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Startup Weekend

by   -   April 20, 2012

MEGA Startup Weekend proved that you can mix startups and robots together and build new robot businesses. Now we need to work out how to repeat the success. It’s clear now that having real robot platforms is very inspiring. So is providing soldering irons, arduinos, and other materials like moldable plastics. But most of the teams who hacked on a robot platform or built their own robot still had to make trips to the shops.

The real story of our success was the roboticists, our robot mentors or demo coaches. These amazing people came early and stayed till midnight, even when their robot platform wasn’t being used [Elad Inbar of The Robot App Store and Ted Larson of Oddwerx]. Then they went home and built more robots to bring in [Tully Foote – Willow Garage]. They pulled apart their own personal robots [Melonee Wise – Willow Garage] to provide parts for teams. They flew in from far away [Ross Ingram and Adam Wilson – Sphero, Harsha Kikkeri and Jay Beavers – Microsoft Robotics] bringing boxes of robots and giving them away as prizes to the winning teams. But mainly they gave away their time, smiling. We were all inspired by the robot track, but it was the roboticists that really did it.

MEGA Startup Weekend 2012
Harsha Kikkeri, robot mentor from Microsoft Robotics at MEGA Startup Weekend, April 13-15, 2012.
Photo/image credit: Erica Kawamoto Hsu

Rodney Brooks, from iRobot, recently said that the real question for robotics now isn’t “what CAN a robot do?”, it’s “what SHOULD a robot do?” Startup Weekend is a wonderful opportunity to test assumptions about what a robot should do, to do it rapidly, to iterate and to validate. While we had some very good robot businesses, the winning team, “Eyes on Demand” had an incredibly strong value proposition, achievable cheaply with available technology.

The team had a strong connection to a section of the community, people with impaired vision, and the team understood the real pain points, eg. reading mail or food labels. They started with a clear problem and then looked to available affordable technology and put things together in a new way. This democratization of robotics technology, as seen in the DIY drone community, is something we’ve all been waiting for.

Although world domination through robots and startups is definitely on our agenda, Robot Launch Pad is a small group in the Silicon Valley area just starting to grow. We were both touched and surprised to be contacted recently by Paul Doyle, Head of ACCESS, Research and Development at Hereward College, UK. Paul wanted us to hurry up and get people making real affordable robots for people with disabilities. He foresaw the possibilities of rapid prototyping and the startup movement.

“Hereward College in the UK supports many students with physical sensory and cognitive impairments. For years we have been awaiting the arrival of the practical assistive robot as many of our students could and should benefit from their availability.

What we have currently is a number of high cost ubiquitous machines, with little or no practical application in the real world.”

Paul wanted to know if there were any DIY robots coming in the future and to inspire us to build robot solutions based on affordable technology, easy for consumers and staff to work with and replace. Of course we still need sophisticated robots, but MEGA Startup Weekend proves that we can iterate around existing technologies, putting people centered design at the heart of robots. I was delighted to tell Paul about “Eyes on Demand”. He was thrilled too, and his whole college wants to be first customers. I think there’ll be quite a queue!

MEGA Startup Weekend was a MEGA success for robotics. And created a new hybrid event, a mashup of startup weekend and hackathon, with arguably the best of both worlds. I think I got Shacked Up this weekend.

by   -   March 28, 2012

For the 1st time in startup weekend history, teams are asked to build robot startups in a 54hr challenge. Using just a mockup OR an existing robot platform OR all the robot resources you possess, can you pitch and develop a fantastic robot business? Winning teams get a chance to pitch their business idea at the DEMO conference in front of crowds of VCs/angels/media/fans.

Mega Startup Weekend will be held on April 13-15 at Microsoft. Mega Startup Weekend is the largest Startup Weekend in the Bay Area and in the world, hosting over 300 attendees in 3 different verticals – robots, gaming and mobile.  This is our annual Celebration of Entrepreneurship, hosted by Microsoft BizSpark, Startup America, and DEMO.

Please share this information with other roboticists and see you there! The mighty Robot LaunchPad team will be mentors and organizers at the Mega Startup Weekend event. (Use “robotlaunch” as promocode and get 25% discount.)

But how can I build a robot startup in just 54 hours? 

The key is to build a robot business model. Anyone can use existing robot technologies to create a brilliant new robot business. That’s why we’ve put examples here for every level of robot skill – from technically minded robot noob, to skillful robot/software programmer, to uber DIY robot drone with duck tape types.

1. Technically minded robot noob – create a mockup. If you can identify a market need and robot products that exist or can be easily converted, then build the business model not the robot. Eg. Maybe supermarkets could use robot arms to help shoppers reach products on top shelves. Find a market need that robots could do, then build a business model and a mockup.

2. Skillful roboticist or coder – leverage existing robots with accessible APIs and create new apps and markets. Eg. Existing autonomous mobile platforms could deliver food/luggage/shopping at large airports/hotels/malls. Need ipad/iphone app connecting it up and a business plan.

3. You DIY robots for breakfast? – you can build anything in 54 hours. Go on, surprise us!

Rodney Brooks says that the next generation of robots will be more closely integrated with people in manufacturing and the workplace. Today’s challenge isn’t ‘what can a robot do?’, it’s ‘what should a robot be doing now’?


by   -   January 7, 2012

There is a great post at VentureBeat about Ahmed Siddiqui’s extensive experience of startup competitions; winning, not winning, and running them.

How to win a tech conference startup competition | VentureBeat.

.. I have come to the realization that certain types of startup concepts always do well, while others just don’t The key thing to consider is that these are tech conferences, so you should have something inherently “techie.”  The majority of the audience members are engineers, or else marketing and sales professionals pretending to be engineers.

Ahmed suggests that three types of startup are usually successful; programming made easy, mashups, and fancy algorithms. He also found that areas like health and education were not popular although that may be changing. In that case, the new trend towards having different verticals at startup events may make developing startups for industries like health more appealing. We all know there is a huge market for health related products, but when you are competing for attention against a slick race car addon, a sweet fashion shopping tool and new social or (unsocial) network



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