VENICE -Adam Gibson started a company at a precarious time—the spring of 2020—but as Einstein reportedly said, “In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.”
“It’s always difficult with a startup,” Gibson said of Safe Stations, his company that provides robots and artificial intelligence (AI) for virus defense, contactless delivery and cleaning. “You’re doing development and then you add on a pandemic, it gets pretty crazy quick.”
Working with a team of seven, Safe Stations' day-to-day operations are in Venice with the corporate structure in Houston, Texas. They work with robotics manufacturers and artificial intelligence companies “to help businesses defend against the rigors of our new world by equipping businesses with some of the most advanced cleaning technologies available,” according to their website.
Gibson, 38, said Safe Stations’ robotics and AI can do tasks that humans do in an inconsistent way. He touted their ThermalNet AI camera that can detect coughs and sneezes on produce, for example, and alert staff through a messaging app. He said their floor cleaners have “centimeter-level accuracy” and sensors to avoid hitting objects.
“We’re trying to make the difficult, the demeaning and the demanding more humane,” Gibson said. “Those kinds of jobs can always be improved with a level of autonomy if that autonomy understands the problem that it’s going up against.”
“Temperature check guns pointed at kids are so inhumane,” Gibson continued. “It doesn’t have to be that way. There are other technologies that make it way easier,” he added, referencing Safe Stations’ ALI temperature and facial detection kiosk.
Although Safe Stations wasn’t started in response to the pandemic, Gibson said COVID-19 created an “overnight industry” for virus defense and Safe Stations is “trying to thread the needle” by offering safe solutions for now and post-pandemic.
“When we’re talking about robotics and automation and safety we’re going to try and provide things that we can definitely use for covid,” Gibson said, “but we’re going to have robots for other autonomous uses.”
“We’re trying to make a sales push,” the West Virginia native added. “We feel like the market is there, the consumer is more educated than they were a year ago and we feel we have a broader product line.”
Gibson said he looks forward to a day when people know the names of robots they use. He gave the example of Roomba, the circular vacuuming robot. Safe Stations offers delivery robots with names such as Alfred, Ruby and Koda and a sanitizing robot called Prince.
“Most Americans know one or two robots by name and maybe have one or two of those robots in their house,” Gibson said. “So, what we’re trying to do is humanize these in a way so that people see them more as tools.”
Some people have an initial resistance to working with robots, Gibson said, and have legitimate questions about them eliminating human jobs. He said once the fear of the unknown goes away, people realize robots are tools that make experiences safer and jobs more efficient.
“There’s good robots just like there’s good people,” Gibson said, “and there’s bad people and bad robots.”
It’s important for consumers to be informed about robotic solutions, Gibson said, comparing it to his previous experience working in the drone industry. Consumers were unsure how to use drones and what laws and regulations applied to them.
“Anybody can buy a drone off Amazon, but not anybody can figure out how to program it or fix it if you do need a repair,” Gibson said, recalling his days working in a drone store on Abbot Kinney during the 2010s.
“That’s what we would like to see Safe Stations do, take the torch, so to speak, from the drone industry into robotics.”
“That’s what we’re trying to do in an efficient way, so people see it’s going to be safe,” the West Virginia University graduate said. “Making sure people know how to use robots is the most important thing and we’re making sure people have a ‘robot guy.’”
Gibson said Safe Stations’ first year focused on ironing out the supply chain from China and navigating a different business culture there. He also said shipping costs have fluctuated, sometimes tripling, often due to political tensions with the previous administration.
“It’s been delicate,” Gibson said with a laugh.
With his staff working from home for now, Gibson hasn’t decided on when or where he might open a showroom. Safe Stations had an office on 3rd Avenue near Gjusta bakery, but they moved out in November last year because the surrounding unhoused situation had gotten so bad.
“It hasn’t made sense to have a location when anybody can’t come,” Gibson said. “We’re going to be there at some point because people have to see these to buy them.”
Regardless of where Safe Stations opens a showroom, Gibson plans on staying in Venice. He moved here from San Jose ten years ago, when he left his job at Rockstar Energy Drink in San Jose.
“I can’t think of being anywhere else,” Gibson said. “It’s such a creative place. A creative place can maximize your own creativity.”
A big fan of The Terminator, Gibson referred to an Arnold Schwarzenegger quote about Venice: “This is the only place that I don’t feel out of place because everyone here is out of place.” (Gibson also totally recalled that Schwarzenegger played a character named Adam Gibson in The Sixth Man.)
“There’s an energy in Venice,” Gibson continued, recalling the people he met who worked at Snapchat or in the drone industry. “One day in Venice is like three days anywhere else. There’s so much happening.”
The free-spirited, creative ethos of Venice suits Gibson well as he hopes Safe Stations can provide options for an increasingly automated world.
“I was always trying to do my own thing,” he said, reflecting on the path that led him to starting his own company in a county that has five times the population of his entire home state. “I kind of listened to my mom too much when she said I could do anything and here I am, still trying to do it.”