Wednesday, June 20, 2012

MegaTrend Watch: Innovating with Robotics

Pictured: A Still From The Film "Robot & Frank"
In a recent article, "THE GLOBAL 20: The Big Trends That Are Changing The World" Business Insider wrote of robotics "The potential growth in this sector is enormous," noting "service robots will become increasingly common. Consumer, cleaning, and surgical robots already exist. These range from relatively simple consumer robots like the Roomba to increasingly sophisticated tools for heart surgeons."

At the upcoming Back End of Innovation conference, Vice Admiral (Ret.) Joseph W. Dyer, iRobot Corporation will be discussing "The People Side of Innovation: A Toolbox" in a Kick-off keynote, and Famed Futurist, Physicist, TV Personality and co-founder of the string field theory,Michio Kaku discussed some near-future automation and robotics trends at the recent Front End of Innovation 2012, so naturally we were interested in diving in to this MegaTrend further. What were the leadership forces behind it, and how were companies bringing innovative robotics technologies to market?

Perhaps taking this trend from on-the-edge to mainstream here in the U.S., in June of 2011, President Obama called for "a national effort bringing together industry, universities, and the federal government to invest in the emerging technologies," specifically looking to establish "U.S. leadership in next-generation robotics" This PCAST slideshow underlines the initiative further, citing lost ground "in the production of high-tech products, including those resulting from U.S. innovation and inventions, and in manufacturing-associated R&D" as a reason for the initiative.

So, in the past year, have we seen an influx in robotics innovations? Smart Data Collective's Alex Olesker recently said no, citing the “Valley of Death” or "point where government funding tapers off but risk remains too high and rewards too obscure for private funding to kick in" noting iRobot's Roomba as the one successful consumer robot that persists. Olesker feels the answer will come from The Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) which "has announced a “grand challenge” for robot builders." iRobot's products do come from a military background, and are used in emergency situations as well, such as disaster relief in the aftermath of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, featured below.



But there are other possibilities as well: perhaps the answer lies in the health care industry or in education. This infographic on "Robot study buddies" points out some potential uses of robotics in schools, and the KATE project from FutureBots Humanoid Lab takes the idea one step closer to reality with a humanoid bot intended to interact with children. In health care, 'Snakebots' may soon aid doctors in surgery and several companies are moving to develop robots that can provide in-home services, for example, to the elderly. (The film Robot & Frank, pictured above, explores a humorous view of this very real possibility.)

Forbes reports that Dmitry Grishin, the co-founder and CEO of Russia Internet giant Mail.Ru. has launched a new $25 million fund headquartered in New York, (again citing iRobot as a company on the forefront of this industry.) The Forbes article notes that "for many venture investors, betting on robotics is not palatable because it is quite risky and can take longer than the typical five to seven years to develop a company," but for companies who have room for riskier projects in their innovation portfolio, it seems to us that involvement in robotics is right on trend. A similar piece in The Atlantic states that "Grishin sees particular potential in the field of personal robots, he told me, for the automation of everyday necessities like home maintenance, education, healthcare, entertainment, and transportation."

Are you exploring robotics? If so, what are your strategies for managing innovation in this risky, but trending field? Tweet at us with your ideas and experiences, or comment below to share.

To learn more, join us for "The People Side of Innovation: A Toolbox" with Vice Admiral (Ret.) Joseph W. Dyer,  iRobot Corporation on Tuesday, October 9th 2012 at Back End of Innovation. Save 15% off the standard registration rate with code BEI12BLOG. Visit the website to register or learn more.

Michelle LeBlanc is a Social Media Strategist at IIR USA with a specialization in marketing...and an Asimov fan on the side. She may be reached at mleblanc@iirusa.com.
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