interested in robot localization, the talk from that Meetup is available here:
Rapid Fire Q&A
What’s on tap?
Craft brews mixed with the occasional Mike’s Hard.
Star Wars or Star Trek?
Definitely Star Wars. We have SW quotes on the robot when you boot it up.
iPhone or Android?
I think it’s contested. If you look at the team, it’s 50-50.
Coffee - hot or iced?
We’re a hot coffee place. We have the best drip coffee in the area. The coffee pot always seems empty.
Favorite employee perk?
Awesome snacks and food, fresh glass-bottled milk and produce from local farms.
What TV show describes the engineering team’s culture?
Also contested. Star Trek, Farscape just to name a few.
What music is playing in your office?
The Ting Tings. Tim from Hardware loves the Ting Tings.
View from your office.
There are many. Take a look at our office tour and pick your fave.
Katy Powers is a member of the technical staff at 6 River Systems. She writes software on the movement and behavior team, which is in charge of navigation, and making the robots drive smooth like butter. In her year at 6 River, she has had the privilege of working on diverse and cross disciplinary projects such as autonomous charging and the robot analytics pipeline.
Prior to joining 6 River, she held several software engineering positions in prominent robotics companies, including Rethink Robotics.
Katy started the #gen_climbing Slack channel at 6 River Systems.
Tim Higgins is the Director Hardware Engineering and Supply Chain. In his 3 years at 6 River Systems, he has worked with an exceptional hardware engineering team on all aspects of “Chuck”, from early concept sketches through to the latest production models.
Prior to working at 6 River, he worked at Kiva Systems (Amazon Robotics) as a mechanical engineer working on their 3,000-pound capacity robot. Before working in industrial automation and robotics, he held several positions in consumer electronics, leading programs and designing high-volume products for Boston Acoustics, Mimio, Sonos and others.
Tim is also a founding member of the 6 River Systems vintage pinball machine maintenance committee.