Robot Launch Pad ACCELERATE YOUR ROBOT STARTUP 2015-03-15T19:07:16Z WordPress Andra <![CDATA[Ex Machina: When Turing meets Bechdel test]]> 2015-03-15T19:07:16Z 2015-03-15T13:21:59Z 04_YouTube_ExMachina-141030

Alex Garland’s first feature film as a director, Ex Machina, had its US debut at SxSW on March 14. This stylish idea film explores the Turing Test in a very Pinteresque fashion as a young coder falls in love with an advanced AI. Ex Machina is beautifully framed, but Garland’s stark script succeeds on the strength of the acting from Domhnall Gleeson, Alicia Vikander and Oscar Isaac.


Garland’s writing career launched in 1997 with the best selling novel “The Beach”, which the Times called the Gen X answer to Lord of the Flies. After a string of cult successes like 28 Days Later, Sunshine, Dredd and drafts of Halo and Logans Run, Garland became fascinated with the emerging promise and perils of AI. In the Q&A following the SxSW screening, Garland talked about feeling a zeitgeist, a technological and cultural turning point, compelling him and other film makers and writers to address robots and artificial intelligence.

Although Garland says that he’s on the side of the robots, it’s an uneasy truce. Garland describes his film as the story of ‘two brains torturing each other’. That’s true. In Ex Machina, Tony Stark meets John Searle in a gripping drawing room theater, when a billionaire tech genius recruits a young coder to administer the Turing Test to his secret advanced embodied AI.

And it’s a stark film, there are only 4 characters; 2 men and 2 women. 2 AIs and 2 humans. And which two are the brains? That is supposed to be uncertain, but anyone who has used the Bechdel Test to analyze films or popular culture for gender issues knows exactly where the ‘brains’ are.

The Bechdel Test started as a gender litmus and has become a remarkably useful indicator of power imbalance. The test is named after Amy Bechdel a cartoonist who outlined the rules in a 1985 cartoon. To pass the Bechdel Test, a film has to have two women in it, who talk to each other, about something other than a man.

Sometimes the proviso is added that the women have to have names, because some films can have many women characters, but if the characters are all “girl at checkout” and “girl with gun” then they are just devices to add color or move the action forward. And of course, possession of a name is an important indicator of personhood, or identity awareness, so it’s always one of the first steps to separate the beings from the machines.

Many films seem at first glance to have badass female characters but when put to the Bechdel Test, it becomes clear that they never talk to anyone but the main man, or if they talk to each other, it’s about the main male characters. So really, they have no interiority, no self awareness and are probably going to fail a Turing Test. That’s where I think it would be very interesting if the Turing Test were to meet the Bechdel Test more often.

Garland is also playing games with gender and the alienness of AI in Ex Machina. There is a beautiful scene where Ava, the AI, performs a reverse strip tease, putting on her human body.

But I’m afraid that Ex Machina falls at the final fence, as does just about every other science fiction film I’ve ever seen, aside from Alien. The Bechdel Test is useful for more than examining gender representation. It can be our Turing Test for creating believable alien or artificial life forms. If you look at our filmic or cultural representations of the other or alien, then you have to be struck by the singular nature of them all. From Frankenstein to Big Hero 6, do they have any reality without the central human characters?

No, they are alone. Even Alien is alone. At least in Frankenstein, it is the utter aloneness of the new form that is the whole story. Films that have pushed the envelope are few. And doing a quick mental check, the was left feeling empathy for the ‘others’ in only a couple, like Westworld, BladeRunner and Planet of the Apes, and the books of writers like Brin and Cherryh.

How believable are our ‘other’ AIs and robots? Brad Templeton said that an autonomous vehicle isn’t autonomous until we tell it to go to the office and it decides to go to the beach instead. A life outside of our anthropomorphic story is what’s missing from our AIs, aliens and others. We don’t really care about them or their lives outside of their impact on our own. And this makes us poorer.

The final shot is a haunting homage to Plato’s Cave’ although Garland credits his Director of Photography entirely for it. In The Republic, Plato posed the question, what if humans were born chained to face a cave wall seeing the world only as the shadows passing in front of a fire behind them in the mouth of the cave. Imagine the difference when you see the world, unchained from the cave.

I can’t say more. Go see Ex Machina. And use the Bechdel Test on everything.

Andra <![CDATA[Qualcomm to power high school robotics with Snapdragon]]> 2015-03-13T14:51:44Z 2015-03-13T14:51:44Z FIRST_FTC-Program-PunchRobots

On March 11, FIRST® announced that its worldwide high school robotics competition, FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC®), will be using the Qualcomm® Snapdragon processor as the platform for its robot and driver station controls. Moving to a communication and control system based on Android and Snapdragon will keep FIRST Tech Challenge students at the forefront of new technology developments.

FIRST teams will be using Java, a programming language built into more than 3 billion devices. “Current FIRST Tech Challenge teams can use their existing equipment in the exciting new platform,” said Ken Johnson, director, FIRST Tech Challenge. “A simple interface between Android devices and their current sensors and motor controllers will allow for a simple transition. Sensors built into the Snapdragon-powered devices will expand the teams’ options in future competitions as well.”

FIRST Tech Challenge is designed for students who want to compete head to head using a sports model. Teams design, build, and program their robots to compete on a 12’x12’ field in an Alliance format, against other teams. Teams are required to develop strategy and build a robot based on sound engineering principals, such as rapid prototyping and iterative design.

igate tech challenge

“In the foreseeable future, robotics will permeate our everyday lives,” said FIRST Founder, Dean Kamen. “Our FIRST students are ahead of the game as they are already adept users of three emerging technologies: sensors; 3D printing, and open-source software. Now that we are adding this mobile element to the already-robust FIRST technology equation – just watch what these kids will be capable of doing.”

For more information.


Highly visible, key volunteers are needed to judge or referee at the FIRST Tech Challenge West Super-Regional Championship, presented by Google.   The top 72 FIRST Tech Challenge teams will be coming to the Oakland Convention Center between March 27-29.  This 3 day event will feature teams from the Western United States including Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana,  Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. This event is highly prestigious for the teams to attend and their invitation was merit-based on strong performance at one of the 13 regional/state level championships around the west.

Training for either roles is a couple of hours (max) and consists of reading a reasonably short training document and taking a short certification quiz.    Additional on site training will be available as well.   We particularly need technical women and under-represented minority men in these roles.

Judges are needed Friday through Sunday between ~8am and ~6pm each day.

Referees are needed Friday evening (~5pm) through Sunday

To learn more, you can visit
Have questions about volunteering,  email to Bill or Loridee at

Diversity Supporters Needed:

On Friday morning 3/27, we are hosting a Diversity Breakfast celebrating the achievements of under-represented minorities and girls in the participating teams.

We invite you to sponsor this event by choosing one of the two options:

1.       Diversity Breakfast Lead Sponsor at $10,000. The sponsor will keynote during the breakfast and will be recognized in the event Program Book and other materials as an event sponsor. The Lead Diversity Breakfast sponsor will have the opportunity for a 10×10 booth available throughout the 3 day event and will be able to hand out promotional materials as well as receives 2 table sponsorships.

2.       Table Sponsor. Each table sponsor will host 6 students and 2 group representatives. Sponsorship ranges from $500 for college groups and engineering societies to $2500 for corporations/corporate groups.   The group representatives will be able to connect with the student members at their table, answer questions and possibly even recruit potential summer interns!

FIRST Tech Challenge (FTC) is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete head to head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. FTC has a strong history of merit-based team advancement at all levels of the program. Top teams advance from local qualifiers to the state/regional Championships and then to one of 4 Super-Regional Championships before heading to the FIRST World Championship.  We believe that it is important to reward excellence, and this advancement system is one way that our program does that.  The events will be highly visible and prestigious for teams to attend.

To learn more, you can visit

Have questions,  email to Jill at

THANK YOU!!     We are also still looking for event sponsors as well as companies that could offer a “tour” for the high schoolers to visit on Thursday 3/26 (afternoon or later) and Monday/or  3/30 (mostly morning).

Andra <![CDATA[Bruno Maisonnier moves on from Aldebaran]]> 2015-02-23T18:32:11Z 2015-02-23T18:00:01Z Pepper with Softbank President Masayoshi Son in 2014

Pepper with Softbank Corp President Masayoshi Son in 2014

Farewell and thank you to Bruno Maisonnier, the founder and CEO of Aldebaran Robotics, which is now 95% owned by Softbank. Softbank had previously acquired a majority stake in the ground breaking French robotics company which created the humanoid NAO. Together Aldebaran and Softbank Robotics developed Pepper, the ‘world’s first robot that reads emotions’. Pepper is on display in Softbank and Nestle stores in Japan and there are somewhat delayed plans for Pepper’s sale in the US later in 2015.

Fumihide Tomizawa will become the new Aldebaran CEO effective March 4th. Tomizawa is also President of  Softbank Robotics Corp, with a background in global sales and business development. Tomizawa believes that the strengthened collaboration between the two groups will ‘drive Aldebaran’s growth globally’.

Maisonnier has agreed to sell his remaining shares in Aldebaran, step down as CEO and will become a Special Advisor to Masayoshi Son, the President of Softbank Corp.  In a press release from Aldebaran, February 23rd, Maisonnier says that he wants to step back from the day to day operations of growing a robotics company and reflect on the changes that have occurred in the world, analyzing and integrating them back into the world of robotics.

“Fundamental things happened in the world, political, human and technological ones, that need to be analyzed deeply and integrated into the founding bricks of the future robotics area. I need time to think, I have books to write, and people to meet around the world.”



Andra <![CDATA[Robots for humanity inspires]]> 2015-02-13T02:43:16Z 2015-02-13T01:43:15Z HenryTalk

Henry Evans had a brain stem stroke in 2002 that left him quadriplegic. Since then he has turned to robotics to unlock his abilities. Robots For Humanity ( is a project that chronicles Henry’s quest to find robotics solutions to augment and improve his life, and that of other people with disabilities, to “let people perform at their best”. 

An event commemorating the project was hosted by Silicon Valley Robotics at Highway 1 last night, featuring guest talks by Evans and Steve Cousins, who helped Evans to co-found the project while he was CEO at Willow Garage. Steve Cousins is now the CEO of Savioke, a service and elder care robotics startup.

Henry spoke via BEAM telepresence device from Suitable Technologies. And some of the audience also attended via BEAM. Henry has also given TED talks via BEAM, and we were lucky enough to hear his new talk, which introduces ‘tele-tourism’ (no more spoilers) and describes the wide range of robotics or smart hardware solutions that Henry has inspired roboticists to build for him.



The original Robots For Humanity project involved using a PR2 to help Henry shave himself and scratch itches. But it’s not realistic to have a $400,000 robot in the house to scratch your nose, especially given the size of the robot! Since then, Henry has got a much simpler ‘Scratchbot’. He has also taken to flying drones and working with FXPAL, the Fuji Xerox multimedia research group on the Polly project.


Polly is a wearable telepresence device, consisting of a smartphone on a stabilized gimbal. The viewing angle can be adjusted via remote control. The device can be carried by hand or on shoulder or perched on surfaces. The presence of a human operator allows for more social interaction in the telepresence experience.


The audience was inspired by the event and I don’t want to ruin the TED talk by saying anymore. But Henry still has plenty of suggestions for research projects that he’d like to see in his life and many of them are ‘simple’ things. Things like being able to control an automated bed with an eye tracking interface, not a remote control. Or to use a head mounted pointer to turn lights on and off.

These are simple things with a very big impact. And sometimes they are expensive things to build, but the impact that they have is priceless.

“If you want something, you look for options. If you don’t want it, you look for excuses.” – Henry Evans

Evans also summed it up nicely in a video that is posted on the Robots for Humanity website: “It’s up to all of us to decide how we want robotics to be used – for good or for evil, for replacing people or for making people better.”


Andra <![CDATA[2015 sees mobile manipulators coming to market]]> 2015-02-13T00:44:24Z 2015-02-09T19:29:53Z fetch2-1423434193889

Fetch Robotics has just announced $3 million funding from Shasta Ventures and O’Reilly AlphaTech Ventures, which will be used to bring their new mobile manipulator robots to market in Q2 2015. Fetch Robotics is looking at the light industrial and logistics sectors, although researchers will also find the robots affordable. This comes hot on heels of PAL’s Feb 4 launch of Tiago, also a mobile manipulator. And it seems very possible that Google will announce something similar very soon. After all, they have now had plenty of time (and experts) to finish what Redwood Robotics had started.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 10.24.01 AM

The innovator’s dilemma is at work here. The companies producing new mobile manipulators are not the big names in robotics. Companies like ABB, Kuka, Fanuc etc cannot really afford to produce a new style of robot that might damage their brand if it doesn’t perform to the same high standards. For example, ABB has been working on a collaborative manipulator for at least 4 years but in spite of unveiling the concept robot in 2011, ABB is only officially releasing YuMi for market on April 13 2015. This creates opportunity for faster moving small companies. It looks like the technological conditions are ripe for the development of affordable mobile manipulators. Now, we’ll all get to see if the market is also ready.

Who’s who in the new light industrial manipulator sector?

These new robots are like the affordable compliant offspring of a PR2 and Motoman’s SDA series robots. Only these robots are safe for working together with humans and won’t break the bank. We will also be seeing combinations of robots where a base from one company, ie. Fetch or Adept is used with an arm from another, ie. Kuka or Universal.

ubr1 Firstly, Fetch Robotics is not Unbounded Robotics and the robots will be different, although Melonee Wise is now the CEO of Fetch Robotics and the core robot building team is the same. Unbounded Robotics ceased operation in 2014 just prior to marketing the UBR-1 (pictured). Where the UBR-1 was like a smaller version of Willow Garage’s PR2, the new robot(s) from Fetch Robotics will be separable base and arm(s). More information will be available in Q2 2015.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 10.22.33 AM PAL’s Tiago is also modular, available as base, base and arm and other configurations. Tiago has a 7DOF arm capable of lifting a 3 Kg payload and a 5 finger underactuated hand. Similar to the UBR-1, Tiago has a rising torso, USB and ethernet ports, and is also ROS compliant. The various Tiago combinations will cost between 30,000 and 60,000 euros.

baxter_featured Baxter from Rethink Robotics is not autonomously mobile but you can add a wheeled base to your Baxter and push it around. And Baxter is definitely affordable at $25,000 USD, although the various gripper options are extra.

automatica_2012_dual-arm-concept-robot_presentation YuMi from ABB is another stationery dual armed collaborative robot, developed for small parts assembly, especially in the consumer electronics sector. YuMi is part of a total small parts assembly solution that includes adaptable hands, flexible parts feeders, force control sensing and vision guidance.

Nextage1 Nextage from Kawada has similar specifications to Baxter and YuMi, although only 6DOF in the arms but with an additional 1DOF in the waist. Nextage has been designed to be wheeled from place to place in an assembly line and has a compact configuration.

Careobot3 There’s also the Care-O-bot 3 from Fraunhoffer Institute, which is using industrial robotics components to create a service robot. Care-O-bot 3 has an attractive form factor for human interaction. Quite a difference from the earlier versions, which were arms on mobile bases, suitable for tasks like welding assistance, not emptying garbage bins or serving coffee. (added 2/12/15 hat tip to Hizook)

Meka-M1-Mobile-Manipulator-YouTube-43-001148 And who knows for sure what Google is about to announce, although they have the IP and the experts to complete Redwood Robotics and Meka’s vision of an affordable lightweight compliant robot arm. They’re also well positioned to develop an autonomous mobile base. And who knows how many other startups still in stealth will announce their light industrial/logistics manipulators this year? I’m betting that there’s at least one more.

As well as some robot arm/base combos being mix n match, the end effectors are also a whole ‘nother story. Perhaps 2015 will really be the year of the end effector.

Andra <![CDATA[Two MOOCs for robotics enrolling now]]> 2014-12-27T23:53:10Z 2014-12-27T22:07:38Z Mooc overview

Anyone can now enrol in two robotics MOOCs, “Introduction to Robotics” and “Robotic Vision” from Peter Corke at QUT which will run in early 2015. Registration is free. Peter Corke is a professor of robotics at QUT and director of the Australian Centre for Robotic Vision, who was recently featured on the Robots Podcast. He wrote the textbook Robotics, Vision & Control and authored the MATLAB toolboxes for Robotics and Machine Vision.

The MOOCs are based on Robotics, Vision & Control. ‘Introduction to Robotics will run from 16 February to 27 March 2015 and covers the topics like; creating and measuring motion, robot arms, forward and inverse kinematics, actuation, endpoint velocity, joint control and rigid body dynamics. You can also build a lego robot and control it with MATLAB.

‘Robotic Vision’ will run from 13 April to 22 May 2015 and covers; image processing and acquisition, spatial operators, feature extraction, color, image formation and geometry, 3D vision, motion and advanced image processing. You also build a robot vision system with a webcam and MATLAB.  If you did the first MOOC, you can connect them together to create a vision-guided robot.

Each MOOC runs for 6 weeks, with 2 1 hour lectures per week, quizzes, a weekly programming assessment in MATLAB and a weekly grade assessment. The courses are being delivered on the Open edX platform. Visit for more information or to register, and enjoy the story of what motivated Peter to develop the MOOCs. 

Andra <![CDATA[Robot Startup Series #7 Soft Robotics IV Carl Vause]]> 2014-12-04T21:59:13Z 2014-12-02T19:35:38Z SoftRobotics_Picking_Tomato

Soft robotics is finally leaving the research lab and entering the real world. One of the companies leading the way is a startup based in Boston, that is commercializing the innovations of the Whitesides Research Group at Harvard. I’m talking today with Soft Robotics CEO Carl Vause.

* Transcript may be added soon

Andra <![CDATA[Silicon Valley Robotics launches robot accelerator]]> 2014-11-17T23:20:02Z 2014-11-17T23:18:42Z businessbrain

Silicon Valley Robotics brings startups together with cofounders, mentors, programs, facilities and funding to accelerate their growth. We are a meta accelerator.

icon_lightbulb What does your startup need?

icon_people People: Meet cofounders and find peer support at our network eventsstartup seminars and regular social events.

icon_notes Program: Online resources for your startup include Y Combinator’s Stanford Startup Class, Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad, Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas, UP Global’s Startup NEXT and Robot Launchpad Startup Resources.

icon-spanner Facility: Do it yourself at a makerspace like TechshopRobot GardenHacker DojoNoisebridgeAce Monster Toys (more at

icon_cogs  Accelerator:  Here are some of our favorites: Lemnos LabsHighway1Breakout LabsiGateBoltAlpha Lab GearLab9Haxlr8rQualcomm/TechstarsY CombinatorAlchemist Accelerator – see us for introductions. Some have facilities, some have programs, some have funding (see chart below).

icon_piggybank Funding: Apply to our quarterly investor showcase, referrals or introductions to Angel List syndicates, angel groups or VC firms, like f50, iRobot, Robolution Capital, Khosla Ventures, Lux Capital, Bosch Ventures. Even connect with specialists in crowdfunding for hardware startups.


icon_mentor Mentors/Advisors: Access top quality robotics advisors and successful robotics entrepreneurs through our events. Stay tuned for more news.

icon_thumbsup    Startup Competitions: Show off at Robot Launch, our global robotics startup competition, plus find other opportunities to demo at RoboBusiness, Automate, and also our annual Robot Block Party.


Accelerator Comparison Chart:

Accelerator Location Intake Duration Funding Equity Equipment Notes
Alchemist Accelerator meetings in SF & SV Quarterly 6 month $28k approx 5% n/a accepts overseas startups
Alchemist IoT Accelerator meetings in SF & SV Quarterly 6 month $28k approx 5% n/a accepts overseas startups
AlphaLab Gear Pittsburgh Next date tbc 40 weeks $25k or $50k 5% or 9% yes
Bolt Boston rolling 6 month + approx $50k undisclosed yes
Breakout Labs US based rolling milestones $50k to $350k royalty/equity tbd n/a
iGate Livermore CA rolling milestones undisclosed no yes
Highway1 SF / Shenzhen Biannual 6 month $50k 4-7% yes
Haxlr8r SF / Shenzhen Biannual 4 month $25k or $100k 6% or 9% yes accepts overseas startups
Lemnos Labs SF rolling milestones approx $100k approx 10% yes
Qualcomm/Techstars San Diego Biannual 4 month $120k 7-10% accepts overseas startups
YCombinator meetings in SV Biannual 3 month $120k 7% accepts overseas startups


Andra <![CDATA[Just launched – Fellow Robots’ Oshbot]]> 2014-10-28T22:21:56Z 2014-10-28T18:55:54Z oshbots


Fellow Robots, in partnership with Lowes Hardware, today launched the Oshbot as a customer assistant robot at the Orchard Supply Hardware store in San Jose. Although the robot can only give information, this trial will help determine what sort of benefit a robot assistant can provide, both to customers and to store associates.

The International Federation of Robotics or IFR predicts that ‘public relations robots’ is a strong growing sector which will see more than 400 robots deployed in the next 3 years. These robots are increasingly used in supermarkets, at exhibitions, in museums etc. as guides or information providers. The IFR figures will prove conservative if the first public relations or kiosk robots like Oshbot, Pepper and Furo, prove to be popular.

Oshbot is a tall white column mobile robot with two large screens. People can interact with the tablets to search for items or more information about products and ask the robot directly where to find things. Oshbot speaks both English and Spanish. Oshbot will also help store employees with inventory management and communicating with employees in other locations.

Customers can also bring a part into the store and have Oshbot scan it, using scanning technology first developed for Lowe’s Holoroom home improvement simulator. After scanning and identifying the object, OSHbot will provide product information to the customer and help guide them to its location on store shelves.

The OSHbot was developed through a partnership between Lowe’s Innovation Labs and Fellow Robots, a Silicon Valley technology company specializing in the design and development of autonomous service robots. The partnership was initiated through SU Labs, a Singularity University program that connects corporate innovation teams with startups and other organizations to explore exponentially accelerating technologies and create new sustainable business solutions.

“The last decade was one of rapid technological advancement and prototyping, especially in robotics,” said Marco Mascorro, chief executive officer of Fellow Robots. “With OSHbot, we’ve worked closely with Lowe’s Innovation Labs to take autonomous retail service robot technology out of the sandbox and into the consumer market – enhancing the in-store consumer experience and creating smarter shoppers.”

Fellow Robots have quite a vision and have clearly been busy stealthily developing a much more sophisticated robot than the telepresence robot with a coathanger that was their first robot concept at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2013.

Andra <![CDATA[Women in Robotics]]> 2014-10-23T16:22:03Z 2014-10-23T16:22:03Z To celebrate Ada Lovelace Day, I started publishing a list of 25 amazing women in robotics, covering a whole range of areas from research to business. The first list came out last year (2013) and now here is the 2014 list. Great news is that we already have a backlog of great contenders for the 2015 list. See the full posts over at



Andra <![CDATA[Breakout Labs looking for robots]]> 2014-10-09T23:38:15Z 2014-10-09T23:27:00Z photo (5)

I’m at Breakout Labs 3rd ‘unboxing’ today at the Terra Gallery in San Francisco. Founded by the Thiel Foundation in 2011, Breakout Labs provides seed stage funding of up to $350,000 to early stage companies who want to change the world. While the majority of the first startups are in biotech, there are one or two hardware companies and Breakout Labs portfolio manager Michelle Kim-Danely is on a mission to find more robotics startups. Robots that can change the world.

The companies presenting today exemplify the hard problems/real stuff ethos of Breakout Labs. Modern Meadows is a NY based startup growing meat and leather with the latest tissue engineering technologies. The cofounders, Gabor and Andras Forgacs previously founded Organovo, a startup that pioneered 3D bioprinting. Positron Dynamics, from Pasadena, is planning on getting us to the stars using antimatter, or in the shorter term using positrons for applications like medical imaging. (Super cool fun fact; Positron Dynamics have been experimenting on antimatter in the same space as my hackerspace, Robot Garden.)

Atoms are harder than bits, but the people at the Breakout Labs’ companies are bold and dedicated to a definite view of the future.  We believe they’ll prove that new science addressing hard problems can create great businesses that make our lives better. [Breakout Labs]

I usually tell startups to focus on ‘boring’ robotics, because you won’t get funded if the return on investment is further than 5 years out. But just occasionally, you have the opportunity to secure philanthropic or long term funding that is interested in the really big ideas.

Breakout Labs accept applications on a rolling basis. Beyond the investment, Breakout also have a network of catalysts, financial, corporate, strategic and tech transfer partners who help portfolio companies grow. Financial partners include: Formation 8, Founders Fund, Lux Capital, OATV, Khosla Ventures and more. See the Breakout-Labs-Flyer-updated-August-2014 for more information.

Today, there are many scientists with bold ideas that could have tremendous value for society. Too often, they don’t receive the support they need to launch from the lab and into our economy. We want to give those radical ideas a chance to thrive. We want to jailbreak them from existing research institutions and set them free.  We want to champion technology that has the potential to change the world and take our civilization to the next level. [Breakout Labs]

Andra <![CDATA[Manufacturing and Crowdfunding Resources]]> 2014-09-27T04:22:57Z 2014-09-27T04:22:44Z IGG demo night

IndieGoGo just celebrated their first hardware demo night with a packed house at Parisoma cowork space in San Francisco. We got to see startups like Breathometer, Misfit Wearables and Skully and find out what happens after the crowd-funding campaign is over. Did you know that Breathometer founder Charles Yim was the first person ever to persuade all 5 sharks on “Shark Tank” to invest?

But the biggest take home message for me was catching up with IndieGogo’s startup support infrastructure. IGG have have been working to produce a “Hardware Handbook” with Adam Ellsworth as their first hardware entrepreneur in residence. It’s short but seriously useful.

The handbook has 5 worksheets, 3 checklists, 3 pages of crowd-funding tips and an additional resource list. The worksheets cover everything from prototyping to pricing, certification to fulfillment, with advice on timelines, gantt charts, order sizes and error margins. The checklists keep you on your timeline. And give you a reality check.

The handbook is a free download and joins IndieGoGo’s other resource, the ongoing IndieGogo Playbook which breaks gives you the latest best practice for running your campaign, from basic information to every step of setting up, running and wrapping up a campaign.

And at the Demo Night, the message that every successful startup shared? “Make sure you have secured 1/3 of your campaign ahead of time from backers you already know. “ You have to prime the pump before the crowd funding platform works for you.

Andra <![CDATA[A call for debate on robot policy]]> 2014-09-23T22:37:36Z 2014-09-23T22:37:36Z alien-leaders

The 1953 New Yorker cartoon that started the “Take me to your leader” meme showed two aliens newly arrived on earth asking a donkey to, effectively, give them policy guidance. This is exactly what our ‘brave new’ human-robot world looks like. Complex technologies can have profound and subtle impacts on the world and robotics is not only a multidisciplinary field, but one which will have impact on every area of life. Where do we go for policy?

Ryan Calo’s recent report for the Brookings Institute, “The Case for a Federal Robotics Commission”, calls for a central body to address the issue of lack of competent and timely policy guidance in robotics. For example, the US risks falling far behind other countries in the commercial UAV field due to the failure of the FAA to produce regulations governing drones. Calo points out the big gap between policy set at the research level ie. OSTP and at the commercial application end of the scale ie. FAA.

However, with robotics being a technology applicable in almost every domain, there will always need to be multiple governing bodies. One central agency is insufficient. Perhaps the answer lies in central information points, like the Brookings Institute, or Robohub, which provides a bridge between robotics researchers and the ‘rest of the world’. Informed discussion is at the heart of democracy and in a complex technical world, scientists, social scientists and science communicators must lead the debate.

I suggest that our current robotics policy agenda needs to be reformed and better informed. This article provides a review of some recent policy reports and considers the changing shape of 21st century scientific debate. In conclusion, I make several recommendations for change:

  1. The creation of a global robotics policy think tank.
  2. That the CTO of USA and the global equivalents make robotics a key strategy discussion.
  3. That a US Robotics Commission is created – while robotics is an emerging field – to implement a cross disciplinary understanding of this technological innovation and its impacts at all levels of society.
  4. That funding bodies make grants available for cross disciplinary organizations engaged in creating a platform for informed debate on emerging technologies.

The Pew Report and the problem with popular opinion

Much of today’s information comes via the media and popular opinion, from policy, analysis or government groups that are just plain out of touch, or unable to absorb or use information across disciplines. In the worst cases a feedback loop is created, of bad opinions being repeated until they are accepted as truth. Recent reports from the Brookings Institute and the Pew Research Center demonstrate both the good and the bad of current policy debates.

The recent widely reported Pew Research Center Report on “AI, Robotics and the Future of Jobs” highlights the ridiculousness of the situation. The report canvassed more than 12,000 experts sourced from previous reports, targeted list serves and subscribers to Pew’s research, who are largely professional technology strategists. 8 broad questions were presented, covering various technology trends. 1,896 experts and members of the interested public responded to the question on AI and robotics.

The problem is that very few of the respondents have more than a glancing knowledge of robotics. To anyone in robotics, the absence of people with expertise in robotics and AI is glaringly obvious. While there are certainly insightful people and opinions in the report, the net weight of this report is questionable, particularly as findings are reduced to executive summary level comments such as;

“Half of these experts (48%) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers – with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.”

These findings are simply popular opinion without basis in fact. However, the Pew Research Center is well respected and considered relevant. The center is a non-partisan organization which provides all findings freely “to inform the public, the press and policy makers”, not just on the internet and future of technology, but on religion, science, health, even the impact of the World Cup.

How do you find the right sort of information to inform policy and public opinion about robotics? How do you strike a balance between understanding technology and understanding the social implications of technology developments?

Improving the quality of public policy through good design

Papers like Heather Knight’s “How Humans Respond to Robots” or Ryan Calo’s “The Case for a Federal Robotics Commission” for the Brookings Institute series on “The Future of Civilian Robotics”, and organizations like Robohub and the Robots Association, are good examples of initiatives that improve public policy debate. At one end of the spectrum, an established policy organization is sourcing from established robotics experts. At the other end, a peer group of robotics experts is providing open access to the latest research and opinions within robotics and AI, including exploring ethical and economic issues.

Heather Knight’s report “How Humans Respond to Robots: Building Public Policy through Good Design” for the Brookings Institute is a good example of getting it right. The Brookings Institute is one of the oldest and most influential think tanks in the world, founded in Washington D.C. in 1916. The Brookings Institute is non-partisan and generally regarded as centrist in agenda. Although based in the US, the institute has global coverage and attracts funding from both philanthropic and government sources including, the govts of the US, UK, Japan, and China. It is the most frequently cited think tank in the world.

Heather Knight is conducting doctoral research at CMU’s Robotics Institute in human-robot interaction. She has worked at NASA JPL and Aldebaran Robotics, she cofounded the Robot Film Festival and she is an alumnus of the Personal Robots Group at MIT. She has degrees in Electrical Engineering, Computer Science and Mechanical Engineering. Here you have a person well anchored in robotics with a broad grasp of the issues, who has prepared an overview on social robotics and robot/society interaction. This report is a great example of public policy through good design, if it does indeed makes its way into the hands of people who could use it.

As Knight explains, “Human cultural response to robots has policy implications. Policy affects what we will and will not let robots do. It affects where we insist on human primacy and what sort of decisions we will delegate to machines.”  Automation, AI and robotics is entering the world of human-robot collaboration and we need to support and complement the full spectrum of human objectives.

Knight’s goal was not to be specific about policy but rather to sketch out the range of choices we currently face in robotics design and how they will affect future policy questions, and she provides many anecdotes and examples, where thinking about “smart social design now, may help us navigate public policy considerations in the future.”

Summary: “How Humans Respond to Robots”


Firstly, people require very little prompting to treat machines or personas as having agency. Film animators have long understood just how simple it is to turn squiggles on the screen into expressive characters in our minds and eyes. We are neurologically coded to follow motion and to interpret even objects as having social or intentional actions. This has implications for future human relationships as our world becomes populated with smart moving objects, many studies show that we can bond with devices and even enjoy taking orders from them.

There is also the impact of the “uncanny valley” – a term that describes the cognitive dissonance created when something is almost, but not quite, human. This is still a fluid and far from well-understood effect, but it foreshadows our need for familiarity, codes and conventions around human-robot interactions. Film animators have created a vocabulary of tricks that create the illusion of emotion. So, too, have robot designers, who are developing tropes of sounds, colors, and prompts (that may borrow from other devices like traffic lights or popular culture) to help robots convey their intentions to people.

With regard to our response to robots, Knight draws attention to the fallacy of generalization across cultures. Most HRI or Human-Robot Interaction studies show that we also have very different responses along other axes, such as gender, age, experience, engagement etc. regardless of culture.

Similarly, our general responses have undergone significant change as we’ve adapted to precursor technologies such as computers, the internet and mobile phones. Our willingness to involve computers and machines in our personal lives seems immense, but raises the issues of privacy and also social isolation as well as the more benign prospects of utility, therapy and companionship.

As well as perhaps regulating or monitoring the uses of AI, automation and robots, Knight asks: do we need to be proactive in considering the rights of machines? Or at least in considering conventions for their treatment? Ethicists are doing the important job of raising these issues, ranging from what choices an autonomous vehicle should make in a scenario where all possible outcomes involove human injury, or if we should ‘protect’ machines in order to protect our social covenants with real beings. As Kant said in his treatise on ethics, we have no moral obligation towards animals, and yet our behavior towards them reflects our humanity.

“If he is not to stifle his human feelings, he must practice kindness towards animals, for he who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.” Kant

This suggests that, as a default, we should create more machines that are machine-like, machines that by design and appearance telegraph their constraints and behaviors. We should avoid the urge to anthropomorphize and personalize our devices, unless we can guarantee our humane treatment of them.

Knight outlines a human-robot partnership framework across three categories: Telepresence Robots, Collaborative Robots and Autonomous Vehicles. A telepresence robot is comparatively transparent, acting as a proxy for a person, who provides the high level control. A collaborative robot may be working directly with someone (as in robot surgery) or be working on command but interacting autonomously with other people (ie. delivery robot). An autonomous vehicle extends the previous scenarios and may be able to operate at distance or respond directly to the driver, pilot or passenger.

The ratio of shared autonomy is shifting towards the robot, and the challenge is to create patterns of interaction that minimize friction and maximize transparency, utility and social good. In conclusion, Knight calls for designers to better understand human culture and practices in order to frame issues for policy makers.

Brookings Institute and NY Times: Creating a place for dialogue

The Brookings Institute also released several other reports on robotics policy directions as part of their series on The Future of Civilian Robots, which culminated in a panel discussion. This format is similar to the NY Times Room for Debate, which brings outside experts together to discuss timely issues. However, there is a preponderance of law, governance, education and journalist experts on the panels, perhaps because these disciplines attract multidisciplinary or “meta” thinkers.

Is this the right mix? Are lawyers the right people to be defining the policy scope of robotics? Ryan Calo’s contribution to robotics as a law scholar has been both insightful and pragmatic, and well beyond the scope of any one robotics researcher or robot business. However, Calo has made robotics and autonomous vehicles his specialty area and has spent years engaged in dialogue with many robotics researchers and businesses.

Before moving to the University of Washington as Faculty Director of their new Tech Policy Lab, Calo was the Director of Robotics and Privacy at Stanford Law School’s Center for Internet & Society. Calo has an AB in Philosophy from Dartmouth College and a Doctorate in Law, cumme laude, from the University of Michigan. His writings have won best paper at conferences, have been read to the Senate, have provoked research grants, and have been republished in many top newspapers and journals.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? As technologies become more complex, can social issues be considered without a deep understanding of the technology and what it can or can’t enable? Equally, is it the technology that needs to be addressed or regulated, or is it the social practices, which might or might not be changed as we embrace new technologies?

It’s not surprising that lawyers are setting the standard for the policy debate, as writing and enacting policy is their bread and butter. But the underlying conclusion seems to be that we need deep engagement across many disciplines to develop good policy.

Summary: “The Case for a Federal Robotics Commission”


When Toyota customers claimed that their cars were causing accidents, the various government bodies involved called on NASA to investigate the complex technology interactions and separate mechanical issues from software problems. Ryan Calo takes the position that robotics, as a complex emerging technology, needs an organization capable of investigating potential future issues and shaping policy accordingly.

Calo calls on the US to create a Federal Robotics Commission, or risk falling behind the rest of world in innovation. Current bodies are ill-equipped to tackle “robotics in society” issues other than in piecemeal fashion. Understanding robotics requires cross-disciplinary expertise, and the technology itself may make possible new human experiences across a range of fields.

“Specifically, robotics combines, for the first time, the promiscuity of data with physical embodiment – robots are software that can touch you.” says Calo.

Society is still integrating the internet and now “bones are on the line in addition to bits”. There may be more victims, but how do we identify the perpetrators in a future full of robots? Law is, by and large, defined around human intent and foreseeability, so current legal structures may require review.

Calo considers the first robot-specific law passed by Nevada in 2011 for “autonomous vehicles”, which defined autonomous activity in a way that included most modern car behaviors, and thus had to be repealed. Where that error was due to a lack of technical expertise, Calo foresees the problem of a new class of behaviors being introduced.

Human driving error accounts for tens of thousands of fatalities. While autonomous vehicles will almost certainly reduce accidents, they might create some accidents that would not have occurred if humans were driving. Is this acceptable?

Calo also describes the ‘underinclusive’ nature of robotics policy, citing the FAA developing regulations for drones, which often serve as delivery mechanism for small cameras. However, the underlying issue of privacy is raised any time small cameras are badly deployed; in trees, on phones, on poles, or planes, or birds, not just in drones.

Other issues raised by Calo include: the impact of high frequency automated activity with real world repercussions; the potential for adaptive, or ‘cognitive’, use of communications frequencies; and potential problems swapping between automated and human control of systems, if required by either malfunction or law.

Calo then describes his vision for a Federal Robotics Commission modeled on similar previous organizations. This FRC would advise other agencies on policy relating to robots, drones or autonomous vehicles, and also advise federal, state and local lawmakers on robotics law and policy.

The FRC would convene domestic and international stakeholders across industry, government, academia and NGOs to discuss the impact of robotics and AI on society, and could potentially file ‘friend of the court’ briefs in complex technology matters.

Does this justify the call for another agency? Calo admits that there is overlap with the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Congressional Research Service. However, he believes that none of these bodies speaks to the whole of the “robotics in society” question.

Calo finishes with an interesting discussion with Cory Doctorow, about whether or not robotics could be considered separate to computers “and the networks that connect them”. Calo posits that the physical harm an embodied system, or robot, could do is very different to the economic or intangible harm done by software alone.

In conclusion, Calo calls for a Federal Robotics Commission to take charge of early legal and policy infrastructure for robotics. It was the decision to apply the First Amendment to the internet, and to immunize platforms for what users do, that allowed internet technology to thrive. And has, in turn, created new 21st century platforms for legal and policy debate. 

Robohub – Using 21st century tools for science communication


In the 21st century, science has access to a whole new toolbox of communications. Where 19th century science was presented as theater, in the form of public lectures and demonstrations, 20th century science grew an entire business of showcases, primarily conferences and journals. New communication mediums are now disrupting established science communication.

There is an increasing expectation that science can be turned into a top 500 Youtube channel, like Minute Physics, or an award winning twitter account, like Neil De Grasse Tyson’s @neiltyson which has 2.34 million followers. We are witnessing the rise of MOOCs (multi person open online courses) like the Khan Academy, and Open Access journals, like PLOS, the Public Library of Science.

Berkeley University has just appointed a ‘wikipedian-in-residence’, Kevin Gorman. The ‘wikiepedian-in-residency’ initiative started with museums, libraries and galleries, making information about artifacts and exhibits available to the broader public. This is a first however for a university and the goal is twofold: to extend public access to research that is usually behind paywalls or simply obscure; and to improve the writing, researching and publishing skills of students. Students are encouraged to find gaps in wikipedia and fill them, with reference to existing research.

In between individual experts and global knowledge banks there is space for curated niche content. Robohub is one of the sites that I think can play an integral role in both shaping the quality of debate in robotics and expanding the science communication toolbox. (Yes, I’m deeply involved in the site, so am certainly biased. But the increasing number of experts who are giving their time voluntarily to our site, and the rising amount of visitors, give weight to my assertions.)

Robohub had its inception in 2008 with the birth of the Robots Podcast, a biweekly feature on a range of robotics topics, now numbering more than 150 episodes. As the number of podcasts and contributors grew, the non-profit Robots Association was formed to provide an umbrella group tasked with spinning off new forms of science communication, sharing robotics research and information across the sector, across the globe and to the public.

Robohub is an online news site with high quality content, more than 140 contributors and 65,000 unique visitors per month. Content ranges from one-off stories about robotics research or business, to ongoing lecture series and micro lectures, to inviting debate about robotics issues, like the ‘Robotics by Invitation’ panels and the Roboethics polls. There are other initiatives in development including report production, research video dissemination and being a hub for robotics jobs, crowdfunding campaigns, research papers and conference information.

In lieu of a global robotics policy think tank, organizations like Robohub can do service by developing a range of broad policy reports, or by providing public access to a curated selection of articles, experts and reports.

In Conclusion

“Take me to your leader?” Even if we can identify our leaders, do they know where we are going? I suggest that our current robotics policy agenda needs to be reformed and better informed. This article provides a review of some recent policy reports and considers the changing shape of 21st century scientific debate. In conclusion, I make several recommendations for change:

  1. The creation of a global robotics policy think tank.

I believe that a global robotics policy think tank will create informed debate across all silos and all verticals, a better solution than regulation or precautionary principle.

  1. That the CTO of USA and the global equivalents make robotics a key strategy discussion.

Robotics has been identified as an important global and national economic driver. The responsibility or impetus to bridge silos, preventing both policy and innovation, must come from the top.

  1. That a US Robotics Commission is created – while robotics is an emerging field – to implement a cross disciplinary understanding of this technological innovation and its impacts at all levels of society.

At a national rather than a global level, NASA is stepping in to bridge the gaps between technology developed under the aegis of bodies, like OSTP, NSF, DARPA etc. and the end effector regulatory bodies, like the DOF, DOA, DOT etc. Perhaps a robotics specific organization or division within NASA is called for.

  1. That funding bodies make grants available for cross disciplinary organizations engaged in creating a platform for informed debate on emerging technologies.

Organizations that are cross disciplinary with a global reach are very hard to get funded, as most funding agencies restrict their contributions, either locally or by discipline. A far reaching technology like robotics needs a far reaching policy debate.

Andra <![CDATA[Snapshot of US UAV situation]]> 2014-09-23T00:38:21Z 2014-09-22T23:32:45Z airdog-drone

The impact on businesses of the ongoing US ban on commercial UAV operation can be seen in a snapshot of this week’s drone news. Drones are very affordable these days, and there is nothing to stop anyone purchasing a drone and deploying it for fun. But you can’t use drones in anyway for ‘commercial purposes’ in the US. That means for example, that journalists publishing drone footage are actually in breach of FAA ruling. Until recently, individuals could largely still ‘get away with it’, but a rising awareness is seeing other organizations implement bans, shutdowns or recommendations on drone use.

The organizations represent a range from realtors, journalists, first responders, sports groups and the National Parks Service. At the same time, a coalition of drone manufacturers are proactively building in features that ought to make drone use more acceptable, things like autopilots, safe flight modes, ‘find home’, parachutes, etc. Here’s a snapshot taken largely from the Center for the Study of the Drone’s Weekly Roundup.

So much critical mass around lack of commercialization in US is emerging:

The Los Angeles Police Department has halted all drone operations until regulations governing the use of the aircraft are established. The suspension comes amid public protests by members of the Stop LAPD Spying Coalition, which alleges that there is a trend toward police militarization in Los Angeles. The LAPD acquired two multi-rotor drones from the Seattle Police Department after a ban on police drones was enforced in Seattle. (KTLA5)

The National Association of Realtors has begun lobbying the FAA to develop amenable policies for domestic commercial drone use. Until the FAA opens the skies for commercial drone use, the NRT is discouraging its members from using drones for taking aerial shots of properties. (Forbes)

A NYPD helicopter and a drone almost collided over Bushwick, Brooklyn this week. “These drones pose a safety threat to aircrafts and the people on board because the pilots do not know they are in their flight pattern,” a law enforcement source said. The drone’s pilot was arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and obstructing governmental administration. (NY Post)

The Federal Aviation Administration halted the University of Michigan’s plans to use a drone to deliver the football to the first game of the season. (Bloomberg)

And yet this is what did or could happen successfully with drones – mainly not in the US.

At the Los Angeles Times, Chad Garland surveys the different ways that drones could transform agriculture.

 An innovation award has been given to the two students in Australia who developed a lifeguard drone. The quadcopter uses magnets to carry a flotation device to a swimmer in need. (Spatial Source)
Researchers at Drexel University have developed a quadcopter drone that is capable of turning a valve while it is airborne. (TIME)

A drone captured aerial footage of the People’s Climate March in NYC. (Youtube)

Researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration deployed small Coyote drones to study Hurricane Edouard. (The Weather Channel)

Police in Switzerland are using drones to take photos of large-scale accidents. (Washington Post)

A group of climbers used a drone to take a selfie at the summit of the Matterhorn, a mountain in Switzerland. (Ed Hardy – Twitter)

Jeffrey Martin, a drone hobbyist, put together a “magic carpet ride over Prague.” (YouTube)

And now it just gets crazy:

Researchers from KAIST presented a flying robot at IROS2014 – a bioloid capable of flying not just a simulator but a real plane.

IEEE Spectrum looks at PIBOTs, the little humanoid robots that are being taught how to control a cockpit, and, eventually, fly an airplane.

Andra <![CDATA[Second wave of social robots is here]]> 2014-07-16T14:31:40Z 2014-07-16T14:31:40Z cynthiakickoff-featured

Cynthia Breazeal’s Jibo launched today and coming on the heels of Pepper, Aldebaran and Softbank’s new social robot, and Jimmy from Intel. It seems like we’re seeing a second wave of social robots. Jibo is less of a humanoid than the others though and more of a human mirror, being able to be a telepresence device or a social robot. Jibo will be an open platform and is currently taking preorders via Indiegogo, with an expected shipping date of Sept 2015 for the developer edition.

Jibo raised several million dollars in early seed stage funding from CRV (Charles River Ventures) in January 2013 and have been stealthily hiring and developing ever since. More recently, Cynthia Breazeal took leave of absence from the Personal Robots Group at MIT Media Lab and Jibo brought onboard additional seed investors  Osage University Partners and Cambridge-based Fairhaven Capital Partners.

In BetaBoston, John Lee of Osage is quoted as saying that his firm is “excited about the potential of emotional computing, where consumers can have two-way interaction with their devices through natural forms of communication: speaking, eye contact, body language, and intonation. The nature of this interaction opens up significant opportunities in various fields that require deeper insights into a consumer’s emotional state. Given the team’s exceptional backgrounds, they are the right people to deliver on such a vision.”

Breazeal’s vision is to create robots that can provide parents with a high quality partner in education, provide a life coach for people with chronic health issues, and provide a watchful companion for the elderly, that behaves like a friend not a surveillance system or monitor.


Jibo features two hi-res cameras to recognize and track faces, capture photos and enable immersive video calling. 360° microphones and natural language processing let you talk to JIBO from anywhere in the room. Hands-free reminders and messages, so you’ll never forget and can always be in touch. Artificial Intelligence algorithms learn your preferences to adapt and fit into your life. Like a personal assistant, JIBO proactively helps you, to make everyday tasks simpler and easier. Communicates and expresses using natural social and emotive cues so you understand each other better. [Jibo website]

The first wave of social robots, occurred between 1998 and 2009 and their primary characteristic is their ‘pet’ nature. The Tamagotchi (1996 onwards) could be considered a primitive precursor. Social ‘pet’ robots included; Furby 1998 -2007 (reintroduced 2012), AIBO 1999-2006, Keepon 2003-now, Paro 2004-now, iDog, 2005-2009 and Pleo 2006-2009. Some of these were intended for therapeutic settings, like the original Keepon and Paro, but all were intended to create an emotional relationship with people, not simply perform functions.

It’s important to specify that social robots have existed in labs and research for some time, so I’m really talking about products that cross the chasm and become consumer products. Robosapien (2004-now) by Mark Tilden at WowWee is one of the few humanoids to come out during this time, but due to the small size and limited interactions, Robosapien seems closer to a pet or smart toy, than to a social robot.

jimmy and dog

Intel’s Jimmy and a real pet dog

The second wave of social robots is building both on general advances in robotics and specifically on improvements in NLP, natural language processing, leveraging the massive deployment and rapid improvements of voice recognition/response agents like those used by Google, Apple and Amazon.

Computing has gone through several waves, each resulting in billion dollar industries and impacting millions if not billions of people’s lives on global scale. We’ve benefitted from the wave of information, the wave of mobility, the wave of social media. We’re seeing more and more wearable computing and the Internet of Things that combines these three.

Now, we are on the threshold of the next wave of computing: emotion.  And social robotics is a particularly powerful expression of this next wave. [Cynthia Breazeal – Why social robots will change your life]


Andra <![CDATA[Science, startups and industry at RSS2014 part 2]]> 2014-07-15T21:14:29Z 2014-07-15T21:13:07Z IMG_9269

Now to hear from some of the big industry players in continuation of the post on the ‘Academia, Startups and Industry’ workshop from RSS2014, the 10th annual Robotics Science and Systems conference on at the University of California, Berkeley, July 12 to 16. Opening with a plenary from Vijay Kumar, U Penn, the morning session asked industry experts from different domains including automation, manufacturing, automobile, aerospace, healthcare to talk about the next-generation of problems for robotics to address.

The other workshop speakers were; Erik Nieves, Yaskawa; Rainer Bischoff, KUKA Laboratories GmBH; Phil Freeman, Boeing; Murad Kurwa, Flextronics; and Paul Millman, Intuitive Surgical. They talked about the need for new types of robots and capabilities, the research directions that academia could take and the potential for greater industry-academic collaboration.

Kumar described the approaching challenge for robotics as the need to find alternative funding as pure research funding dries up. Kumar believes that robotics is better able to weather this defunding trend than many other disciplines due to the applied nature of robotics. However, he doesn’t want to see robotics stop doing fundamental research. Kumar suggests that researchers focus on Pasteur’s quadrant, avoiding Edison and Bohr, as defined by Donald Stokes in his 1997 book, “Pasteur’s Quadrant: Basic Science and Technological Innovation“.



Erik Nieves, Yaskawa “Robotics is changing. Are the industrial guys listening?”

Erik Nieves opened by saying that commercial robotics companies have an obligation to their shareholders to pay attention to the changes in robotics because the big four robotics companies are currently overly dependent on the automotive industry. The SAR of vehicle sales controls the overall company performance. 1/3 of Yaskawa’s total business is effectively one customer and this doesn’t make for long term viability.


“We may have billion dollar sectors, but we need to think like startups.” [Erik Nieves]

The best definition of the advanced manufacturing changes that have occurred in last decades comes from Paul Fowler, from NACFAM, the National Association of Advanced Manufacturing.

“The Advanced Manufacturing entity makes extensive use of computer, high precision, and information technologies integrated with a high performance workforce in a production system capable of furnishing a heterogeneous mix of products in small or large volumes with both the efficiency of mass production and the flexibility of custom manufacturing in order to respond quickly to customer demands.”  [Paul Fowler]

“Robotics companies are good at the efficiency of mass production but not at the flexibility of custom production. We need to be more agile.” says Nieve. “In the next 6 years, we will transition from robots where ROI require large lot sizes, repeatable tasks and expert programming, to robots that can do one off tasks, require much lower investment and are easily programmed and integrated. They are able to share space with humans and are mobile or freely deployable.”


These collaborative robots look a lot more like labor than machines. They respond to demand and move to the work. The only thing that is similar with today’s robots is high performance, speed and precision. By 2020, ‘production partner’ robots will be a significant part of the industrial robot landscape.

An issue slowing the roll out of robots in the US is a lack of systems integrators with developer skills. ROS is great because of the wide adoption and it will be useful for developing for the new two armed robots. 80% of work in some factories is automated, but only on one side of the factory. Final assembly is usually all done by people. Those are jobs that require two arms, working on flimsy, floppy materials, jobs easily done by people. Dextrous manipulation is hard to program for, and we need better tools from the community.

The robot industry is looking for adjacent markets. It has to be manufacturing-like. Manufacturing as a process, not as an industry. Tasks that require similar work, ie. lab work with pipettes etc. There’s a lot of work in logistics. Putting things in boxes. If you stay with the single arm paradigm you place a lot of additional stress on the end effector. Stress that’s shared with two effectors, become far more dextrous. Kitting is a big part of the future. Every large manufacturer is it’s own distribution center.

Yaskawa is excited about automatically generated programs, said Nieve. “CAD/CAM has just shifted paradigm from tool to computer. We want to generate it on the fly. Mobility is a force multiplier for robots. When we can send a mobile autonomous robot to another machine to do a job, and that robot can register its position and work appropriately. Robots become labor. They move from place to place.”

Robotics will continue to advance in lock step with developments in adjacent fields, particularly consumer electronics. The application space will continue to widen as robots acquire more human-like form and skill. We still need better wrists and more coding skills. Combining the precision and strength of robots with the perception and decision making of humans is the future of collaborative work.

Nieve also pointed out that right now, the seeds of the greatest generation of technicians, engineers, and roboticists are being laid and will bear fruit. “We coined the term mechatronics in 1969 to capture the electronic control of mechanisms. That was a generation ago. But now roboticists come from everywhere, we are makers, we are robot competition teams. RSS had only a few hundred people a few years ago and is now almost a thousand.”

Nieves closed his talk with a mention of the upcoming RIA International Collaborative Robots Workshop which will be held in Silicon Valley on September 30, 2014.

Rainer Bischoff – Kuka “Innovation through collaboration”

KUKA is the pure play robotics company. In other words, they only make robots, unlike the other major robotics companies who also make drives or motors. KUKA labs was founded 3 years ago to help  find and build new markets because 90% of KUKA’s line is automotive.


Bischoff sees 3 different robotics revolutions:

  • PC bringing flexibility into industrial robotics world
  • compliant safe robotics
  • combined mobility and manipulation


Why KUKA is doing collaborative research projects:

  • new contacts to industrial and academic partners
  • technology scouting
  • know-how and competence buildup
  • preparation of technology transfers
  • working on long term r&D
  • reduced financial risk – funding from govt for coprojects

While Bischoff said that work is still needed in overcoming mental barriers at KUKA and with customers, he pointed to several successful collaboration examples: 

RealSim 2000-02 – where KUKA collaborated with  competitors in a research pre development stage. 

PAPAS 2003-6 – development of RobotWorker and DLR Robot Controller which has now become a real product – last Automatica. The robot will not extend from virtual walls that you set, there is collision avoidance, work cells can be set up without fences. But it can still bring to bear the forces that are needed to assemble a gear box.

TAPAS 2010-14 – mobile manipulation with use cases in industrial environments using a mobile platform and lightweight arm. Navigation on shop floor is basically solved barring the lifelong mapping. Paths are far from optimal at the moment. So far it is much too slow to compete with ordinary workers.


Bischoff says that work is still needed on mobile manipulation for industry. KUKA is trying to speed up this process by making research robots which scale easily to the real industrial models but are much more affordable.

“KUKA is supplying academic researchers with platforms so they can focus on research and not reinvent robots.” [Rainer Bischoff]





Bischoff also pointed to initiatives like the inaugural KUKA Innovation Award, which was first awarded this year to a team from the University of Zurich who used a drone to guide a Youbot through a disaster relief scenario.

RoCKIn is an EU project that will be run over the next three years, consisting of robot competitions, symposiums, educational RoCKIn camps and technology transfer workshops. Our mission is to act as a catalyst for smarter, more dependable robots. We are doing this by building upon the principles of challenge-driven innovation laid down by RoboCup, facilitating cognitive and networked robot systems’ testing, and streamlining research and development through standardised testbeds and benchmarks. For this we have two challenges which will run concurrently in 2014 and 2015.

Also, since 2012, Bischoff has been Vice-president industry of euRobotics aisbl – the European Robotics Association. In these capacities he has been setting the Strategic Research Agenda for European robotics until 2020, successfully establishing closer links between robotics academia and industry, and promoting European robotics as a whole.

Andra <![CDATA[Science and startups at RSS2014 in Berkeley]]> 2014-07-15T00:23:41Z 2014-07-15T00:23:26Z rss-final

The 10th annual Robotics Science and Systems conference is on at the University of California, Berkeley, July 12 to 16. From a small start, the conference now has over 800 attendees, with 28 different weekend workshops this year, and a single track 3 day conference. As well as the latest robotics science, RSS 2014 showcased social, ethical & economic issues in robotics, and highlighted robotics startup stories in some very well attended sessions.


One of the most crowded workshops was the “Next-Generation Robotics: Academia, Start-ups and Industry” session organized by Sachin Chitta, SRI International; Ioan Sucan, Google and Torsten Kroeger, Google. Opening with a plenary from Vijay Kumar, U Penn, the morning session asked industry experts from different domains including automation, manufacturing, automobile, aerospace, healthcare to talk about the next-generation of problems for robotics to address. They talked about the need for new types of robots and capabilities, the research directions that academia could take and the potential for greater industry-academic collaboration.

In the afternoon session, founders and other members from start-ups in Robotics talked about their experience in creating start-ups and bringing new technology to the market, the opportunities for new companies to emerge in the field and the lessons learned. Workshop speakers were; Erik Nieves, Yaskawa; Rainer Bischoff, KUKA Laboratories GmBH; Phil Freeman, Boeing; Murad Kurwa, Flextronics; Paul Millman, Intuitive Surgical; Hanns Tappeiner, Anki; Jim Ostrowski, Blue River Technologies; Matt Williamson, Rethink Robotics; Chris Anderson, 3D Robotics; Steve Lavalle, Oculus; and Joe Romano, Kiva Systems. [see part 2 post for the industry perspective]

Lessons learned by startups

Hanns Tappeiner of Anki says that “every day is demo day”. The last 2 years have been a process of working out the difference between a lab project and making a consumer product. Consumer products have to work every day, all day and you have to be able to make thousands and thousands of them.

Anki launched in October 23 2013 with a hard launch – product in every Apple Store in the US. Their production lines were making thousands a day. Since then, more than 83 million laps have been driven, meaning that Anki cars have travelled 10x round the world or beyond the moon. The company has crossed the trillion planner states mark.

Tappeiner says, “The scary thing about a robotics product is releasing it into the wild.” Other consumer products are less dependent on the tight integration of hardware and software, whereas a robotic product, like an Anki drive car, is very intolerant to variation. 1 gm of weight in the wrong place and it won’t drive well.

It’s also very important to have a fast build/test/iterate cycle. If you take more than a couple of years, then the hardware/software environment has changed too much. For example, Anki were using BLE before it became wide spread and incorporated Zigbee into their design in response to Apple adopting it. The 7 main lessons Anki learned were:

  • Find a hungry hardware manufacturer who cares about your business and will try harder for you. Get their A-Team. There’s variation within every company.
  • EE, ME and SE are not subsets of Robotics. Get experts (not all roboticists).
  • Don’t outsource core technology development. You can’t fix later issues.
  • Agile everything. Do everything in short cycles no longer than 3 weeks. Anki built 70 or 80 prototypes pre production.
  • Volume not complexity drives cost. Leverage cell phone and automotive technology rather than custom built.
  • Testing is a science. Test everything. Do it in house so you know everything works. Make the factory test.
  • Build an amazing team. Set the hiring bar high. It takes longer but that’s how Anki have been able to do what they’ve done.

Jim Ostrowski of Blue River Technologies, agreed with the need to test everything, early and often. Blue River Technologies went through three iterations in response to customer discovery. Starting as a lawn mowing idea, they moved into agriculture with carrot weeding and have settled for now on lettuce thinning.

Successful iterations of their lettuce thinning robot also have applications beyond lettuce and beyond thinning. For example, to improve thinning they added a second camera for redundancy and this opens the door to applications like fertilizing and irrigation. Blue River focused primarily on building a computer vision system with a little bit of manipulation attached, avoiding autonomous mobility altogether. Their latest system can do 18 rows of lettuce in one pass, moving faster than a person walks.

Blue River are also using a service model to ‘defer the pain of commercialization’ and allow them to ‘keep tweaking their product’ and to ‘stay in really close contact with the customer’. It also provides a reasonable revenue stream to support operations, bringing them closer to their goal of ‘making plant by plant care possible’.

Matthew Williamson, from Rethink Robotics, talked about the opportunities of building collaborative robots and how their properties unlock a lot of other activities, beyond working beside people. The ‘cocktail of safe, cheap and smart enable a different set of applications’ with low capital cost, low integration cost, low maintenance and programming cost. New applications can be low value and variable/small batch.

Also to design for manufacture you have to have very aggressive cost targets. Baxter uses series elastic actuators, as an inexpensive way to get good force control. They can use very inexpensive gear boxes and turn a force control problem into a position control problem.

The other lesson learnt with Baxter is to decouple hardware and software so that the robot can be continuously improved. Software iterations are much shorter than hardware iterations. Baxter now works 5x faster than it did when released in 2013. Same hardware, improved software.

Chris Anderson, from 3D Robotics, also uses software to improve the hardware they sell. He says “sell the atoms, give away the bits”. Atoms are physical things with understood costs and people are ok with paying for them. At the same time, they give away all the software, enabling competitors. Anderson believes that competitors actually support the original product, providing faster R&D and broader adoption.

3D Robotics optimizes for an architecture of participation. Most of their employees have come out of the community. They listened to Matt Mullenweg of WordPress and Automattic who said, “If you have to choose between company and community, choose community.”

“Think platform, not just product – but don’t forget to make a kick ass product. We modeled on Willow Garage a bit, and what Android did too.” [Chris Anderson]

Steve LaValle, from Oculus, describes the importance of recognizing when the time is ripe for an idea. VR was completely overhyped in the 90s but undeliverable, whereas smart phone technology has been the tipping point. Plus how useful it is to leverage the previous experience in the space.

LaValle is the old man at Oculus, as a successful professor who had explored the original VR wave. But because he’d made some of his research freely available online, his name came up when Jack Macauley was searching for someone who understood Euler angles and quaternions.

“As a roboticist we’re always reaching into other disciplines all the time because we don’t have all the expertise we need to solve problems.” [Steve LaValle]

Joe Romano, from Kiva Systems, says that the problems you get when you have more than one robot surprised him when he made the transition from academia to industry, but he now sees it as a common theme. “More robots = more problems.”

But rather than take Anki’s approach of rigorous testing to weed out any non-compliance with very strict parameters, Kiva Systems has chosen to do more with algorithmic corrections. Where Anki’s cars drive on a standard mat, the fiducial markers that Kiva pods use to navigate are laid down by humans and they don’t comply very well with the intended grid layout.

However, the calibration that pods use to learn to navigate with imprecise position markers, is also related to the calibration that each pod has to do to adjust to variation in pod tolerances and characteristics.

“Turns out there’s a bit of variety over time in manufacturing. We’re not really making the same robot over and over again.” [Joe Romano]

..see next post for some perspectives from the established robotics industry..

Andra <![CDATA[Startup Series #6 MIT Entreprise Forum VLAB]]> 2014-07-09T18:51:54Z 2014-07-09T14:23:04Z collabrobots

The VLAB Collaborative Robots forum on Thursday May 29 was a masterclass for robot startups. For 90 minutes at the Knight Management Center at Stanford, we heard all about the business of robotics from industry veterans, vcs and startups. The panel consisted of Melonee Wise, CEO of Unbounded Robotics, Milan Shah, VP of Rethink Robotics, John Dulcinos, VP of Automation at Jabil and Peter Hebert, cofounder of Lux Capital. The panel was moderated by myself, Andra Keay, Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics.

The MIT Enterprise Forum Bay Area (VLAB) was formed in 1990 and is one of 30 chapters around the world. VLAB helps startups and  entrepreneurs find the best practices for developing viable business models for technology-oriented markets. The VLAB events are sponsored by the Stanford University Office of Technology Licensing, and the Alumni Association of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. The caliber of presenting companies and panelists at our events has earned VLAB the reputation as one of the premier high-tech forums in Silicon Valley.

The VLAB committee conducted quite a rigorous audition process for panelists (and moderators) looking for the most successful examples of companies in the industrial/service collaborative robotics space. VLAB panels usually consist of two startups, an incumbent company whose business model is under threat from the startups, and an investor. This was a really successful balance of opinions, although it’s humbling to realize that a company like Rethink Robotics is still considered a startup.

The panel opens with a 10 minute overview of the economics of robotics and then an indepth look at Unbounded Robotics. Then the panel discussion really gets going with both John Dulchinos and Peter Hebert schooling us in the opportunities and challenges for robotics startups. I came away with a much better appreciation of the huge potential for industrial and logistical robotics. Not all successful robotics businesses are venture fundable, and understanding the customer/market space is still the biggest challenge for startups.

We are now standing at the dawn of a new robotic era. Robots are learning to perform complex tasks and to interact with humans in boundless environments.  Naturally, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are at the center of this disruption.

Massive new markets are opening up. A new generation of innovative robotic platforms is emerging with human cadence and more adaptable automation solutions. According to TechNavio, the global service robotics market is expected to grow at CARG (compound annual rate growth) of 20%. Industrial robots will reach $37 billion by 2018. The agricultural robots market is also expected to reach $16.3 billion by 2020, 20 times its current value.

Will these robots facilitate the predicted re-shoring or renaissance in US manufacturing? And what will be the economic consequences of this new co-habitation?
Andra <![CDATA[UK Robotics Mission on Silicon Valley tour]]> 2014-06-24T19:35:18Z 2014-06-24T19:35:18Z brits

The UK Robotics Mission landed in the USA this week. Backed by the Techonology Strategy Board and UK Trade & Investment, the tour covers more than 20 events in San Diego, Silicon Valley and San Francisco. A highlight of the first day’s events were tours of various UCSD robotics labs and a panel on ‘The Future of Robotics’ opened by the Rt. Hon. David Willetts, MP the UK Minister of State for Universities and Science, and also, Miroslave Krstic, the UCSD Associate Vice Chancellor for Research.

The moderator was Ramesh Rao, Director of Qualcomm Institute, and panelists were; Todd Hylton, Senior VP Brain Corporation; Andra Keay, Managing Director Silicon Valley Robotics and Rich Walker, Managing Director Shadow Robot Company. The panel discussion really just capped off a very lively lunch round table on the current investment climate for robotics, both in Europe and the US and what, if anything, the UK government could do to assist. Some suggestions included schemes for making it easier to keep skilled employees from other countries after their working visas expired.

Over the next few days the Mission will be visiting companies like PARC Research, Anybots, E-Systems, Precise Automation, Intuitive Surgical, SRI International, Ekso Bionics, 3D Robotics, UC Berkeley, Highway 1 and O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures. And Silicon Valley Robotics is organizing a great networking event for all on Thursday evening in Palo Alto.

The robotics companies on the UK Mission are;

  • Agilic – based at Bristol Robotics Lab incubator, Agilic have two initial products, TiddlyBot and Pibot, using Raspberry Pi.
  • AuraTECH – working on a Remote Operated Aerial Endurance Vehicle with vertical take-off and landing and 12+ hours of flight time.
  • D-RisQ – analysis tools for robotics software implementations that meet needs of both commercial and defence sectors.
  • MapleBird – on a mission to produce the smallest UAVs in the world, borrowing from the humble bumble bee.
  • Q-Bot – robotics platform that can survey, assess and apply insulation to buildings via openings as small as a single brick.
  • Reach Robotics – also from Bristol Robotics Lab, Reach Robotics built Mecha Monsters designed for the 8-14yr old toy market.
  • Sebastian Conran – design studio building MiRoCo and robotic companion and also INTA, intelligent furniture responding to touch.
  • Shadow Robot Company – cutting edge robot components and systems including the Dextrous Hand, a highly sophisticated robot hand.
Andra <![CDATA[Game of drones – extreme sports photography]]> 2014-06-24T15:00:04Z 2014-06-19T01:22:42Z bee logo_cool

“Yet another ‘follow me’ drone’ says Chris Anderson – after three projects launched this weekend, including his own 3DRobotics’ open source ‘follow me’ feature for android. Extreme sports photography is the most popular application of consumer drones and at first glance it seems like a no-brainer given the success of GoPro, the rise of the sports ‘robot’ camera tripods and the obvious extension of these trends into aerial photography. And really, just what are drones good for aside from extreme sports tracking? Neither the economics nor the regulations favor package delivery and most other inspection operations can’t be commercialized in the US.

GoPro is a classic 10 year overnight success story. GoPro founder Nick Woodman spent years selling cameras out of his van, hustling and hacking, but his product came at a time when the smart phone was disrupting the low end camera market and both the interest and the technologies were there for a waterproof portable sports video camera. Fast forward to 2014 and GoPro’s annual revenues were almost $1 billion just before filing for their IPO in May.

So it’s no surprise that the sports market is where most of the ‘robot tripods’ have headed for, startups like SoloShot and MovenSee. And it’s a logical extension to put a GoPro on a gimbal onto a drone, or something similar and do ‘follow me’ sports action. As well as Hexo, Airdog, and 3D Robotics, there’s also Pocket Drone with a ‘follow me’ mode. Most of these devices are using beacons to achieve tracking, either separate wristbands or the GPS on a phone or tablet. But Parrot may be releasing something later this year that utilizes image tracking instead.

Now here’s where this whole thing doesn’t fly. The more popular drone sports photography or ‘dronies’ get, the less profitable the business is going to become. You can have lots of cameras on the side of the ski field, or on the beach or in the bleachers at your kid’s soccer game. You can even have cameras at your kid’s dance concert, or graduation or at Yosemite or in the back country. At worst it’s an annoyance.

One drone on a ski field is a distraction. Ten drones is a disaster. Imagine ten drones above your kid’s soccer game? How about their dance concert? What about visiting wilderness areas and watching people standing on the edge of a 200′ waterfall watching the drones above and not the drop below.

The big problem is that in the layer between the ground and the clouds, between people’s heads and small aircraft, objects the size and weight of large birds ARE dangerous. Anyone who’s ever been swooped by magpies (Australia) understands the danger of birds! And it’s well documented that bird strike can be deadly to small aircraft.

I predict that the extreme sports photography market for drones is actually a very small shortlived market. It’s almost inherently unable to be regulated as consumer drones are just too cheap and popular to police, which means it’s likely that we’ll see complete bans on drones in any public, government or commercially controlled space. Not just bans on commercial use of drones. I think ski fields and organized sports events will be the first to crumble as litigation and insurance liability issues arise.

While Chris Anderson predicts that the fastest way for drones to become safe is for them to become so small and soft that they pose no physical threat, that’s still a few years off. And as long as drones are larger than dragonflies and cheap enough to be under everyone’s christmas tree, we face the prospect of global regulatory shutdowns and no fly zones rather than regulated uses.

Is this a startup area I recommend? Not unless you’ve got a layer of lawyers a mile high.

*less than two days after posting this the NPS announced blanket ban on drones in all US National Parks

Andra <![CDATA[Global trends in robotics from patent analysis]]> 2014-06-15T19:49:46Z 2014-06-15T19:49:46Z Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 12.29.09 PM

120,000 robotics patents have been published in the last 10 years, tripling in rate from 2004 to 2013, according to the UK Intellectual Property Office Informatics Team. Unsurprisingly, there was a huge drop in robotics patent applications in 2009-2010, although not all industries were as affected by the global financial crisis as robotics was. The preeminent country for robotics patents is Japan with 31% of patents published, the majority from Toyota. The US is in second place with 19%, followed by Germany (17%), China (10%), Korea (9%), France (3%) and UK at only (2%). Of course this is only an indication of the innovation activity occurring as some countries have greater propensity to patent than others.

The UK IPO is publishing a series of 8 reports looking at trends in emerging/important industries and giving insight into innovation activity and direction for future funding. As well as robotics, the UK Government has identified ‘eight great technologies’ for future growth. These are:

• the big data revolution and energy-efficient computing;
• satellites and commercial applications of space;
• robotics and autonomous systems;
• life sciences, genomics and synthetic biology;
• regenerative medicine;
• agri-science;
• advanced materials and nanotechnology;
• energy and its storage.


The IPO report also looks at the rate of robotics patents compared to other innovation patents on a country basis and creates a relative specialization index. Some countries such as Japan, China and Germany have proportionately greater robotics patents than general. Whereas both the US and the UK are underspecialized in robotics technologies.

Relative Specialization Index by Country

Overall, automotive patents make up around one third of the total, not including other types of vehicles such as trucks, buses, agricultural machinery, aircraft and aerospace/defence. Google’s automotive patent portfolio is relatively small, at 35 families. Most of Google’s patents were published very recently in 2013, with the earliest being only in 2010. The rate of publishing for Google shows clear increase so further patents should be anticipated. The report also shows collaboration within industry groups. For example, Google and Honda are very self contained in contrast to other automotive companies.

Screen Shot 2014-06-15 at 12.42.53 PM

Figure 12 shows the top UK-based applicants within the robotics and autonomous systems
dataset. BAE Systems leads, but if the Jaguar and Land Rover companies were to be
consolidated then their combined total families would be 76, placing them in the lead.
Most of the patents in the UK dataset are in the field of autonomous vehicles, including
road vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, and unmanned underwater vehicles. Robotics
companies in the UK dataset have very small portfolios, with the largest being Notetry (5
families), which is apparently a division of Dyson Ltd focussing on robotic vacuum
cleaners. Other companies are Oliver Crispin Robotics Limited (industrial robotics),
Absolute Robotics Limited (industrial robotics), Armstrong Healthcare Limited (robotics for
surgeons), Isis Innovation Limited, QinetiQ Limited, and Rolls-Royce Plc.

Finally, the rate of change in robotics patent publishing in the last 10 years is very interesting with China showing significant growth from a China to become one of the strong sources of inventions.

Rate of change in patents published


Andra <![CDATA[Robot Launch 2014 winners]]> 2014-06-09T18:17:57Z 2014-06-09T18:17:57Z awards_hero

In February 2014, Robohub and Silicon Valley Robotics launched the first global startup competition for robotics. More than 75 startups from 19 countries entered the competition, with robotics innovations ranging from duct and floor cleaning robots, to educational robots, welding robots and even toy robot fish. Several rounds of judging culminated in a pitch session by the six finalists in front of a panel of live judges on May 20.


Moti, by Leka. Ultimate Champion of the Robot Launch 2014 startup competition.

The grand winner for Robot Launch was Leka, a developer of intuitive and intelligent toys for children with autism. Their product, Moti, is a robotic ball that is sensitive to its environment, moves on its own and changes colours to emote feelings; autistic children learn to regulate their own emotions by playing with Moti. Robot Launch judges said they picked Leka as the Robot Launch Grand Winner because they were ready for market and could have an immediate impact on autistic children if their product were widely available.

“As Ultimate Champion, we won mentoring from experts,” said Leka CEO and Co-founder Ladislas de Toldi, who is hoping the prize will help bring Moti to market soon. “Thanks to the tests we have been running with children parents and caregivers [of autistic children], we have shown the relevance and usefulness of our robot. But we hadn’t crash tested our product. RobotLaunch [was] the perfect opportunity for us to challenge our robot and get feedback from real experts. The judges’ feedback really helped us to formalize our project.”


Duct Inspection Robot, by Robosoft Systems. Finalist in the Robot Launch 2014 startup competition, and winner of the Lean Startup Award.

The competition’s global reach gave startups from around the world a unique opportunity to network on level footing with investors and experts located in faraway technology hubs.

“[Robot Launch] was a platform to showcase our robots in Silicon valley – something nearly impossible for a startup based in India,” said Fahad Azad of Robosoft Systems, a startup that makes duct cleaning robots. Robosoft was a finalist in the competition, and took home one of the three Lean Startup Awards, alongside Odd I/O of Portland Oregon, and Tandemech Engineering of San Francisco. The Best European Startup Award went to DoBots, from the Netherlands, and the Grand Prize winner Leka is based in France.


Wigl, by Odd I/O. Finalist in the Robot Launch 2014 startup competition, and winner of the Lean Startup Award and the Indiegogo Crowdpleaser Award.

“The global competition elevated my own robot’s exposure and allowed me to learn more about what others are doing around the world,” said Odd I/O‘s Vivek Mano, who won the Indiegogo Crowdpleaser Award in addition to the Lean Startup Award. “It’s great to know that there are so many others out there with an earnest passion for robotic electronics to make the world a better place.”


Wall-climbing robot, by Tandemech Engineering. Finalist in the Robot Launch 2014 startup competition, and winner of the Lean Startup Award, the Wilmerhale Award and the SOLID Showcase Award.

“Robot Launch 2014 is opening up a very important outlet to help identify and showcase some groundbreaking business and technology ideas, not only in the Silicon Valley but throughout the world,” said Glenn Luinenburg, a Partner at WilmerHale, a Silicon Valley law firm that works with robotics companies, and which awarded a legal startup package worth more than $25,000 USD to Tandemech Engineering, maker of wall-climbing robots.


Autopilot add-on, by DoBots. Finalist in the Robot Launch 2014 startup competition, and winner of the Best European Startup Award.

“Our goal with Robot Launch is to grow the robotics ecosystem, and the awards we’re offering are exactly what a robot startup needs to accelerate their growth,” says Andra Keay who, as Director of Silicon Valley Robotics, spearheaded the competition.

Robot Launch prizes included money, mentoring, meetings and free legal and startup services from Robohub, Silicon Valley Robotics, Indiegogo, WilmerHale, Grishin Robotics, Bosch Ventures, Lemnos Labs, Robolution Capital, and Luxr. And since exposure is so crucial for any startup that is trying to get noticed, three of the Robot Launch competitors were selected to showcase at O’Reilly’s SOLID conference last week.


Welding robot, by Robotics Technologies of Tennessee. Finalist in the Robot Launch 2014 startup competition, and winner of the SOLID Showcase Award and the Silicon Valley Robotics Award.

“SOLID was a who’s who of the maker movement, robotics and connected devices,” said Steve Glovsky, EVP of Robotic Technologies of Tennessee, one of the three startups that got to showcase at the event. “We made amazing contacts, discussed possible collaborations and were serendipitously asked to participate in ‘once in a lifetime’ projects. We even made the 11 o’clock news! Robot Launch 2014 allowed us to connect with people imagining and solving similar challenges in ways we might have missed without participating in the contest and SOLID.”

“It’s now easier, cheaper and faster to develop robots, which in turn means that more robots will see the light of the day,” says Cyril Ebersweiler, founder of HAXLR8R and one of the Robot Launch 2014 judges. “Putting the spotlight on those who are spear-heading the robolution is essential for supporting and encouraging entrepreneurs to go robotics. I was looking for entrepreneurs who will use robots to make a better tomorrow. Needless to say we have a beautiful winner.”

See all our Robot Launch news here: Robot Launch 2014
Follow Robot Launch on Twitter and stay tuned for next year’s event: #RobotLaunch

Winners by Category 

Ultimate Champion

  • Leka (@WeAreLeka), developer of Moti, a social robot for children with autism; France


Silicon Valley Robotics Award


WilmerHale Award


Indiegogo Crowd Pleaser

  • Odd I/O (@wiglbot), developer of Wigl, a musical educational toy robot geared towards young children; USA


Best European Startup

  • DoBots (@BotsDo), developer of an add-on autopilot software that enables mobile machines to navigate autonomously; Netherlands


Robohub Readers Pick

  • Jessiko (@jessiko), maker of robot fish; France


Leanest Startup

  • Robosoft Systems (@azad2fm), maker of duct-cleaning robots; India
  • Odd I/O (@wiglbot), developer of Wigl, a musical educational toy robot geared towards young children; USA
  • Tandemech Engineering (@Tandemech), maker of wall-climbing robots; USA


SOLID Showcase



  • DoBots (@BotsDo), developer of an add-on autopilot software that enables mobile machines to navigate autonomously; Netherlands
  • Leka (@WeAreLeka), developer of Moti, a social robot for children with autism; France
  • Odd I/O (@wiglbot), developer of Wigl, a musical educational toy robot geared towards young children; USA
  • Robosoft Systems (@azad2fm), maker of duct-cleaning robots; India
  • Robotics Technologies of Tennessee (@mobile_robots), maker of welding robots; USA
  • Tandemech Engineering (@Tandemech), maker of wall-climbing robots; USA


One to Watch

  • 3DOF Robotics, developer of a vertical take-off and landing unmanned aerial vehicle capable of shared autonomy; Australia
  • Avidbots (@Avidbots), maker of next generation smart commercial cleaning robots; Canada
  • Cloudy Robotics, developer of a cloud robotics platform for consumer robotics; Canada
  • Gimball (@fly_ability), maker of a flying robot with a protective cage that lets it remain stable after collisions; Switzerland
  • Jammster, maker of a dual-arm human-friendly robot assistant for quadriplegics; USA
  • Jessiko (@jessiko), maker of robot fish; France
  • Mighty Mount, developer of an autonomous mobile robotic camera mount for filming dynamic video in action sports; USA
  • Plug and Wear (@plugandwear), maker of textile strain and pressure sensors for robotics applications; Italy
  • RoboTar (@robotarkevin), maker of a robotic chord hand for guitar; USA
  • Sproutel (@sproutel); maker of Jerry the Bear, a robotic bear that helps kids manage their diabetes; USA

And of course we’d like to thank the award sponsors and all our judges:

  • Indiegogo
  • WilmerHale
  • Luxr
  • Lemnos Labs
  • Robolution Capital
  • Bosch Ventures
  • Khosla Ventures
  • Haxlr8r
  • OATV
  • Lux Capital
  • Grishin Robotics
Andra <![CDATA[Multimodal interaction at AWE2014 with HIT Lab NZ]]> 2014-06-02T20:18:02Z 2014-06-02T20:18:02Z photo (44)

AWE, the Augmented World Expo, was on at Santa Clara Convention Center from May 27-29. The conference, organized by Ori Inbar and Tish Shute, has grown rapidly in recent years as augmented reality technologies come closer to mainstream adoption. As well as major companies like Bosch, Intel and Qualcomm, AWE had the latest gadgets and interfaces, a fair bit of fashion and some of interesting research in human machine interaction.

There was a proliferation of eyewear, a smattering of gestural controllers and also browser based AR, no apps required. Ori Inbar, conference organizer and CEO of Augmented Reality.ORG, a global non-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing augmented reality (AR), described the trends for AR:

  1. From gimmick to adding value
  2. From mobile to wearable
  3. From consumer to enterprise
  4. From GPS to 3D-fying the world
  5. The New New Interface

By saying that AR is the new new interface, Inbar is describing the distribution of classic user interfaces as well as the proliferation of new technologies. Inbar explained, “Computers are disappearing onto our bodies and we need a new new interface, more natural and gestural.”

The conference session on the ‘new new interface’ was one of the most interesting for me. Speakers were Stanley Yang from Neurosky, Alex McCallum from Thalmic Lab (Myo), Rony Greenberg from EyeSight and Mark Billinghurst from HIT Lab NZ. HIT Lab is  a research center at the University of Canterbury developing innovative human-computer interfaces, with 50 staff and students. Research areas include; visualization, augmented reality, next generation teleconferencing, applied interaction design and human-robot interaction.

Billinghurst’s presentation “Hands and Speech in Space” described variations in structure of multimodal interactions and the implications for communicating with robots or other machine interfaces are clear. I asked Mark to explain the crossovers between AR and robotics research, from his perspective at HIT Lab.

There’s a couple of things. With augmented reality, a key part of it is making the invisible visible. I’ve been involved in the past with some students who’ve used augmented reality with robotics to visualize some of sensors on the robot. For example, if you’ve got a mobile robot going around, you don’t necessarily know from looking at the robot, what it’s sensing. It might have some ultrasonic sensors that are used for depth or range sensing and you don’t know what the robot’s sensing or seeing, except with augmented reality. There was one project I was involved with, where you’d look at the robot and you’d see an overlay on the robot – a pattern showing all the sensor data from the robot, so you’d see exactly where the ultrasonic sensor was sweeping and where the barriers were as well. So there are some applications in that space, although none of the companies here are really showing that.

Also, AR borrows a lot from previous research in robotics in tracking. So people in robotics have been doing path planning for a long time, or camera pose estimations, when a robot moves, and as mobile phones and computers got faster, some of the same algorithms are moved onto mobile devices and into augmented reality. So, in just the same way that I can locate a robot with pose information, then you can use the same techniques to locate a mobile phone and use them for AR as well.

And another application which is being shown here, you can use augmented reality to see through the eyes of another vehicle or robot, so there’s a guy here who’s flying a UAV around and viewing the output from the drone on his google glass display. So whether it’s remote operated, semiautonomous or autonomously flying, using AR technology you can put your eyes into the vehicle and see what the vehicle is seeing basically. It can be used in a kind of telepresence thing.”

Is the flow two way? Will increasing AR uptake drive improvements in sensors and CV algorithms for robotics?

I don’t think AR is driving sensor technology yet because it’s such a small market but what I think has happened is that well with mobile devices, when you put a GPS in a cell phone, that drove down the price of GPS chips and it made it possible for us to use GPS for augmented reality on consumer devices. And that same chip that goes into a cellphone that costs 50c now, you can put into a flying robot. But when we first started doing augmented reality, especially mobile augmented reality, you had tens of thousands of dollars of hardware that you were carrying around. Heavy GPS hardware, compass, inertial units and some of the robotics researchers were using the same pieces of hardware. We were both paying a high price for and I think the US military, as they started putting sensors into their platforms, that drove the price down. And especially with mobile, that drove the price down substantially and we benefitted from that. Both AR and robotics. So AR is too small to provide a benefit back to robotics but we both benefit now from gaming, entertainment, automotive.

Your presentation on multimodal communication has clear applications for HRI.

Definitely, I’ve been working on that for a while and it turns out that when you have a robot that’s embodied in a human form, then people want to use human communication with it. So it’s very natural to point at something and tell a robot to ‘go over there’. But if a robot can’t understand what I’m pointing at, or has no concept of space, or can’t understand my voice, then it’s not going to be able to go over there.

Previously when I was doing my PhD at MIT, they were doing some work on speech and gesture recognition with human characters and robotics. Cynthia Breazeal does a lot of work with social robotics there. People are starting to develop taxonomies for what gestures and speech mean together. And that’s come out of, not so much AR but interacting with avatars and robots.

One of the other interesting things that my colleague Christoph Bartneck is doing at HIT Lab is he’s invented an artificial language for communicating with robots. Because English is quite imprecise for communication and it’s difficult to learn. So he invented a language called ROILA which is very easy to learn. It has a very small vocabulary and provides very precise information. So, his idea is that in the future people will communicate with robots using an artificial language that will reduce the amount of miscommunication and tailored to the needs of both learnability and understandability from the robot’s perspective. He’s had some success at getting the ROILA language used by some robotics groups.

Andra <![CDATA[SOLID: a robot recap]]> 2014-05-27T20:14:53Z 2014-05-27T20:14:53Z SOLID booth

O’Reilly’s recent SOLID conference, May 21-22 at Fort Mason SF, was all about the intersection of hardware and software, but it also extended and challenged our ideas about what was hardware in a world of new and nano materials, and how software and code becomes tangible. And of course there were robots. Silicon Valley Robotics had an expo booth showcasing three of the top startups from our Robot Launch 2014 global startup competition for robotics, and I gave a short keynote “Are robots the new black?“.

There were robots everywhere, so trying to recap risks missing many out. For starters, there was the SOLID hardware startup showcase [Modbots, Modular Science] as well as the Silicon Valley Robotics startup competition [Robotics Technologies of Tennessee, RoboTar and Tandemech Engineering]. Plus exhibitors like Bot&Dolly, Otherlabs, Tempo Automation, Rethink Robotics, Boston Dynamics.

But a lot of the interesting stuff at SOLID is about the whole hardware process, how the internet is democratizing the supply chain and digital manufacturing in so many ways, which has network effects for robotics as all the various component and sensor technologies get cheaper and cheaper, with smaller batches that are more customizable. All of the keynotes are online and well worth watching but I found these ones particularly relevant for startups – or anyone who wants to understand why hardware is hard and where it has become easier.

Hardware by the Numbers” was a presentation by Renee Di Resta, who is a principal at OATV, O’Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures. OATV is a seed stage investment firm with a portfolio that includes some very nice hardware and robotics companies like: 3D Robotics, Chumby, Misfit Wearables, Littlebits, and Planet Labs. Di Resta gives an overview of the ecosystem for hardware startups and the trends contributing to growth in certain directions. For example, the rise of hackerspaces means that being an inventor is a much less lonely life. And that in turn facilitates information sharing which speeds up the entrepreneurship process.

Di Resta provides data on the manufacturing process that show that more than 50% of US based startups are choosing not to go to China. And that 37% of established companies with sales over $1 billion are also choosing to either ‘reshore’ to the US, or ‘nearshore’, as manufacturing in Mexico is called.  One reason for this is the rise of wage costs in China. Another reason making reshoring plausible is ‘botsourcing’, the availability of industrial robots for manufacture. Germany, Japan and South Korea lead the way with between 27 and 39 robots per 100,000 workers, whereas China has only around 2 robots per 100,000 workers. And the US is in the middle with about 14 robots per 100,000 workers.


And if you like more data, Di Resta has figures on the overall funding levels for robotics and similar hardware categories. Plus Di Resta and Nick Pinkston have just released the definitive guide to building a hardware startup. If you wanted a deeper dive into the process of manufacturing for startups, Scott Miller from Dragon Innovation gave an excellent talk and while the talk isn’t yet online, the slide deck for “How to prevent crowdfunding from destroying the hardware revolution” is. Since 2009, Dragon Innovation has helped more than 100 companies scale, eg; Pebble, Scout, Makerbot, Dash Robotics, Romotive, Leap, Thalmic Labs, Orbotix.

At iRobot, Miller was responsible for leading the Roomba technical team. He lived in China for four years as the VP of Asia Pacific, setting up teams in the Pearl River Delta and India and leading the production of 3 million Roomba units. Leaving iRobot after 10 years, Miller saw the difficulty that many entrepreneurs were facing in going from a functional prototype to high volume production.  Miller teamed up with Herman Pang, previously of Hasbro, to start Dragon Innovation.

And if you ever wondered why Google bought Bot & Dolly in their recent robotics sweep, Tobias Kinnebrew explains how robotics tools and software needs to be rewritten for artists, or indeed for anyone, to enable the broad spread of technology. Whereas at the moment robotics is governed by tools for experts. This means we are yet to see the full innovation potential of robotics. Kinnebrew also makes the good point that combining artists and engineers is not a frictionless process but that this friction is where the creative sparks are generated.


Andra <![CDATA[Robot Launch 2014 finalists announced]]> 2014-05-16T14:22:45Z 2014-05-14T14:29:25Z Reader Poll image

Today we announce the six finalists from Robot Launch who will be presenting their pitches online live to a panel of expert judges on Tuesday May 20 at 10am PDT. Join us then to see who takes home the ultimate champion crown! The six highest scoring startups from our Top 30 are (alphabetically): DoBots, Duct Inspection Robot, Leka, Odd I/O, Robotic Technologies of Tennessee and Tandemech Engineering. In the meantime, Robohub readers can also vote right here for the “People’s Choice” startup from the Robot Launch competition.

Here are the most popular videos from the preceding three weeks of reader polls. This is your chance to vote on the startup you think is best! The online poll will run until 10am [PDT] May 20, when the live finals judging commences. The startup winning the People’s Choice award will receive $500 from Robohub. All awards will be announced during the live finals. The most popular videos are (alphabetically):

3DOF Robotics | australia

3DOF Robotics have a VTOL aerial vehicle capable of shared autonomy for inspection of vertical structures difficult or dangerous for human inspection.

Axon Robotics | usa

Individuals and business owners are in constant need of ways to increase their productivity. We are addressing these demands with a capable robotic tool.

Aisoy | spain

Aisoy makes technology feel. We create smart social robots for making our lives easier and more fun.

Cubotix | usa

Cubotix builds service robots for everybody and targets domestic and professional use cases. Our goal is to squeeze years of autonomous robot research into affordable consumer platforms – first as an educational platform for advanced robotics, then for dedicated tasks in homes and in the field. We take the complexity out of robotics software and enable everybody to use our robots.

DoBots | the netherlands

DoBots builds services for groups of robots. Our software allows the robots to coordinate and cooperate and report their progress to human supervisors. The first service that will be commercially deployed is a coordination service for robots that are cleaning a supermarket.

Duct Inspection Robot | india

DuctBot is rugged toy-car-sized robot used for cleaning and inspecting air duct in central air conditioned environment like ships, submarines, operation theaters, clean rooms, home and offices.

GimBall | switzerland

We are developing Gimball, a game-changing flying robot that can be flown indoors and in complex environments: it can stay stable after collisions with obstacles and can thus go where other robots can’t. Furthermore, it is safe to fly close to humans. This innovation turns robots into real partners for humans and truly unleashes the potential of flying robots by enabling countless new applications.

Jammster | usa

In the US alone, over 140,000 quadriplegics require the constant attention of expensive in-home caregivers. Our mission is to create an affordable mobile robotic assistant that will provide these people with greater independence and an improved quality of life. We have a prototype, called Jammster, that consists of a dual-arm human friendly robot that has been mounted on a mobile base.

Jessiko Robot Fish by Robotswim | france

Robotswim is a start-up whose objective is to put artificial life in aquariums and pools around the world. The flagship product, Jessiko, is 22 cm long and can swim in a school of 10 or more robots, to create entertaining aquatic choreography and light effects.

Inf Robotics | usa

We have developed an affordable home health care robot for seniors that can provide telecommunications to doctors from the safety and security of their home, assistive features such as medication reminders and safety features in the event of an emergency.

Leka | france

Leka is a young startup that develops smart and innovative toys for children with communication and social disabilities.

Sproutel | usa

At Sproutel we use emotional robots to make patient education friendly for children diagnosed with a chronic illness. Our first product Jerry the Bear, is a completely interactive teddy bear that enables kids with Type 1 diabetes to master their medical procedures, ultimately resulting in smiling faces and improved outcomes.

RoboTar | usa

RoboTar is the first Portable robotic chord hand for guitar. It is a device paired with software running in a laptop or Android device to play guitar using only a one hand to strum or pick and a foot pedal or single push button to change chords.

Tandemech Engineering | usa

Tandemech Engineering is a California-based robotics startup, focusing on wall-climbing robotic platforms. The technology we have developed has allowed our proof-of-concept to outperform any wall-climber ever developed. We hope to continue to adapt our technology into vehicles to deploy testing, inspection, and potentially even manufacturing equipment into places that have previously been prohibitive to access.





Andra <![CDATA[Robot Launch 2014 – People’s Choice Voting Week 3]]> 2014-05-16T14:22:20Z 2014-05-07T19:11:42Z Reader Poll image

For the next three weeks, Robohub readers can vote for the “People’s Choice” startup from the Robot Launch competition. Each week, we’re going to publish 10 videos from our Top 30 and during our live final on May 20, we’ll announce the ultimate “People’s Choice” winner. Four startups are moving through from last week’s round; Jessiko Robot Fish, Axon Robotics, GimBall and Duct Inspection Robot. Only 4 spots left! This week’s videos (in alphabetic order) are:

Aisoy | spain

Aisoy makes technology feel. We create smart social robots for making our lives easier and more fun.

Caspian Robotics | germany

Guardians of tomorrow.

Cubotix | usa

Cubotix builds service robots for everybody and targets domestic and professional use cases. Our goal is to squeeze years of autonomous robot research into affordable consumer platforms – first as an educational platform for advanced robotics, then for dedicated tasks in homes and in the field. We take the complexity out of robotics software and enable everybody to use our robots.

E2U Robotics | germany

E2U will offer an easy to use robot product family for research institutes, universities and R&D departments working on robot technologies. The individual members of the product family, starting from a simple omnidirectional mobile base equipped with a sensing unit up to a complex mobile manipulating robot with over 25 degrees of freedom, can be combined flexibly. Modularity, agility and safety are key aspects for the design of the robots to ensure their applicability in real world environments.

Inf Robotics | usa

We have developed an affordable home health care robot for seniors that can provide telecommunications to doctors from the safety and security of their home, assistive features such as medication reminders and safety features in the event of an emergency.

Leka | france

Leka is a young startup which develops smart and innovative toys for children with communication and social disabilities.

Octopus Robotics | usa

We build torque sensing compliant smart actuators that are research grade and ship within a week.

Plug and Wear | italy

Textile pressure sensors have proven to be very accurate for robotics. Our idea is to produce strain and pressure textile sensors for robotic applications. Soft sensors will be used as a sefety device or a a soft interface, similar to human skin.

Sproutel | usa

At Sproutel we use emotional robots to make patient education friendly for children diagnosed with a chronic illness. Our first product Jerry the Bear, is a completely interactive teddy bear that enables kids with type 1 diabetes to master their medical procedures, ultimately resulting in smiling faces and impr




Andra <![CDATA[Robot Launch 2014 – People’s Choice Voting Week 2]]> 2014-05-01T00:31:37Z 2014-05-01T00:05:12Z Reader Poll image

For the next three weeks, Robot Launchpad visitors can vote for the “People’s Choice” startup from the Robot Launch competition. Each week, we’re going to publish 10 videos from our Top 30, and during our live final on May 20, we’ll announce the ultimate “People’s Choice” winner. Four startups moving through from last week’s round are; 3DOF Robotics, Jammster, RoboTar and Tandemech Engineering. Only 6 spots left! This week’s videos (in alphabetic order) are:

Abracadabra Robotics | israel

The company develops Personal Social Assistive Robots for stroke rehabilitation.

Axon Robotics | usa

Individuals and business owners are in constant need of ways to increase their productivity.  We are addressing these demands with a capable robotic tool.

Connected Robotics | australia

Connected Robotics develops light, powerful and precise robots by using our SmartCord retractable tether system that provides both power and position.

Duct Inspection Robot | india

DuctBot is rugged toy car size robot used for cleaning and inspecting air duct in central air conditioned environment like Ships, submarines, operation theaters, clean rooms, home and offices.

GimBall | switzerland

We are developing Gimball, a game-changing flying robot that can be flown indoors and in complex environments: it can stay stable after collisions with obstacles and can thus go where other robots can’t. Furthermore, it is safe to fly close to humans. This innovation turns robot into real partners for humans and truly unleashes the potential of flying robots by enabling countless new applications.

Jessiko Robot Fish by Robotswim | france

Robotswim is a start-up whose objective is to put artificial life in aquariums and pools around the world. The flagship product, Jessiko, is 22 cm long and can swim in a school of 10 or more robots, to create entertaining aquatic choreography and light effects.

Mimic Robotics | hong kong

We focus on teach programmable automation robots. Program a robot in seconds without learning complex software.

Origami Robotics | usa

Makers of Romibo, an engaging little robot used in autism therapy.

Robotics Technologies of Tennessee | usa

Developer of mobile robotic manufacturing platforms supporting field fabrication and inspection. Our systems enable fabrication applications like welding, cutting, gouging and other surface preparation applications.

The Educated Robot | usa

The Educated Robot is dedicated to providing STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) opportunities to students by providing hands-on learning with robotics. We design fun and educational robotics oriented kits and the corresponding curriculum that make learning science and math fun.



Andra <![CDATA[Robot Launch 2014 – People’s Choice Voting Week 1]]> 2014-05-01T00:13:21Z 2014-04-23T20:56:27Z Reader Poll image

For the next three weeks, Robot Launchpad visitors can vote for the “People’s Choice” startup from the Robot Launch competition. Each week, we’re going to publish 10 videos from our Top 30 and during our live final on May 20, you can vote for the ultimate “People’s Choice” winner. This week’s videos (in alphabetic order) are:

3DOF Robotics | australia

3DOF Robotics have a VTOL aerial vehicle capable of shared autonomy for inspection of vertical structures difficult or dangerous for human inspection.

Avidbots | canada

Avidbots is automating the most labor and time-intensive portion of commercial floor cleaning. This automation will make commercial floor cleaning more efficient and cost-effective than ever before.

Cloudy Robotics | canada

Cloudy Robotics aims to build a cloud platform for consumer robotics. Much like cloud platform solutions are becoming available for the Internet of Things (i.e. Xively, Thingworx and Carriots) robotics needs an open platform for its specific needs like real-time telepresence control, offloaded processing and code updates.

DoBots | the netherlands

DoBots builds services for groups of robots. Our software allows the robots to coordinate and cooperate and report their progress to human supervisors. The first service that will be commercially deployed is a coordination service for robots that are cleaning a supermarket.

Erle Robotics | spain

At Erle Robotics we are designing the first open, low cost Personal Drone, the next generation of flying computers that will be used to teach, learn and research about flying robots.

Jammster | usa

In the US alone, over 140,000 quadriplegics require the constant attention of expensive in-home caregivers. Our mission is to create an affordable mobile robotic assistant that will provide these people with greater independence and an improved quality of life. We have a prototype, called Jammster, that consists of a dual-arm human friendly robot that has been mounted on a mobile base.

Mighty Mount | usa

Although technology has allowed advances in video recording devices, the technology enabling more advanced camera mounts has been lagging. The solution is an automated camera mount that records moving objects for you, be it yourself or your friends.

Odd I/O (Wigl) | usa

Wigl is an educational interactive robot with a musical ear (developed right here in Portland). The idea is that Wigl can “hear” notes and responds with different movements (and dances). My goal is to have children enjoy the positive physical feedback that they receive while playing an instrument (e.g. a recorder) and make a connection with a toy that fully appreciates their musical talents!

RoboTar | usa

RoboTar is the first Portable robotic chord hand for guitar. It is a device paired with software running in a laptop or Android device to play guitar using only a one hand to strum or pick and a foot pedal or single push button to change chords.

Tandemech Engineering | usa

Tandemech Engineering is a California-based robotics startup, focusing on wall-climbing robotic platforms. The technology we have developed has allowed our proof-of-concept to outperform any wall-climber ever developed. We hope to continue to adapt our technology into vehicles to deploy testing, inspection, and potentially even manufacturing equipment into places that have previously been prohibitive to access.




Andra <![CDATA[Robot Launch 2014 – First Round Favorites]]> 2014-04-17T00:21:02Z 2014-04-17T00:20:41Z Seeburger

We had a some amazing entries in Robot Launch 2014 across a wide range of fields, and not all of our favorites made it through to the Top 30. So we’d like to share some highlights of the First Round robot startups.

Seeburger Robotics and Design have created a humanoid robot with 3D printed parts, that integrates with smartphones and has many applications. Their robot will be selling this summer in Europe.

Qoltics is a Mexican startup focussed on improving quality of life for people with disabilities. Qoltics first product is a robot named HelloSpoon. Hello Spoon, is a baby elephant look-a-like affordable robot focus to bring a happy and fun meal time for kids with upper limb difficulties and special needs.

Quadplane is a Silicon Valley based startup who are developing a hybrid multirotor/fixed wing airframe to be used as a VTOL UAV. The end result will be a platform which is as mechanically simple as a quadrotor, while providing many of the benefits of a fixed wing aircraft such as speed, range and endurance. Their design requires no control surfaces, and is much more resistant to crosswinds than tail sitters.

Robocoding is a German startup who aim to bring a robot to every school and university around the world. “Computer programming has become so essential that we want everyone to have access to learn it in the most fun and interactive way. Institutions who can’t simply afford the platform, we will provide with a online service, where the students can program the robots in our lab.” []

Runfun is a German startup who have developed a robotic running coach, called RUFUS, which helps runners to perform an optimal training, improve their performance, and while avoiding overstrain. RUFUS is an automatically guided outdoor vehicle that drives ahead of the runner lake a pacesetter. It measures the runner’s heart rate, and sets its own velocity such that the runner’s heart rate stays in a healthy interval.



Domedica is a young mechatronic development company from the Netherlands. With our expertise we have developed a low cost high functionality robotic manipulator, a two fingered gripper. This development was driven by the need for low cost service and personal care robots which also requires a low cost gripper.


FuVeX is a Spanish startup developing a new concept of helicopter, HeliKar. The process will involved two unmanned vehicles and will be finished with the third manned one, HeliKar, with capacity for 4 people.

18_T4 (1)

NBE (or Non Biological Entity) is a team from Pakistan who are building an open source, low cost, feature packed Robotics and Vision Lab on Wheels.

NBE - Non Biological Entity (1)

Rapid Robot Prototyping (R2P) is an open source hardware and software framework aiming at reducing time and effort needed to develop real robotic systems.

The development of complex robotic systems requires multiple skills and quite a high initial investment; with R2P, robots can be implemented by assembling low-cost, open source, off-the-shelf components, easily programming their interaction without the need for domain-specific knowledge in electronics and low-level control. R2P combines a simple programming model and high performance hardware modules, enabling companies, research labs, students, and enthusiasts, to easily develop novel robotic applications.


Wearable Robotics, a university spin-off in Pisa, Italy, commercializes wearable exoskeletons for human power assistance, like rehabilitation material handling purposes. Key factors are our lab’s 20+years experience in exoskeletons, simplicity, lightness and low-cost of our devices, and an hybrid actuation system recently patented with benefits in terms of energy consumptions, simplified control and safety for the users.


AID Robotics is a Canadian startup devoted to the integration of robotics and mobile devices. Their goal is to make personal robotics fun, inexpensive, user-friendly, useful, and accessible to everyone. Their feature product is a robotic arm platform for mobile app developers. The arm has four degrees of freedom and has a smartphone and gripper as the end-effector.


Project Omega is a Swiss startup that makes fast unmanned ground vehicles that can transport heavy stuff in very rough terrain and places dangerous for humans.

Gleipnir Robotics‘ unique and innovate grasp planner operates on polygon soup meshes and it is able to synthesize human-like power grasps. As the grasp planner does not require complex preprocessing such as shape segmentation and medial axis computation, it is particularly suitable for the fast computation of grasps in the context of human-robot interaction and interactive synthetic characters.

TREx (Teleoperated Robotic Exomorph) is currently being prototyped in Canada. An all electric, tetherless quadruped robot weighing approximately 4kg, 35cm high at the shoulder, and can run at 7km/h. A common robotic skeleton can be overlaid with different exterior soft shells to make different small animals such as teddy bear, cat or rabbit. Software behaviours can be loaded to mimic each of the exterior looks. Completed assemblies can be sold as high end toys for various ages, or skeleton with basic locomotion software can be made available to academic institutions to develop advanced software algorithms.

Next week, we’ll start voting for Robohub Reader favorites.

Andra <![CDATA[Robot Launch 2014 – announcing the Top 30]]> 2014-04-09T04:43:03Z 2014-04-09T16:00:08Z Top 30 image

Are you ready to find out the semifinalists in our first Robot Launch global startup competition for robotics? With 76 applications from 19 different countries, and entries covering industrial, service and consumer robotics, it’s clear that robotics is entering a period of strong growth. The judges did not have an easy job but here are the TOP 30!

(in alphabetical order)

  • Abracadabra Robotics
  • Aisoy
  • Avidbots
  • Axon Robotics
  • Caspian Robotics
  • Cloudy Robotics
  • Connected Robotics
  • Cubotix
  • DoBots
  • Duct Inspection Robot
  • E2U Robotics
  • Erle Robotics
  • GimBall
  • INF Robotics
  • Inkyu
  • Jammster
  • Jessiko Robot Fish
  • Leka
  • Mighty Mount
  • Mimic Robotics
  • Modular Science
  • Octopus Robotics
  • Origami Robotics
  • Odd I/O
  • Plug and Wear
  • RoboTar
  • Robotic Technologies of Tennessee
  • Sproutel
  • Tandemech Engineering
  • The Educated Robot

All the judge’s scores were totaled and the 30 startups with the highest cumulative scores have progressed. All the startups in the Top 30 are eligible for awards, with the top 8 going through to a live online final judging event. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to feature all of the Top 30 with a poll, so that Robohub readers can vote for the ‘Robohub Readers Award’.

Next week we’re going to revisit some of our first round favorites – startups that really impressed us for a whole range of reasons but sadly didn’t move forward at this time.

A very big thank you to our judges who gave up their whole weekend (or longer) out of a belief in the potential of the robotics community. Bringing their expertise to the Robot Launch competition were representatives of several major VC and investment firms, engineering consultants, designers, IP lawyers, specialists in enterprise technology, crowdfunding and robotics, including several successful robotics entrepreneurs.


Andra <![CDATA[Last days to enter Robot Launch 2014]]> 2014-03-26T20:29:55Z 2014-03-26T20:03:47Z  robohub_cover

Robot Launch 2014 is the first global online startup competition for robotics, and as the deadline for first round entrants approaches [March 30 11pm PDT] we’re excited to see just where in the world all the robot startups are coming from! There are already more than 40 entrants representing 18 different countries. The US needs to look over its shoulder as Europe and Australia are very well represented. And while the competition is being run in English, many entries are from non English speaking countries, giving a real global reach to our first robot startup competition.

So far, the geographical leaderboard looks like:
  • USA  – 12
  • * California  (7 of the 12 US startups)
  • Australia – 3
  • Germany – 3
  • India – 2
  • Spain – 2
  • Switzerland – 2
  • France – 2
  • Bulagaria – 1
  • Canada – 1
  • Egypt – 1
  • Denmark – 1
  • Holland – 1
  • Hong Kong – 1
  • Israel – 1
  • Mexico – 1
  • Sweden – 1
  • Turkey – 1
What sort of robots will come from such diverse backgrounds? That’s something we look forward to finding out when the judging starts on March 31 and we’ll post more in depth coverage of the semifinalist startups.  We can already see that there is a range in verticals, with service robotics well represented alongside hobby, educational and industrial robotics.
Robohub and Silicon Valley Robotics are joined by many exceptional mentors and judges for this competition and we’d like to thank: IndiegogoWilmerHaleGrishin RoboticsBosch VenturesLemnos LabsRobolution CapitalLuxr, Lux Capital, OATV, Khosla Ventures, Haxlr8r, and O’Reilly’s Solid conference.



  • Round One opens Feb 20
  • Round One closes Mar 30 midnight (PST)
  • Top 30 announced April 10
  • Finalists announced April 30
  • Final Showcase (TBC) May 20


Robot Launch 2014 is open to any robot startup pre/partial Series A, from anywhere in the world. We’re looking for startups with prototypes and business models. But we’re also interested in any great robot startup idea … it could be a robot or an autonomous mobile manipulator … an appliance or connected device … or a sensor, actuator or even AI that makes robots better.

We will be keeping everyone up-to-date and posting more information about the judges, competitors and awards right here, so stay tuned for more dedicated coverage on Robohub!

If you liked this article, you may also be interested in:

See all the latest robotics news on Robohub, or sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Andra <![CDATA[From imagination to product – crowdfunding your startup]]> 2014-03-12T21:40:48Z 2014-03-12T21:40:48Z igg_logo_color_print_black_h (1)

The rise of online crowdfunding platforms over the last decade has  created a whole new pathway for some robot startups. In the process, crowdfunding campaigns have helped to catapult hardware and robots into the public eye, captivating our imaginations. Quite simply, crowdfunding is a form of entertainment just as much as it is a form of fundraising. And learning how to tell your story to others is a critical part of turning a project from imagination to product.

Crowdfunding is not new of course. The principles of crowdfunding are extensions of existing cultural practices. in 1720, the author Jonathon Swift created a low income loan scheme in Ireland that at peak was used by approximately 20% of the population. Dr Mohamed Yunus launched a microfinance program in Bangladesh in 1976 that became the Grameen Bank. The Grameen Bank now has more than 8 million borrowers, primarily women. You can call it a systematic approach to ‘small, short and unsecured’ loans and the internet has made microfinance possible on a whole new level. Although artist oriented crowdfunding sites started as early as 1997, Indiegogo was one of the first of the massively popular crowdfunding sites that came after 2006, when coincidentally, Dr Yunus won a Nobel Prize for the Grameen Bank.

Today, Indiegogo are partnering with Silicon Valley Robotics and Robohub in Robot Launch 2014, the first global online startup competition for robotics. Robotics is still an emerging industry and Robot Launch 2014 is a way of bringing together early stage startups to receive top quality mentoring and other assistance. One of the awards will be for the most popular startup and one of the rewards will be assistance with an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

As Kate Drane, Indiegogo’s hardware lead says, it’s all about giving people access to funds and resources that are out there, creating community and empowering people to do things for themselves. Indiegogo ran their first hardware startup workshop recently, have an hardware entrepreneur in residence and are building up a library of resources to help crowdfunding campaigns for hardware and robotics startups. Sadly fewer than 50% of campaigns meet their targets – but as platforms take a % of your campaign funds – it’s in their best interests to help you become successful.

Indiegogo is carving out a niche as a supporter of hardware projects, not just creative endeavors. In some respects this seems to be a riskier business – you have to trust that at the end of 6 months or a year, the project that you funded will become a solid working reality. That something will go from imagination to product. Producing real new devices that work as claimed and don’t cost significantly more than projected is not easy. However, compared to say a new band producing a CD, you realize that in one instance the physical object may be easier to create, but the risk is still as great. The final result is still going to be unknown.

That’s where the story telling is important. How well can you explain your vision to the rest of the world and capture their imagination. Robot Launchpad has collected some good resources for storytelling. There are templates for a pitch deck and a one page investor summary. There’s also a link to Nathan Gold, the DEMO coach and now Kauffman NEXT coach, and David Rose’s TED talk. I really believe that telling the right  story is the secret to creating a good product.

Andra <![CDATA[Loving your #startup to death]]> 2014-03-05T22:48:24Z 2014-03-05T20:33:17Z edison

Some thoughts on Robot Launch 2014 and why startups should enter: The world may be a harsh critic, but most good ideas die because they are given too much love. You’re probably loving your startup or project to death right now, and your friends and family are supporting you. And the more time you spend working on your project, the more likely you are to kill it.


Something I hear myself say, and I also hear it from startups all the time, is; “I just need to fix this before you can get my idea”. Usually followed by some variation on “You just don’t understand the vision!”. As if it’s #perceptionfail on the part of the audience. It’s always a good idea at this point to take a step backwards and recognize that we’re learning valuable lessons here. Criticism is our real best friend. And yet we still #perceptionfail most of the time.

But if we ever get past the idea that our critic is a complete idiot who just doesn’t get it, or worse, is just trying to mess with us, then we’ll usually fall back to blaming #techfail or #communicationfail. And we’ll do it in the order that we see most chance of a solution. For most of us that means #techfail is to blame. Because #techfail is something we enjoy fixing.


Sometimes there is tech risk in a project that demands a lot of time building and fixing. The flip side of this risk is building something that no-one else wants at the end of the long and expensive process. Sometimes, we are just more comfortable fixing things. Who doesn’t like sitting in our own workspaces and stringing bits or soldering bots.

But if someone wants to take their idea from working in the lab to working in the real world, the sooner you test real interest the better. That means engaging deeply with your potential users. It’s rare that an idea is meant solely for the use of people that we already know. But many of us just aren’t comfortable engaging with people we don’t know. So we don’t do it. That’s when we need to find a team with complementary skills, or #techfail is really #teamfail.


There are some domains where we know what we know and we know what we don’t know. There are other domains where we just don’t have a clue. Unknown unknowns. Unfortunately #teamfail often happens when a startup doesn’t see the need for communicators on their team. Or they don’t value them highly. They just freelance a writer or videographer to polish things up for their crowd funding campaign. Usually that ends in #crowdfundfail which is blamed on the bad marketing team or #communicationfail.


You can’t polish a pig. #communicationfail is when you don’t have a story to tell. Not story as in fiction. Story as product/market fit ie. here are 100 people who have already paid money for the first versions of our product. And this is why they really really like it. At this point, the circular logic starts. How can I market something that isn’t built? How can I build something that doesn’t have a market? How can I tell if there’s a market when there’s nothing to show yet?

The secret of startup success is being the fastest to find out if people actually like what you’re building. Before you build too much. It’s called ‘getting out of the building’. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. There are reasons why people make a lot of mistakes doing it and lots of reasons why there are experts writing books about it. Are we listening? #communicationfail.

Grandma said “You’ve got two ears and one mouth for a reason”. We need to do less telling and more listening in the early startup stage. And still be ok with hearing a lot of people saying no to our idea. Hating on every part of it. Because if we can’t find other advocates for our ideas out in the wild, then they are never ever going to leave home and eventually we’re just going to smother them with love. And in the end, that’s the only #fail.

So ah… just go ahead and enter Robot Launch 2014  #robotlaunch :)

Andra <![CDATA[Wise birds enter Robot Launch 2014 early]]> 2014-02-26T22:01:25Z 2014-02-26T21:46:22Z bubo-owl

We were really excited to see so many entries in Robot Launch 2014 in just the first days. What most people don’t realize is that you can enter the startup competition immediately but still keep updating your answers until the March 30 deadline. The only part of your entry that is public is your abstract and team bio. And that’s where the early birds will catch the ‘worm’ – getting extra attention for their startups and maybe also getting a head start for the ‘most popular’ startup award. We’ll be announcing more information about awards and judging over the next few weeks.

There is already a strong range in our entries, of both robotics verticals and the geographic location of teams, from Australia, India, Mexico, the USA and France. Service robotics is well represented and also hobby and industrial robotics. Stay posted for interviews with our amazing judges and mentors about what they are looking for in a robotics startup, like today’s full interview with Valery Kommissarova from Grishin Robotics. Grishin Robotics guarantees priority consideration to the finalists and one hour of personal mentoring with a selected startup.

“As one of the few focused investors in the robotics field, we are always looking for opportunities to partner with organizations and projects, aimed on fostering the hardware entrepreneurship. This robotics startup competition is a great idea, which should help many promising startups to get much needed additional exposure as well as, hopefully, establish plenty of useful connections. We look forward to learn more about the contestants and help winners to build strong business out of their ideas,’ says Kommissarova.

Plus, we are still adding mentors and awards to what’s on offer for robot startups. Top quality mentoring from investors and leaders in the field is an incredible advantage for an early stage startup – so get your entry in… early!

Andra <![CDATA[Robot Launch 2014 – first global startup competition for robotics]]> 2014-02-20T16:52:01Z 2014-02-19T02:53:13Z

Move over software, it’s time for robot startups to take center stage. Robotics is no longer science fiction. The robot you’ll buy for your home tomorrow may be a startup in someone’s garage or lab today. Silicon Valley Robotics, the robotics tech cluster, and Robohub, the global robotics news site, are partnering to launch the first online robot startup competition. []

Organizer Andra Keay from Silicon Valley Robotics hopes to see hundreds of early stage robotics startups entering the competition. With prizes that include personal VC interviews and mentoring, industrial design reviews, free startup legal services and lean startup coaching, the competition will help startups get the early attention of investors.

All the startups will have publicly searchable online summaries and the Top 30 will be showcased on Robohub. The finals will be conducted live online, with the top 3 startups getting a showcase at O’Reilly’s new hardware/software conference Solid.[]

“Our goal is to grow the robotics ecosystem and all the awards we’re offering are exactly what a robot startup needs to accelerate their growth. Robotics is entering an exciting period of rapid growth. And these days there are a lot of tools available to help you iterate from prototype to product very quickly. It’s time for software to move over, the future is robotics,” says Keay.

Awards are still being finalized but already include “People’s Choice”, “Crowd Pleaser” “Best European Startup” and “Best Lean Startup”. Companies partnering with Robot Launch 2014 include: Grishin Robotics, Indiegogo, WilmerHale, Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Lemnos Labs, Luxr, Robolution Capital, Lux Capital, OATV and Khosla Ventures.

“Robot Launch 2014 is opening up a very important outlet to help identify and showcase some groundbreaking business and technology ideas, not only in the Silicon Valley but throughout the world. It also provides an opportunity to develop them into highly successful ventures.  WilmerHale is excited to be part of this robot startup competition,” said Glenn Luinenburg, a Partner at WilmerHale who has seen the recent surge in robot deals up close.

WilmerHale is just one of the top law firms and banks starting to take robotics very seriously, as mentioned by Ryan Calo in Forbes. WilmerHale will be donating legal startup packages to the top competitors and has started to host robot startup seminars and investor forums for this emerging sector. Of course every startup knows that they need legal advice for company formation and IP issues, but they don’t always realize that lean startup advice can help them make decisions about how to rapidly develop their prototype quickly and effectively. Luxr will be offering 3 Core Curricula packages to help startups grow. And of course, personal mentoring from a top VC is a prize you can’t put a price tag on (but it may be worth a large valuation).

Andra <![CDATA[Drones Social Innovation Award launches]]> 2014-02-20T16:56:15Z 2014-02-15T16:56:01Z DSIA logo
The Drone Social Innovation Award is a new initiative of the rapidly growing Drone User Group Network (DUGN). With over 3000 members across North America, Australia and Europe, DUGN is the largest community in the world dedicated to teaching people to build and operate their own flying robots. What better way to celebrate the use of drones by civilians, than by starting an award for the best ideas for the social or civil use of flying robots! The grand prize is $10,000 US and entries close June 20, 2014.

The $10,000 prize is for the most socially beneficial, documented use of a drone platform costing less than $3,000. DUGN hope to spur innovation, investment, and attention to the positive role that drone technology can play in our society. “We believe that flying robots are a technology with tremendous potential to make our world a better place, and we are excited that they are cheap and accessible enough that regular people and community groups can have their own.”Already the organizers have heard from groups around the world that plan to use their systems for STEM education for youth with autism, wildlife tracking, firefighting and medical applications. If you’re interested in entering, the organizers would appreciate a heads up by March 17 to better help support the community of participants. Final entries need to be in English, with a 1-2 page summary of your project and link to a 2-4 minute video of your flying robot in action.

“We think drones are a revolutionary technology with tremendous potential to make the world a better place, and we wanted to focus our prize on low cost drones to highlight the fact that this technology is cheap and accessible enough that ordinary people and community groups can drive innovation and do new things with them,” said Timothy Reuter, founder of the Drone User Group Network.

As examples, he cited hobbyists using their systems to map coldwater refuges to help restore native fish species in West Virginia, tracking the progress of wildfires in Oregon and helping park officials in the Washington,D.C. area study changing patterns in the growth of vegetation. Another example is the Roswell Flight Test Crew video of a controlled burn through the eyes of a thermal imaging camera on a “Raven”.

In this video, the Roswell Flight Test Crew flies RQCX-3 “Raven” equipped with a FLIR thermal imaging camera — over a controlled burn conducted by Portland Fire and Rescue. The goal of this effort is to clear invasive species off of a two-acre parcel in the Baltimore Woods Natural Area. The crew’s goal is to demonstrate the potential of using small unmanned aircraft systems to support public safety missions: providing an overview of ground operations as well as using the FLIR to track the fire’s progress.

The Drone Social Innovation Award is sponsored by NEXA Capital Partners, a firm with background in the aerospace and infrastructure sector who see the high growth potential for consumer drone technology.

“When Timothy approached us, we saw this award as an opportunity to help demonstrate the socially meaningful applications of unmanned aerial systems.  We see that there is a growing grassroots social movement that wants to play a part in the development of this technology, and we want to support that,” stated Michael Dyment, NEXA Capital Partners Founder and Managing Partner.

If you want to help see flying robots used to create a better society, then share the news about the inaugural Drone Social Innovation Award.
Andra <![CDATA[Flying Donkey Challenge – entries close February 28]]> 2014-02-06T01:53:59Z 2014-02-06T01:53:43Z
Will we see flying donkeys racing around Mount Kenya with 20 kilo payloads in 2020? The dream of lifting Africa will come one step closer when the 2014 preliminary “Flying Donkey Challenge” takes place in Kenya in November, but entries, including grant applications, close on February 28.
The Flying Donkey Challenge is a project of the La Fondation Bundi, a non-profit initiative of the Afrotech project at EPFL, the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, and the NCCR, the Swiss National Center of Competence for Research in Robotics.

The foundation seeks to pioneer a new transportation system for the world by developing robots with rugged air frames capable of safe and cheap unmanned flight of heavy cargo over long distances. We call these robots flying donkeys.

La Fondation Bundi is committed to promoting an African designed and assembled flying donkey industry capable of improving the transport infrastructure in areas without good roads. The goal of the foundation is to have tens of thousands of flying donkeys operational within a generation.

There are various technical, legal, logistical and design issues facing challengers and the foundation has broken the Flying Donkey Challenge into subchallenges. Teams may win large cash prizes for the best solutions across the range of subchallenges. Some of the subchallenges are:

  • Precision take off and landing
  • GPS denied navigation
  • Sense and avoid
  • Cargo delivery
  • FD business plan competition
  • FD legal paper competition tba
  • FD logistics paper competition tba 
Amazon better look to Africa because the first commercial drone deliveries look like coming from Flying Donkeys not UPS delivery drones.
Andra <![CDATA[Doggone it, there are no exciting consumer robots]]> 2014-01-21T16:01:00Z 2014-01-21T16:00:38Z

If CES shows us anything it’s that consumer robots aren’t exciting, they’re appliances. But it’s exciting that we have a growing field of consumer robots, smart devices and appliances. According to the IFR, the International Federation of Robotics, the consumer robot segment is the smallest robotics segment but it has the greatest potential for growth, in spite of very low margins. The IFR predicts a huge increase in unit sales over the next three years. Funds like Grishin Robotics and accelerators like TechStars, Bolt and Haxlr8r are blurring the line between consumer electronics and consumer robotics. Today Grishin announced their latest investment in Petnet, a smart pet feeder, which has just closed a $1.125 million seed round.

Petnet is a smart pet feeder which aims to improve your pet’s diet. Petnet has come out of the Bolt accelerator in Boston and have just closed a $1.125 million seed funding round, including investments by Grishin Robotics, Kima Ventures, SparkLabs Global Ventures and Launch Capital. Petnet will be using the funding to ship their first product, the Smartfeeder, due to reach customers in mid-2014. Petnet already have more than 10,000 orders in hand and the pet industry is $100B USD globally, with over 1 billion domesticated cats and dogs.

The pet industry is a good entry point for consumer robotics. Until we’ve solved the problem of pizzas falling from the skies, delivery drone robots aren’t going to be real businesses, regardless of US drone commercialization regulations. Self driving vehicles are proceeding slowly to market with park assist and other features that aren’t mission critical or potentially fatal. Robot vacuum cleaners are now the most widely distributed robot of all time, outshipping military robots because they do one job reasonably well, but it’s not critical if they do it perfectly.

Dmitry Grishin, founder of Grishin Robotics noted that, “even the simplest things around us are quickly becoming robots these days. Through unique combinations of powerful hardware, smart software, and internet-connectivity, Petnet is a perfect example of this trend. I am confident in the company’s ability to successfully tackle the worldwide pet health challenge and disrupt the multi-billion dollar industry”.

It’s quite an art to find domains in which we can add a little bit more smart and create a device that performs well enough, but that isn’t going to pose any risk to people. All in all, we don’t want exciting robots as consumer robots, we want appliances. As Guilio Sandini, Director of the Robotics, Brain and Cognitive Sciences department at the Italian Institute of Technology said in a recent Robots Podcast, ‘we will see more and more robots that looks like electronic appliances’.

Andra <![CDATA[More robots or roboticists for Google with Nest acquisition?]]> 2014-01-15T00:46:29Z 2014-01-13T22:13:45Z

At least, Google is certainly getting more roboticists with the Nest acquisition that was announced today, even if smart consumer appliances are just barely on the robotics spectrum. Alongside Google’s recent acquisition of eight robotics companies, there has been a slow and steady flow of robotics talent into the Silicon Valley based behemoth. The small sampling of roboticists I’ve spoken to who are employed at Google have shed little light on future plans, but it is striking that with so many roboticists, now spread across so many different areas, that a unified robot research park seems the least likely outcome. Perhaps Google is collecting libraries and IP instead, in the same way that Wolfram is talking about owning the database of the internet of things.

Google is to buy Nest Labs, Inc. for $3.2 billion in cash. Nest launched in 2011 with a smart thermostat and has recently launched a smoke alarm. Both products are doing very well in sales. Nest will continue to operate under the leadership of Tony Fadell and maintain a distinct brand identity but as a part of the Google stable. For more information from Nest as to the transition.

Larry Page, CEO of Google, said: “Nest’s founders, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, have built a tremendous team that we are excited to welcome into the Google family. They’re already delivering amazing products you can buy right now–thermostats that save energy and smoke/CO alarms that can help keep your family safe. We are excited to bring great experiences to more homes in more countries and fulfill their dreams!”

Tony Fadell, CEO of Nest, said: “We’re thrilled to join Google. With their support, Nest will be even better placed to build simple, thoughtful devices that make life easier at home, and that have a positive impact on the world.”

Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, described Google’s recent acquisitions as a logistics play around self driving vehicles and that when Google solved the first mile/last mile problem, iRobot was planning on meeting them at the house door.

Well, it might now be too late for iRobot to take control of the home robot space. I think Google has plans for automating whole of house and all the data. This fits in well with Google’s advertizing business model and allows sensors to give more context to our smart devices, creating a more independent sophisticated human robot relationship.

There are plenty more robotics companies left for Google to acquire, but if I were looking it would be interesting to consider Unbounded and Otherlab.

Andra <![CDATA[Eureka! there are academic startups at CES 2014]]> 2014-01-10T04:26:16Z 2014-01-10T04:25:49Z Startups_CEHPSlide

Eureka Park at International CES 2014 is the zone for innovation, for startups and for spinoffs from university and grant funded research. Eureka Park is sponsored by Indiegogo and by the National Science Foundation. The hall features the Indiegogo Zone, strolling VCs and accelerators like Vegas Tech Zone. The live stage events include VC and investor panelists providing critiques on your 2 minute pitch. And what’s not to love about robot startups like Barobo, Rehabtek, and the solar powered robot beer cooler from Solar Cool Technologies!Ok, it’s remote controlled but it fulfills the first rule of robotics – to fetch beer. Ryan McGann, CEO of Solar Cool Technologies, had the vision sitting on a hot beach wishing for a cold beer and built the first Solar Cooler for his own use. After CES, he’s going to launch a crowd funding campaign on Indiegogo. The first version is aimed at high end consumers who want a portable fridge that is more environmentally friendly than comparative battery or generator powered units. But McGann wants the next version to be suitable for vaccine and medicine transportation.


“Eureka Park launched two years ago for young companies to launch their products. Today we have more than 200 startups. Their passion, energy and out-of-the-box thinking defines the vision of CES.” says Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association who run International CES 2014.

There are 26 National Science Foundation grantees exhibiting here, not taking into account startups who received research or commercialization grants from other countries. And this year there is more of a focus on academic startups. This is a great place for young startups to make connections and an even better place for academic research to make connections with companies that might license technology.

University research and university/industry research centers that are represented here include: Center on Optical Wireless Applications; ASSIST, Advanced Self-Powered Systems of Integrated Sensors and Technologies; Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering; and NASCENT, Nanomanufacturing Systems for Mobile Computing and and Mobile Energy Technologies.

So what is the role of the US government in funding startups, particularly robot startups? And yes, at least two of the NSF funded startups here are doing robotics – Barobo and Rehabtek. Many others are doing interesting peripheral work, from FiveFocal’s camera systems, Xandem Technology’s motion detection system, Imprint Energy’s batteries, Fidelity Comtech’s wireless networking products and new materials technologies like graphene products from Vorbeck Materials, or waterproofing from Integrated Surface Technology.

This is part of the SBIR/STTR programs from the NSF and also the new partnership with UP Global which provides startup education via Steve Blank’s Lean Launchpad program and Startup Weekend.

NSF SBIR/STTR programs incentivize and enable startups and small business to undertake R&D with high technical risk and high commercial reward. There must be significant market opportunity and transformational technology with significant societal or commercial impact. They give grants split into phases:

  • Phase I: $150k, 6 months
  • Phase II: $750k, 2 years

plus over $500k in additional supplemental grants available. STTR grants offer slightly more seed money but require a researcher at a university (or other non-profit research institutions) to play a significant role in the project. Currently proposals must commercialize NSF-funded fundamental research.

So perhaps next year your research project will be at CES and perhaps next year the Robot Beer Cooler will be hanging out with the Robot BBQ “Grillbot” in the main hall at CES 2015. Beer and BBQ and bots. What could be better?


Andra <![CDATA[CES 2014 – Robotics on the Runway]]> 2014-01-08T22:37:16Z 2014-01-08T22:02:59Z

Robotics has a starring role at International CES 2014, the world’s largest gadget expo, starting with a VIP Robotics on the Runway event organized by the producers of the Digital Health Summit, Living in Digital Times and Silicon Valley Robotics. But while robotics is increasingly prevalent across all floors at CES, robotics as a consumer technology is still 5-25 years out and the majority of CES visitors either won’t see a robot or won’t realize that they are looking at one. The major trends at CES this year are self driving vehicles, plus 3D printing, scanning, viewing and projecting, and a wide range of smart device mounts, aimed at connecting you, your car or your house up to your tablet or phone in a whole new range of ways.

CES is “the largest floor show in history” with more than 2 million square feet of exhibit space and 3200 exhibitors. It’s the largest convention in Las Vegas and traffic is a mess. CES is like the worst mall ever if you’re a visitor, but the press are treated to a significant number of unveilings, 99 new products at CES Unveiled on Sunday and 25 more product launches on Monday’s press day. Robotics is entering the arena in super fashion.

The Robotics on the Runway event took place at the Hard Rock Hotel, which was jam packed for the fashionable CES after parties. An enthusiastic audience were entertained by real robotics companies with consumer appeal. Companies who showcased included:

  • Eksobionics – exoskeletons for paraplegics
  • Unbounded Robotics – mobile manipulator
  • Anybots – telepresence
  • Double Robotics – telepresence
  • Orbotix – Sphero robot ball toy
  • Neato – robot vacuum cleaner
  • Revolve Robotics – Kubi telepresence
  • Parrot – mini drone and jumping wheeled robot
  • Origami Robotics – social robot for autism
  • Keeker – mobile robot projector system
  • Biobeats – sensor produced music
  • Barobo – Linkbots modular educational robots

The crowd went wild for the social robots, and the jumping, flying or mobile ones, but the catwalk from Paul Thacker and Eksobionics won everyone’s heart. Paul Thacker is a world champion snow mobiler, who was badly injured in a crash in 2010. The trick that crushed his spine wasn’t one of his hardest ones – Thacker is the current world record holder for longest snow jump amongst other things, but he landed awkwardly on the handlebars. Thacker uses the Ekso as a rehabilitation device and hopes to regain better leg function. In the meantime, he is continuing to compete in Snocross adaptive events.

Unbounded Robotics and Romibo also attracted a lot of attention with UBR1 strutting to “Eye of the Tiger” and Romibo having fun chatting up the compere, emmy award winning tech journalist for USA Today, Jennifer Jolly. “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

Robotics on the Runway was produced by Jill Gilbert under the banner of the Digital Health Summit. Gilbert wants to create a fusion between our future tech needs and the current state of robotics art. The Digital Health Summit is part of the Living in Digital Times group who also do Last Gadget Standing, Mommy Tech Summit, TransformingEDU, Silver Summit and FashionWare Show.

Robin Raskin, founder of Living in Digital Times and long time tech commentator, opened Robotics on the Runway with a commitment to showcasing the future of technology in a fashion that is both socially responsible and that supports emerging businesses.

This is good news for robotics which is just starting to shift towards the consumer spectrum and is most likely to be found in the “Home Appliances” category than in the newer areas of health, education and automotive. Paradigms are shifting.

Although the relevance of CES has been questioned since Microsoft and Apple pulled out in 2012, the paradigm shifts are informative. CES has gone from computers to smart devices, from internet to internet of things and robotics. While CES sometimes looks like nothing but acres of accessories for the internet, it is also showcasing new ways of connecting and using stuff.

Andra <![CDATA[Startup Series #5 Rodney Brooks, Steve Cousins & Pioneers Festival]]> 2013-12-09T21:05:44Z 2013-12-09T16:39:54Z

It’s not every day you get to ask pioneering robot startup founders about their journey. The Robolution panel at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna comprised Rodney Brooks from Rethink Robotics and previously iRobot, Steve Cousins from Savioke and previously Willow Garage, Noland Katter from Anybots, and Walter Wohlkinger and Michael Zillich of Blue Danube Robotics, a new startup from Vienna University. Between them the panelists have started or spunoff well over 15 robotics companies, started the first robotics venture fund and been hugely influential in shaping the current rapidly emerging robot startup space. ‘Fast, cheap and out of control’ was Brooks’s 1987 insight into robot exploration of the solar system, but is very apt today, as drivers like open source software, affordable COTS and crowdfunding expand possibilities.

And here’s an excerpt from a great article on “Is this the right time for robotic startups?” by Torsten Andre who attended the event as a startup founder.

In the end, Rodney Brooks said that the trick is to find applications where robots can do something useful and the customer is willing to pay for it. Costing over $200,000, Willow Garage’s PR2 is probably not one these robots. But, as Steve Cousins points out, robots can also be built for approximately $15,000. Assuming a lifetime of two years, robots have to generate a value of about $20 per day for an investment like this to break even – something he thinks can certainly be accomplished. He expects robots to be present in our day-to-day lives within the next few years, making this indeed the right time to found a robotic startup.


Andra <![CDATA[Cubelets are growing up as Moss]]> 2013-11-07T22:22:11Z 2013-11-07T22:09:51Z

Three years after their successful Cubelets, Modular Robotics launched a new kickstarter today for Moss. It’s like Cubelets just got clever and maybe a little bit more fashionable too. Moss is a dynamic robot construction kit and by the time you read this, the kickstarter will be well over the target of $100,000.  This is a loyalty and publicity kickstarter, not a plea for funding to get a prototype off the ground!

Moss blocks have magnetic ball joints to connect to each other – with one connection you have a universal joint, with two a hinge and with four you have a rigid construction. All the power and data pass through a single central button. No wires, no coding and very fast construction with a range of additional shapes to play with. Like cubelets, different colored cubes will have different features, like motor blocks, sensing and communication modules. There’s a bluetooth block so that you can control your creations from your phone.

“It’s just a very different model of thinking about the world. On the one hand, you could say Cubelets are more advanced because they have a microcontroller inside every single piece and they talk to their neighbors digitally. MOSS doesn’t have a microcontroller in each piece, and it uses really simple analog communication,” Schweikardt said. “On the other hand… [with MOSS] you can have a lot more pieces working together in sync.”

Boulder based Modular Robotics started off as Roblocks with NSF seed funding for educational robotics and small business development. Since then, they’ve picked up a decent Series A round of $3 million from Foundry Group (Brad Feld). And, since shipping for Cubelets started in 2011, the Modular Robotics team have been working on new things. An unexpected bonus of their NSF SBIR grant was a post-doc scholarship. This allowed Eric Schweikardt to hire Jon Hiller.

“When I was a post-doc at the Cornell Computational Synthesis lab (now called the Cornell Creative Machines Lab), Jon was a PhD student. Even in a world-class lab filled with the smartest people you’ve met, Jon stood out. He was working on discrete 3D printing, figuring out how to deposit tiny beads of material in dense grids to create forms with variable material properties. He built apparatus, wrote code, ran 3D simulations, and finished some super cool research. “

“Under normal circumstances, there’d be no way that a little, underfunded startup like Modular Robotics in 2010 could embark on the design of a second, totally unique robot project. But when Jon came out to join us, much of the work on commercializing Cubelets was complete. Since Jon was basically “free” to Modular Robotics, we decided that we should make the most of this bonus: we’d put him to work on a brand new something. Here we are, a couple of years later.”

Modular Robotics have also teamed up with SF based artist Huck Gee to create a Shogun Tank, a samurai-inspired robot tank complete with missile turret. “MOSS in its early prototypes was just an abstract building kit,” Schweikardt says. “It probably wouldn’t have appealed to me as a kid because I liked enacting these big battles and narratives with my toys.” Modular Robotics teamed up with Paul Budnitz, founder of KidRobot, to find artists who’d be interested in designing exclusive MOSS models. Schweikardt says Huck Gee is the first of many to come.

The design brief for the tank was to shoot a NERF type missile 3 feet with sufficient accuracy “to hit a cat sized target. Meow.” No real cats were harmed in the making of this product, as far as I’m aware. And how clever is this? Prepackaged image with all the products and prices! If you want to have a successful kickstarter, study successful campaigns. Like this one.



Andra <![CDATA[Play-i want to bring a robot to every child]]> 2013-10-29T08:31:33Z 2013-10-29T08:28:32Z

After receiving a $1million seed fund round from investors like Google Ventures, many of us have been waiting for Play-i to come out of stealth and show us their stuff. Play-i are a Silicon Valley based startup with a founding team from Amazon, Google, frog design and Apple; Vikas Gupta, Mikal Greaves, Saurabh Gupta and Imran Khan. Play-i aim to make programming simple and affordable for every child.

Today Play-i launched a $1/4 million crowdfunding campaign, already half subscribed, for their cute robot toys, Bo and Yana. Bo is a mobile multi ball robot whereas Yana is designed to be a storyteller. Both robots come with different skins and accessories or attachments allowing them to work together or play with different objects.

“As a father, I know that a child’s world is about play” said Vikas Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Play-i. “Every design choice we’ve made for our robots was to deliver play and programming as a priority, while also keeping our price down.”

The Play-i robots utilize Scratch and Blockly and can be programmed wirelessly from a device like an iPad. The robots are designed to be programmed by early readers, and also to provide a rewarding environment for learning to code. The Play-i team are parents who want to address the shortfall of computer scientists in an increasingly digital world.

“What makes Play-i’s robots so unique and special is that they really connect with younger kids on an emotional level and make programming such a seamless and playful experience,” said Mike Dooley, the original Product Manager for LEGO Mindstorms and now a VP of Product and Business Development at iRobot and adviser for Play-i.

“They are leveraging a legacy of ideas from research on computing, robotics and children’s cognitive development, but have created something new and so accessible that even kids in the 1st or 2nd grade can easily play with programming, and in the process, construct rich models for understanding the world.”

“Play-i gets how a developmentally appropriate introduction to programming can pave the way towards a lifelong interest and aptitude in computer science,” said Vibha Sazawal, Lecturer and Visiting Research Scientist at the University of Maryland and adviser for Play-i.

Play-i have a lot of design skills in their team already, but have also utilized long time robot design expert Ted Larson from Ologic and a serious advisor lineup including; Mike Dooley, the original product lead for Lego Mindstorm Robotics, Steve Cooper, Professor of CS & Ed at Stanford University, Chairman of CSTA, Andrea Thomaz, Professor of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech, Kiki Prottsman, Educator and Executive Director of Thinkersmith, Vibha Sazawal, Scientist at the University of Maryland, and Prashant Kanhere, who led led development of the iPod at Apple.

Play-i robots will be available in the Summer of 2014 and are priced at $149 and $99. Of course, Play-i are not the only ones in this space, with Thymio and Linkbot doing very good affordable educational robotics, just to name a couple. And of course, Lego and Vex. However, Play-i may be the best funded company with a focus on programming robots at the moment.

Andra <![CDATA[Unbounded launch affordable, all purpose UBR-1]]> 2013-10-24T13:23:06Z 2013-10-24T13:21:56Z Andra & UBR

Unbounded Robotics today launched UBR-1, a robot that has many of us very excited. UBR is the first robot with intelligence, manipulation and mobility for below $50k. While UBR definitely resembles a smaller, cuter PR2, the UBR is actually more sophisticated. After all, the PR2 was developed 5 years ago and a lot has changed in robotics since. As well as being offered to universities as a research platform, the UBR can be deployed in business automation or logistics settings, like a Baxter but mobile. At one tenth the price of a PR2, and more sophisticated than any other similarly priced robot, UBR is going to move the goal posts for robotics.At this price point, with these capabilities, UBR is a disruptive technology and has potential in a wide range of scenarios outside of research. Some of the initial possibilities include office or medical delivery, warehouse picking and supermarket stacking and inspection. UBR plays well with people and is ADA-compliant.


There’s often a lot of hype in robotics and skeptics may ask if UBR can really deliver such incredible specs at such a low price. The answer is in the founding team: Melonee Wise, CEO; Michael Ferguson, CTO; Derek King, Lead Systems Engineer; and Eric Diehr, Lead Mechanical Engineer. The Unbounded Robotics team are Willow Garage alumni, who have been involved from the earliest days in building PR2, ROS and the Turtlebots.


Naturally enough, the UBR-1 mobile manipulation platform runs ROS. As the former Willow Garage team put it, “With decades of robotic hardware and software experience, we have developed a mobile manipulation platform that offers advanced software and a sophisticated hardware exterior.  The one-armed robot is designed for human-scale tasks and comes pre-installed with Ubuntu Linux LTS and ROS, along with applications such as MoveIt! navigation, calibration, and joystick teleoperation.  The robot offers mobility, dexterity, manipulation, and navigation in a human-scale, ADA-compliant model.”

On the hardware front, the UBR-1 requires no calibration at start-up, has a workspace large enough for the robot to reach the ground as well as countertops, and was designed with extensibility in mind so that users can easily develop custom applications. The extra value of the UBR will be all the applications developed by the robotics community, starting with researchers and flowing through to commercial app developers for enterprise and small businesses.

If you want to see one ‘in person’, UBR will be one of the stars at RoboBusiness 2013 in Santa Clara this week; a UBR will also be cutting the ribbon to open the Bay Area Science Festival on November 2. Unbounded Robotics are taking orders for the robot and expect to start shipping in summer 2014.  And I, for one, welcome this new uber robot._80E1730

Andra <![CDATA[Is drone delivery really a robot startup?]]> 2013-10-14T18:36:19Z 2013-10-14T18:36:19Z

Australian startup Zookal is making news today with their claims to be the world’s first drone delivery company.  It’s an exciting headline and I wish them well. But while you can quibble over who is really the first commercial drone delivery company, I think it’s more interesting that we’re hitting an inflection point where you have to ask, “is a company that uses robots a robot company”? Zookal is a textbook and student services startup. They use drones for delivery and marketing. They are not a drone or robot company. And that’s good!

Zookal is a textbook rental startup that also provides a digital note platform and internships for international students. Zookal are using drones developed by the University of Sydney engineering students and technically Flirtey is the actual drone startup. Or possibly Vimbra who are managing the logistics partnerships, ie between Zookal and Flirtey. However they all have cofounder Ahmed Haider in common.

Haider hopes to close the gap between the rapid developments in ecommerce and logistics which has remained largely unchanged. Textbooks are a great test bed for drone logistics as they are robust, reasonably expensive and in demand, unlike tacos, which may be in demand but are fragile and offer little margin for a startup.

“Textbooks are an excellent way to test the market as they allow for varying weights,” he says. “With the concentration of students in universities in Australia, we will have proof of concept that shows if you can deliver a textbook, then things such as urgent medical deliveries, clothes, shoes, fast food and other e-commerce will be much more viable.”

Drones are the first robots to become an off the shelf technology that is wide open for diverse uses, with drone delivery and aerial photography leading the way as consumer and small business verticals. What next? Drones are the gateway for consumer robotics where the robot is a tool that anyone can use. Increasingly, there will be more and more separation between companies that simply use robots and companies that make or deploy or augment robots. This inflexion point has occurred many times in various industries, most notably the automotive industry in the 70s and 80s.

While Australia is friendlier towards commercial UAV operation than the US, this is still a fledgeling industry with many standards and regulations still to be worked out. Flirtey are working in partnership with The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering, a non-profit research institute, to develop a set of guidelines for the use of commercial drones.

“We hope to use this guide as a way to work through safety, privacy and community concerns locally which will hopefully set a benchmark for the rest of the world as to how to interact with this new technology,” says Haider. “I think this is going to be absolutely huge in terms of logistics,” he says.

So let’s keep Zookal with Flirtey on the list of robot startups for a while longer because they are creating interest and expanding awareness of potential business models which will increase the funding opportunities for more robot startups.


Andra <![CDATA[Robot startup resources: Pitching]]> 2013-10-07T21:33:13Z 2013-10-07T20:36:48Z

You have a robot prototype or an idea. At some stage you want funding. Here are the two most useful resources for robot startups. Even if you are bootstrapping, using crowdfunding or friendly angels, at some stage you need to pitch your startup. Working on your pitch will also highlight weak areas of your business model or product/market fit, so it’s never too early to start. There are a lot of resources online and different opinions, but these two templates are highly regarded and frequently used formats.

The 1 page investor summary, sometimes called a one pager or executive summary. It’s everything in your pitch deck cut down to ONLY ONE PAGE. Seriously. Not two. Lose the logo and fancy header if you’re creeping over the one page limit. Keep it clean and clear. It helps to use a familiar template like this one, inspired by SV Forum, which has been popular in Silicon Valley for a long time.

The investor Pitch Deck or presentation, which is your summary expanded to a 10 minute pitch with 10-13 slides. We recommend sticking with the David Rose 13 [TED 2007] which is also explained brilliantly by Nathan Gold, the Demo Coach. He also shows you how to pack a big punch in a 2 minute pitch.



Andra <![CDATA[3D printing meets robotics]]> 2013-09-18T22:28:18Z 2013-09-18T22:26:59Z contourcrafting-thumb

Are they robots? Or are they just very good for building robots? Either way there’s going to be a lot of overlap when a 3D printing conference is curated by Cornell’s evolutionary robotics professor, Hod Lipson. The Inside 3D Printing conference is being held at Doubletree San Jose on Sept 17-18. The event features speakers ranging from industry heavy hitters like S. Scott Crump of Stratasys, Chuck Hull and Avi Reichental of 3D Systems; to scientists like Behrokh Khoshnevis, Director of the Center for Rapid Automated Fabrication Technologies (CRAFT) at USC and Carl Deckard, Polymer Scientist, Structured Polymers; to artists and futurists like Assa Ashuach, Pablos Holman, Brian Evans and Isaac Katz.

Prof Hod Lipson is the recent coauthor of “Fabricated: The World of 3D Printing“, director of the Creative Machines Lab at Cornell and a long term evangelist for smart manufacturing. His research projects focus on a twofold question; can we design machines that can design other machines, and can we make machines that can make other machines? Lipson says, “Both of these questions lie at the crux of understanding the engineering process itself, and progress on these fronts can offer huge leverage in our ability to design, make and maintain increasingly complex systems in the future. Biological life has answered these challenges in ways that dwarf the best teams of human engineers; I therefore use primarily biologically-inspired approaches, as they bring new ideas to engineering and new engineering insight into biology.”



Topics at Inside 3D Printing include “Robotic Building Construction using Contour Crafting”. Contour Crafting (CC) is a layered fabrication technology developed by Dr. Behrokh Khoshnevis of the University of Southern California with great potential for automating the construction of whole structures as well as sub-components. Using this process, a single house or a colony of houses, each with possibly a different design, may be automatically constructed in a single run, embedded in each house all the conduits for electrical, plumbing and air-conditioning.

Comprised of robotic arms and extrusion nozzles, a computer-controlled gantry system moves the nozzle back and forth. This construction methodology reduces energy use and emissions by using a rapid-prototype or 3-D printing process to fabricate large components. Large-scale parts can be fabricated quickly in a layer-by-layer fashion. The chief advantages of the Contour Crafting process over existing technologies are the superior surface finish and the greatly enhanced speed of fabrication. There are potentially interesting applications both for low income housing and difficult to access areas, including construction in space and on other planets.

Space is not the only frontier for 3D printing robots. Pablos Holman, futurist and inventor, believes that “Robots will make your food”.  Holman says, “The way you prepare meals today is roughly the same way neanderthals fed themselves. In every other business, we have used computers to collect data and analyze the data to make better decisions. We do not have any data about what you eat. We do not customize meals for you as an individual.”


Holman has previously been involved in a wide range of disruptive technology projects from helping create the world’s smallest PC, to designing 3D printers at Makerbot; spaceships with Jeff Bezos; artificial intelligence agent systems; and the Hackerbot, a Wi-Fi seeking robot. Currently, Pablos is working for Nathan Myhrvold at the Intellectual Ventures Laboratory where a wide variety of futuristic invention projects are under way including a fission reactor powered by nuclear waste; a machine to suppress hurricanes; a system to reverse global warming; and a device that can shoot mosquitoes out of the sky with lasers to help eradicate malaria.

Speaking in Wired, Holman explained: “I’ve been thinking about the way that people eat. The way that people eat in the US is wildly inefficient; there’s lots of packaging and lots of waste. We don’t have any data about what you ate yesterday or on any other day of your life. Personally, I think that’ll happen soon. Imagine a 3D food printer with three buttons: ‘what I ate yesterday’, ‘what my friend ate’ and ‘I’m feeling lucky. Imagine it printing you a meal that’s customised for you, injecting your pharmaceuticals and correlating to your diet to create something that’s good for you. It could introduce an optimisation that’s missing from the system.”

Andra <![CDATA[Startup Seminar on Manufacturability]]> 2013-09-17T17:34:57Z 2013-09-17T17:34:57Z Startup Series 1
Silicon Valley Robotics held the first seminar in our Startup Series on Thursday Sept 13 at Counsyl in South San Francisco. More than 40 robot or hardware startup founders attended to get some insight into the manufacturing process specific to a robotics startup. There was a one hour panel followed by a very active discussion and network period.

We had a great lineup of speakers, ably chaired by TerrAvion founder, Robert Morris. The panel consisted of: Nick Pinkston, organizer of the SF Hardware Startup Meetup, the Makers Map project and founder of startups, CloudFab and Plethora, who aims to make digital manufacturing easier; Kyle Lapham, Director of Lab Automation at Counsyl, who is building robots to run all their patient samples and previously worked in Prof Elizabeth Blackburn’s Nobel Prizewinning lab at UCSF; and Frank Moreman, COO of EksoBionics, who brings years of factory manufacturing and China experience with companies like Philips, Hubbell Lighting and Siegal Engineering to bear on EksoBionic’s robotic systems. Finally, Markus Rokitta from PCH International’s new hardware accelerator, Highway 1 introduced some of the benefits that they can bring to startups.

This is a series by startups for startups, where Silicon Valley Robotics members pose the questions they want to see answered and source the answers from more experienced companies and other field experts. Topics over the series include manufacturability, recruitment, founding teams, sales process management, supply chain management, design decisions, investors, intellectual property etc. As well as expert speakers, this meetup brings together robotics entrepreneurs and advisors for peer mentoring and networking. This is an opportunity to share your up to date experiences.

Startup Series 1a

Big thanks to our startup working party for organizing the topic and speakers, Counsyl for hosting the event and PCH International’s new accelerator Highway 1 for providing the food and drink. btw Counsyl are hiring! And for more manufacturability – visit Inside 3D Printing at San Jose Sep 17-18.

counsyl_logo logo-highway11

Andra <![CDATA[‘Design a Robot’ competitions]]> 2013-09-06T01:59:16Z 2013-09-06T01:59:16Z

Didn’t get a robot entered in the DARPA grand robotics challenge (DRC)? Never mind, there are several robot design and business model competitions on at the moment, from social robots, to affordable robots, to open source humanoids. The International Conference on Social Robotics (ICSR) is running a design competition for robot companions. RoboSavvy is running a design competition for an open source humanoid robot and the African Robotics Network (AFRON) is running their second annual “$10 robot design” challenge.   Deadlines are approaching so get designing!

The International Conference on Social Robotics (ICSR) will be held in Bristol UK, on 27th – 29th October 2013. ICSR welcomes conceptual or practical submissions to the robot design competition, based around the theme of companionship. Can a robot offer companionship? Could a robot friend be your confidante, your wing-man, your ally or your last defence against loneliness?

This year the ICSR robot design competition welcomes applicants from any background and in whatever format best suits your idea and your practice. Submissions may include posters, videos, prototypes, models, puppets, performances, sculpture etc. The only constraint is that your idea is centred on the theme of companionship and can be presented to
the conference audience in a busy room during an hour long session. We are looking for ideas for creating future robots that people will want to spend time with in a social sense, and the benefits that such robots may give to society or individuals.

The robot design competition is jointly run by Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Watershed’s Pervasive Media Studio. One person from each of the top 10 selected designs will be invited to attend half of a day of the conference (registration fees waived) to present their ideas. Following the presentation, conference attendees will vote for the top three entries, all of whom will receive certificates and prizes from our sponsors IET Robotics & MechatronIcs TPN <>.

* First Prize:     £400
* Second Prize: £200
* Third Prize:     £100

Each submission will need to be accompanied by a (maximum) 2 page summary including a concise abstract/synopsis of a maximum of 50 words. For further details, submission instructions and a downloadable flyer to post to your colleagues and students please visit:

Deadlines for applications: Friday 13th September 2013, 17:00 GMT.

The RoboSavvy Humanoid Design Competition ends on September 22nd and is open to all. Robosavvy is looking for your help in gathering fresh ideas for the design of a new humanoid robot designated for entertainment and education. Their objective is to launch a new open-source humanoid robot that will look great and will be agile and smart at a reasonable cost. Think Bioloid, think Darwin, then think ‘a thing of beauty’.

Comparable education and research humanoid robots cost over $10,000 due to their plastic molded shell parts, expensive actuators and closed-source business approach. RoboSavvy are looking for  an open-source robot that will outperform its rival platforms while keeping the cost of materials to about $1,000, by utilizing materials and fabrication methods now available to anyone. Materials include aluminum sheet and 3D printed parts for structure, vacuum formed polycarb exterior shell, servos for actuation and low cost electronics including Raspberry Pi for brains.

It’s all about exterior aesthetics and a good range of movement. The winning entry will receive the custom built robot (valued in parts and labor at $4,000), with GrabCad swag for runners up! Full specs for the challenge are on GrabCad.



The African Robotics Network (AFRON) is holding their 2nd Design Challenge in search of the “Ultra-affordable Robot”. The deadline has just been extended to January 2014, to allow greater opportunity for university students to participate as part of their semester projects. With support from the IEEE Robotics and Automation Society, this design challenge focuses on enhancements to the robot designs from the 2012 challenge, software development, and teaching plans. Details are below, and on the web at

The 2012 Design Challenge emphasized an ultra-low-cost robot hardware platform in three categories: tethered, roaming, and all-in-one. The winning designs were all highly creative, and the Grand Prize in the tethered category went to Lollybot, a brilliant design by Tom Tilley of Thailand, costing just under 10 USD and incorporating two functional Lollipops. Starting with a generic dual-shock game controller, Lollybot can be built using commonly available tools anywhere in the world.

In the 2013 Design Challenge, our goal is to create incentives for designers to select any of the winning designs from 2012 and work on enhancements in one or more of 3 categories: 1) hardware 2) software, or 3) curriculum. This year, we are placing a special emphasis on Lollybot, encouraging next steps in the 3 categories: 1) enhance the Lollybot hardware design, simplifying assembly, increasing robustness, adding useful features, 2) extend and improve the open-source software for Lollybot, and 3) create exciting lesson plans using the Lollybot. In addition, there is a special “community challenge” for participants who organize a robotics workshop for students using one of the winning designs, with or without enhancements.

We look forward to your participation!

Best regards,
Ayorkor Korsah & Ken Goldberg
co-Founders, African Robotics Network