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RoboBusiness: Day Two

October 26, 2013

On a rare overcast day in San Jose, RoboBusiness got down to business with keynotes and the general exhibition in full swing.  The morning held keynote speakers, breakouts in the afternoon, and then the iRobot cocktail reception.

The keynotes highlighted a couple of things that I thought were worthwhile.   First is that robotics is at the beginning of its journey.  Robotics is attacking markets and building companies, but the best is yet to come.  Dan Kara of Myria RAS talked about robotics working on delivering value to the whole manufacturing sector instead of merely automating pieces of processes.  Sanjiv Singh talked about a true trillion dollar market that he’s being laying the groundwork for: personalized aviation.  Admittedly a bit blue sky right now, but he had the videos of his full-sized (as in AH-6 “Little Bird” helicopter) performing the necessary actions to fly autonomously in obstructions and uncertain landing areas.  We are at the dawn of an era, robotics is no longer just talk, and the action is going to get greater and greater.

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Sanjiv Singh of CMU talking about personalized aviation at RoboBusiness 2013.

On the other hand, the message I took away is that we are still dazzled by fancy public relations, or perhaps our own wishful thinking.  Henrik Christensen pointed out that that MAKO Surgical just got acquired by Stryker (NYSE:SYK) for $1.6 billion.  I have not seen a peep about this from any of the robotics press, save Robohub and the Robot Report’s Frank Tobe.  We have been hearing for a year about how the $775 million acquisition of Kiva is going to transform the Boston robotics scene.  I look forward to a year of hearing twice as much about how the Ft. Lauderdale robotics scene will be transformed.

The floor was a nice a smattering of robotics from primarily the two disciplines, described yesterday, industrial robotics and consumer device robotics.  However, a few departed from this paradigm and exhibited some service and field robotics.  I really liked ASI’s heavy equipment because, it can really do field work and I think that is where robotics future lies.

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The ASI “Game Changer” winning robot.

I am also not insensible to how cute robots can be.  I had never seen a Pleo in the rubberized fabric skin before.  They are amazingly cute!  They really do respond to what the owner does.  I’m not sure my photography does justice to how it nuzzles its head against your hand in the most adorable way when you pet it gently, or looks plaintively around and squirms when you pick it up by its tail.  It is really quite a remarkable feat of engineering.

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The cutest robot at the show, the Pleo robot dinosaur pet! Supposedly each one develops its own personality, this one must have PTSD from all the abuse by the show attendees.

There were 16 breakouts which were a mixture of speakers and panel discussions, ranging from technical and speculative talks to business subjects.  I particularly enjoyed the investor panel, but I am not sure that there were any earth shattering revelations beyond the prominent presence of the venture capital investors at RoboBusiness.  This change has been really cool to see.  Robotics is finally getting attention from regulators, attorneys, venture capitalists, and capital markets.   We have arrived as a real industry!

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iRobot martini glasses–with a human bartender–but with Monsieur, how long will that go on?

Fittingly, the night closed with the iRobot cocktail reception.  There were iRobot martini glasses … what else do I need to say?

Robert Morris is founder and CEO of the aerial imaging start-up TerrAvion. He is also the author of the blog robocosmist.com .. read more



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