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Robohub is an online platform that brings together leading communicators in robotics research, start-ups, business, and education from around the world.
by   -   February 15, 2013

I would like to start from the other side: “Why is robotics great in creating new technologies and poor in creating new businesses?”. Well, someone may disagree, but I really think that robotics is great in creating new technologies. However, almost everyone agrees that robotics is poor in creating new businesses.

In my opinion, this is due to two main reasons:

  1. Robotics is DIFFICULT! It is a multidisciplinary field, where you have to put together the best from several worlds, and make it work. This results in huge integration challenges, which are as complex, or even more complex, than the technology itself.
  2. Robotics is EXPENSIVE! Being an expensive technology makes it challenging to find viable business models for new markets.

Based on that, a successful funding scheme should foster the transition from research and technology to integration and business. This does not mean that one should directly fund companies, but that the funding scheme should enforce market orientation. In addition to the fundamental research, a successful funding scheme should put in place a combination of market oriented technological research, development of integration solutions, and pre-commercial procurement. This should, hopefully, help new robotics applications to reach the market.

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by   -   February 15, 2013

Funding new robotic projects in America is mostly done two different ways:

(1) strategic funding from NASA, DARPA, DoD, NSF and other government organizations to do the pure science involved in solving stumbling blocks in robotics, and

(2) entrepreneurial-initiated funding from friends and family, angel investors, VCs and “special people” like Scott Hassan, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page, or Sergey Brin.

In addition, some funding is available via macro programs such as the Roadmap for US Robotics, which don’t move at the same speed as the entrepreneur-initiated projects.

Finally, surrounding each of the major universities involved in robotics research and education are clusters of support networks working with and supplementing the universities’ own commercialization activities. Stanford and UC Berkeley in the Bay Area of California; Georgia Tech in Atlanta; CMU in Pittsburgh; and MIT and Harvard in Boston. All of these clusters and commercialization activities are without government stimulus or direction.

Willow Garage is a perfect example of the benefits of special people: Scott Hassan had a vision to jump-start robotics – particularly the open source software side – and he invested hundreds of millions of dollars in that pursuit. From Willow Garage came seven notable spin-offs including an ongoing non-profit to perpetuate ROS.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page from Google established Google X-Labs, invested in Tesla Motors, and many more.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has set up a fund that has invested in all sorts of start-ups: from Uber to Behance to Linden Labs.

The real excitement comes from the special people: They not only enthusiastically give back with profits from their own experiences, but also bring the same level of energy that made them successful to funding of new robotics projects.

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by   -   February 15, 2013

The best way to commercialize robotics research is to make better connections between academics and entrepreneurs.  Academics venturing out into the business world tend to have a “hammer looking for a nail” mentality, and often lack an appreciation of the skills and real-world experience that entrepreneurs and business-minded folks bring to the table. Likewise, most entrepreneurs cannot accurately estimate the complexity of the underlying technology … they do not know what is hard to do and what is not. Nor should they be blamed for this: speaking as an academic, I must admit that distinguishing between what is easy and what is difficult to achieve is not usually the focus of our publications, web pages or videos. So how do we bridge this gap?  Two ideas:

  1. Continue to fund robotics competitions.  Not only is this a great way to educate researchers on how to build real systems, but the approaches adopted by the winning teams are highly correlated to what is feasible with today’s technology. Also, the challenges these teams encounter in a one-year competition cycle are similar to those faced by a young startup in its first year of existence. This funding approach could be expanded to include team projects that create large-scale public installations because, like startups, they too must be reliable and robust to succeed in a public, real-world context.  Finally, one must also make sure that entrepreneurs know about these competitions and team projects, and that they have the right incentives to attend.
  2. Provide funding that allows freshly-minted PhDs to transition from fundamental research to applied research with a specific business focus, and at the same time provide support from business mentors and entrepreneurs.  A pre-startup phase, if you will. This not only brings the research closer to application, but it also gives individuals an appreciation of what it takes to commercialize their research, without the immediacy and constraints of being a startup.  A good example of this kind of funding scheme is the Pioneer Fellowships program established at ETH Zurich.

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by   -   June 4, 2012

It’s our turn for a Grand Challenge! The prize will be a successful million dollar business. The catch is you build it yourself. The rules? Well, you don’t need to be a robot scientist to do it. You just need to build a robot business!

Take an existing robot platform – EITHER an autonomous mobile robot (like Adept’s) OR a semi-autonomous drone (like Parrot’s)  – and create a successful business. MVP it. Find customers. Build software/website. Create a market. Distribute it, sell it, support it, grow it. Congratulations, you just won… NO, you just earned a million dollars!

It’s about turning your great idea into products for others to enjoy. That’s difficult. But we’re really excited by the opportunities that exist for great robot businesses built on existing robot platforms. The Joggobot is a great example.

The Joggobot is the creation of Floyd Mueller and Eberhard Gräther of the Exertion Games Lab at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

This is a great idea. I want one. Who else does? And out of everyone who wants it, who has the money to pay for drone plus software plus marketing plus… Well, probably a lot of people do! Do the research and find your product/market fit.

Maybe crossing the chasm isn’t exciting for robot researchers but by now robotics is very ready for a service industry ecosystem. A relatively small pool of robotics researchers have other things to do than create ‘killer robot apps’! One way to kickstart the robot business model process is to involve select domain experts to better explore need. Another is to have diversity in your design team. At Robot Launchpad HQ we have a heap of ideas for great robot businesses, but ideas are worthless unless someone executes.

Here’s an example: What about ‘lost child finding’ quadrocopters? The average toddler is remarkably adept at slipping away, avoiding restraints, unlocking doors and disappearing into crowds. There’s no replacing parental care though. The average parent wouldn’t be the market, but the average parent would appreciate shopping malls, playgroups, playgrounds, restaurants, sports events etc. that offered simple additional safety services. Put the mall app on your phone and send a photo of your toddler to the mall drones, as a supplement to the existing lost child services.

I personally think that involving the mothers of toddlers into a discussion about robots will unlock a heap of other pain points that might have robot answers. It’s the first steps in the oncoming consumer robot revolution, starting with controllable semiprivate indoor spaces that are halfway between the factory or warehouse and the home. I’m thinking shopping malls, hospitals, airports, sports stadiums, prisons etc.

So the Robot Launchpad Grand Challenge is to create a viable robot business using an existing autonomous aerial or mobile robot. Keeping it simple, think of controllable indoor spaces and easily programmed GUIs using a smartphone and/or a cloud service. You are putting the value in the sandwich between the robot hardware and the internet/phone. Find the customers, create the market. Ship the robot. Support the business. Earn a million dollars and our undying respect in the Robot Startup Hall of Fame!

ENTER NOW!


by   -   September 3, 2011


Carnegie Melon University (CMU), the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Robotics Technology Consortium (RTC) and the Innovation Accelerator (IA) are all working together to organize and host a contest to find new ventures with “big idea” robotic systems in healthcare and for quality of life.

Top five winners each get $5,000 and the grand prize winner gets an additional $20,000. Open to all and a good opportunity to be reviewed by notable jurists.