Robotics is on the rise: the worldwide spending on robotics and related services will more than double by 2020, growing from $91.5 billion in 2016 to more than $188 billion in 2020. Given the rapid pace of change in this field as well as in associated areas such as machine learning and AI, robots play an increasingly important role in business and life in general. This is not without raising questions, challenges and fear. That is why, last week, the Global Open Innovation Network gathered more than 70 attendees including large corporations, startups, investors and key opinion leaders to discuss the future of robotics.

The event kicked off with a panel discussion between:

  • Valery Komissarova, Principal at Grishin Robotics,
  • Shelley Zhuang, Founder and Managing Partner at 11.2 Capital
  • Gareth Keane, Investment Manager at Qualcomm Ventures
  • Maroane Abdallaoui, Open Innovation Manager at PRIME

Robotics is a technology that involves the creation of robots, devices that can move and react to sensory inputs. All panelists agreed to say that robotics involve some degree of autonomy.

While robots have been used for years now (the washing machine is a perfect example), it has only been recently since the key enabling technologies for robotics became more accessible. With the development of deep learning, reinforcement learning, imitation learning and meta learning in the past few years, the software to teach robots and enable better autonomy is now proficient enough. Moreover, there are fewer barriers to entry as the cost of hardware such as sensors, manipulation platform, mobility platforms is decreasing. At the end, it is all about the return: if you can build an automated machine that will solve a problem for a cheaper cost than labor, it will eventually get traction.

Robotics is on the rise but mostly on the B2B market. Consumers are a very challenging audience compared to enterprises. Selling to customers requires more social abilities, it is not only about solving problems but it is is also about feelings and sensations. Apart from Alexa or Siri, we cannot name that many successful B2C robotics use cases. However, B2B use cases are numerous: we can think about the use of robotics in the last mile logistics (groceries delivery), in agriculture (fruit picking), in construction (automation of dangerous task) or in the personal transportation industry (autonomous vehicle). Selling to enterprises is easier and given the costs, robotics companies can generate more revenue through this channel.

Robotics is on the rise but startups still face a lot of challenges to innovate in this industry: hardware remains expensive, especially in the U.S.A, making it hard for American startups to innovate as fast as Chinese startups. Robots are very complex and have multiple stacks: mechanics, electronics, programming, etc. The competition from Chinese startups is real as China is the world’s faster-growing robotics market and vast manufacturing sector where companies are under pressure to automate.

Robotics is on the rise but its rise needs regulation. Who is liable for decision making achieved by robots such as self-driving cars? New laws on AI and Robotics need to be enacted to tackle these legal and insurance liability issues.

After such an interesting discussion, some of the groundbreaking startups working in this space were featured at the event and had an opportunity to meet with members of the Global Open Innovation Network to delve into their solutions in more detail and explore potential collaboration opportunities.

The 5 startups that presented were:

  • Drive.ai is a Silicon Valley startup founded by former lab mates out of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. They are creating AI software for autonomous vehicles using deep learning, which they believe is the key to the future of transportation.
  • Krtkl (“critical”) makes the only widely deployable, deeply embedded fog compute platform on the market. snickerdoodle is a full-stack solution built for flexible, “software-defined everything” applications.
  • Robolink is an education company that offers robotics or drone kits, and videos to help students learn to build robots or code. The company’s product portfolio include CoDrone, a tiny quadcopter drone that allows its users to program it to do whatever they want; and Rokit Smart, a kit that enables students to learn and teach robotics.
  • Ripcord is a robotic digitization company and is on a mission to take the world paperless. Ripcord is transforming the $25B records management industry.
  • Kambria from Ohmni Labs is an open innovation platform that will foster a collaborative ecosystem, with the goal of dramatically accelerating development and adoption of the world’s most advanced robotics technology.

 

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