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Xconomy Robo Madness

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22 April 2014



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From left: Devdutt Yellurkar, Partner, Charles River Ventures; Aydin Senkut, Managing Director, Felicis Ventures; Peter Hebert, Managing Partner, Lux Capital; Frank Tobe, Editor, The Robot Report and Co-founder, Robo-Stox LLC; and Rich Mahoney, Director, Robotics Program, SRI International and moderator of panel on “Who’s Investing in Robotics, and Why?”

The 2014 Xconomy Forum: Robo Madness, held in the theater at SRI International in Menlo Park, proved once again, that contacts and relationships are as important as innovation, intellectual property, long hours and a PhD. Breaks and an after-event reception for networking, exchanging cards and promises to meet and discuss things further were an integral part of the day’s program. Silicon Valley and visiting tech and robotics-related stars were there in spades: Scott Hassan, Brian Gerkey, Paolo Pirjanian,  Helen Greiner, James Gosling, David Mindell and John Markoff to name just a few.

In the few short hours of programming, much ground was synthesized and can be reviewed in the following two articles:

My own take-aways from the forum – besides the power of networking and having the opportunity to talk directly with speakers and stars – were:

  • The responses to NY Times tech reporter John Markoff’s question as to when will it be the “Year of the Robot”? “Five years after 1,000 VCs and bankers are involved in the industry” and “Acceptance is when we’re no longer surprised” or  “I see things in thousands of shades of gray.”
  • Helen Greiner’s (CEO of CyPhy Works and co-founder of iRobot) timeline for the next wave of aerial robotics: “Today, they’re used primarily for entertainment, hobbyists and photo-taking purposes, but by 2015/2016, they’ll also be used for protection and inspection by both military and commercial users. By 2017/2018 they’ll be used for evaluating, managing and observing structures, assisting first responders and sending drones to do jobs too dangerous for workers. By 2019, transportation – not only for freight but for online retailers, local stores, even restaurants. Some people have argued that Amazon Prime Air is just a publicity stunt; I think Amazon is serious about making it happen.”
  • The definition of a robot is changing. The instability of the language as regards service robots, robotics, robotic-like and smart devices that perform robotic-like tasks is causing fear of litigation, confusion, and contention within the insurance and legal communities and this is slowing down progress.
  • Really interesting quotes: “Didn’t Watson pass The Turing Test on Jeopardy?” and “The problem of autonomy, that is, machine intention, is the problem of human intention.” Also, “The final frontier of robotics is vision and recognition.”
  • And the winner of all take-aways: Scott Hassan, the founder and funder of Willow Garage, saying that “Willow Garage still exists and their next adventure may be in climate change or… Willow Garage is a tree with many branches.”

It was a fun and insightful event and I was pleased to be asked to participate as a panelist hosted by SRI’s Rich Mahoney entitled: “Who’s Investing in Robotics, and Why?”



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Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.
Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.





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