Robots are no longer just mythical machines from science fiction. from self-driving cars to flying drones, robots are on the move. Robots are developing in almost every area, from agriculture, manufacture and medicine to the military, education and our own homes. As a start-up I’m particularly excited by the opportunities and business potential within this fledgling industry.
I’ve spent the past week in California with a group of 8 small and medium sized companies, discovering the latest and greatest in robotics. The week-long trip, organised by the Technology Strategy Board, has been a privileged behind-the-scenes tour of the industry, witnessing state of the art robotics and contemplating the growing opportunities in this brave new world.
Consumer goods or industry solutions?
The robotics industry is only at the beginning of its journey, and robotics in the real world is really only just beginning – a notion that was emphasised by Dr. Todd Hylton, Senior Vice President at Brain Corp, during a debate on the future of robotics. ‘How many robots have you seen today?’ asked Todd. We can of course expect this to change in the not-too-distant future, with Brain Corp and dozens of other companies now on a mission to help grow this day-to-day interaction from zero to many for the average citizen.
A popular view is that robots are going to be the next mass consumer wave, following on from laptops, smartphones and tablets. Personally I feel differently. Whilst I believe some robots are going to break into mass markets this way, I think the real impact of robotics is going to be surprising and will have a broader impact in society. Robotics is about convergence from a much wider base of science and technology, ranging from material science, software, psychology, and even biology. As such, the way these come together I think is going to create new products, services and technologies that are going to be as amazing as they will be hard to predict.
A visit to Stanford Research Institute highlights this view. One project in progress is the totally astounding micro manufacturing robots. These tiny robotic workers are building super materials, developing one tiny piece at a time. This technology uses physics, electronics, material science and programming techniques that are all pretty basic when looked at independently. However, when you bring them together something completely new emerges. I believe this will be a common story as robotics develops.
Preparing for the future
My company, Agilic Ltd, is in the process of developing robotic solutions for use in education. Engaging individuals in robotics at an early age will, I believe, help shape an increasingly robotic-centric society that can continue the development of robot technology to deliver freedom and intelligence in the future.
When it comes to start-ups, I believe that there are boundless opportunities within the robotics industry – from developing new technology to identifying market applications for robotics. It really is a booming industry, and I’m incredibly excited to help it evolve over the next few years.
AUVSI has grown to become the world’s largest non-profit organisation devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community and will often represent their industries views to Congress.
When the US Government mandated the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) to open the US skies to unmanned aircraft by 2015, AUVSI released a study that found 100,000 jobs would be created and that the associated economic impact of $82 billion would be realised within 10 years as a result.
So for three of our Mission companies, the opportunity to meet up with some of the world’s leading Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) developers at the centre of one of the world’s largest and most progressive markets for UAS is quite a ‘big deal’. Each have developed new technologies that could unlock the widespread adoption of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) for civil applications by increasing flight times, reducing weight and size and designing in safety.
Remote Operate Aerial Endurance Vehicles
Multi-rotor copters are becoming the UAS of choice, mainly because of their availability and price. Around $500 will get you a top of the range fully loaded quadcopter with GPS, auto-pilot and controller. However, flight times are fairly limited, around 15-20 minutes at best. AuraTech has developed Remote Operate Aerial Endurance Vehicle (ROAEV) which boasts flight times in excess of 12 hours. These devices will not only make remote inspection and the process of surveying more efficient, but they can now be thought of as platforms for service delivery.
Maplebird is in the process of developing the smallest UAS in the world and they are doing this by turning to nature. Their device is smaller and lighter than an average smart phone and achieves flight through flapping insect-like wings at incredible frequencies. By drawing inspiration from the humble honey bee, not only is flight incredibly power efficient, but it is also highly controllable, making its ability to cope with windy conditions second to none. Such a small UAS inevitably means that the power available to the onboard sensors is limited. The solution has once again been found by nature which has enabled Maplebird to develop energy efficient navigation and collision avoidance systems. This tiny bio-inspired device is not only well suited for industrial plant inspection or the emergency services, but also, rather fittingly, could be used to help with agricultural pollination.
Hiding the complexity of Formal Methods
D-RisQ is in the business of proving that software systems work. This is considerably more difficult to do than it sounds, especially when the software systems learn. However, the software design tools that D-RisQ have developed hide the complexity of Formal Methods from the software developers and allow them to focus on capturing system requirements. Their suite of tools is then able to test the software for failure modes and can verify and qualify that all the requirements have been met. The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) are particularly interested in D-RisQ’s technology. If the CAA’s set of regulations for civil airspace can drive the requirements for UAS onboard software then it is finally possible to rapidly certify UAS as safe to fly. Not only that, it will also be possible to certify that fully autonomous UAS operating beyond the visual line of sight (BVLoS) of the operator are also safe to fly. This is a game changer, not only for the UAS industry, but also for every other sector that is looking to certify autonomous robots, whether in agriculture, assisted living, blue light services, healthcare, manufacturing, transport or space.
The first day of the Mission proved to be a very interesting day indeed.
By Phil Williams, the programme manager of the UK Robotics & Autonomous Systems SIG
Day 4 saw the Robotics Mission group delve into the heart of Silicon Valley with visits to leading industrial robot company Precise Automation, creators of the DaVinci robot surgical device, Intuitive Surgical and inventors of many of the tech advances we take for granted, SRI International (formerly Stanford Research Labs). The day closed with a co-hosted networking event with the industry’s main trade organisation, Silicon Valley Robotics.
After the transfer from San Diego to Silicon Valley, Day 4 kicked off with a ‘Doing Business in the USA’ masterclass from law-firm Squire Patton Boggs covering immigration, tax, employment and litigation with ex-pat Martin Hitch from Bossa Nova Robotics sharing the inside story of a Brit in Silicon Valley. A trip to legendary research institute PARC was followed by a visit to Tesla supplier and Level 5 OEM manufacturer E-systems and their tele-presence spin-off Anybots.
Robotics Mission company, Agilic has launched its first product Tiddlybot through a campaign on Kickstarter. In the first 5 days, the campaign has already reached one-third of its funding total.
If a week’s worth of meetings travelling the length of California wasn’t enough, Agilic’s founder, Harry Gee has found time and enough wifi between meetings to launch the campaign. Harry is staying in the US for the next two weeks to continue building support for the products, he said,
“Launching the TiddlyBot during the Robotics Mission has been a lot of fun. Success with Kickstarter is often about exposure and its been good to talk about TiddlyBot in the meetings we’ve had. The Campaign still has a long way to go but the mission has helped make the good start.”
Want to build your own robot? Take a look at the project’s Kickstarter video…
Day 2 saw the Robotics Mission delegates head to Qualcomm’s Research Campus to meet stealth-mode startup, Brain Corporation, creators of artificial nervous systems for robots. After a tour of leading marine robot company, SeaBotix and a briefing with The Maritime Alliance the key network for innovators in marine innovation or “blue tech”, it was time to bid farewell to San Diego and fly to San Jose for the Silicon Valley leg of the trip.
Its 8am on a Friday morning and I’m sitting in a busy airport lounge waiting for my flight to San Diego. Why? Because this week is the kick off the week-long entrepreneur Mission to California for UK companies working in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) – and it’s destined to be an inspiring one.
The eight UK companies going on this mission are the cream of the crop in terms of robotics and autonomous systems and this week could potentially shape the future of some of these amazing organisations. They went through a tough, competitive process to get a place on this mission and were chosen for all the right reasons – they are the best of the best. Not only are they the best, however, they are also interesting. The companies are involved in work on everything from toys that operate autonomously to intelligent furniture and sophisticated robot hands that have human features. These are all exciting and potentially market changing technologies and we want UK companies to be ahead of the game in these areas.
What’s also exciting is that these companies are all SMEs, run by entrepreneurs and in many cases at the early stages of their product development. Who knows where this mission could lead them?
It’s also an exciting time for Robotics and Autonomous Systems in the UK as a whole and the Government is truly behind this innovative, flourishing sector.
David Willets, Minister of State for Universities and Science, recently said: “Robots acting independently of human control – which can learn, adapt and take decisions – will revolutionise our economy and society over the next 20 years.” This certainly does ring true, especially when you explore the potential that just these eight companies are offering.
At the same time, robotics and autonomous systems have also been identified as one of the Government’s “Eight Great Technologies” – technologies that have the potential to make the UK a global leader. As a result, £600 million pounds of investment has been put into these key areas, with RAS having a share of that. This investment money was made available for businesses working in these eight technology areas at the start of the year and is likely to continue to receive more funding and support moving forward. This is helping more SME’s to commercialise their products faster and is exactly what we need to boost the UK economy.
With this in mind, the Robotics and Autonomous Systems Mission is an important one for us at the UK’s innovation agency, the Technology Strategy Board.
It’s been a long week at the Technology Strategy Board so far. As lead Technologist at the UK’s Innovation Agency, life is always busy, but this week I have been swept off my feet as we have been working on the final touches for the mission.
Tuesday was one of the busiest days so far as it was the Mission launch event. The day was designed to prepare the companies for what is going to be an intense and potentially game changing week for them and their businesses. We guided them through everything they need to know, from how to ‘do business’ in San Diego and Silicon Valley, right through to how to pitch to a US audience and all of the regulation our entrepreneurs need to be mindful of when looking to take their business in to US market.
With the effort that has been put in, I know the agenda for the week ahead won’t disappoint and sitting here in this airport I am full of confidence that we are about to see potentially one of the best missions yet.
David Willets will be there and on Monday he will be kicking off the week with a round table debate on the future of Robotics. Our companies will spend their time getting involved in 1-2-1 meetings, pitching sessions and meeting with key innovators across the US RAS landscape which they may never have had rubbed shoulders with if they had tried to go it alone.
Speaking from experience of successfully working in both San Diego and Silicon Valley, I have some straightforward advice to the companies on the mission: To be most effective, be clear on your business along with the value proposition of your products. This will enable you to engage with the Silicon Valley ethos of openness, intrigue and willingness.
New ideas and products intrigue the California technology gurus. They are open to identifying partnership opportunities and, if you are of the ‘right stuff’, which our companies definitely are, they will be willing to make those all important connections.
And so it begins…
Huw Davies is Lead Technologist at the Technology Strategy Board, responsible for Robotics, Electronics and Sensors.
UK’s Innovation Agency Commences ‘Robotics and Autonomous Systems Entrepreneur Mission 2014’ in California
SAN FRANCISCO – June 23, 2014 – The Technology Strategy Board, the UK’s innovation agency, today embarks on the ‘Robotics and Autonomous Systems Mission 2014’ with eight robotics companies from the UK. The mission will allow these companies to showcase their technology to peers, partners, investors and potential customers.
The eight selected robotics companies represent the very best that the British robotics and autonomous systems industry has to offer, showcasing the breadth and depth of innovation within British robotics. The technologies range from an entrepreneur that has created a new robot based on the Raspberry Pi mini-computer, to one company designing robots to help the elderly and another company creating the world’s smallest Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.
Mission activities begin today as the eight companies and representatives from The Technology Strategy Board venture to San Diego where they will meet with representatives from industry-leading maritime and robotics companies. The San Diego leg of the mission will be headlined by a roundtable discussion keynoted by Rt Hon. David Willetts, the Minister of State for Universities and Science.
Following events in San Diego, the mission will travel to Silicon Valley and San Francisco where the companies will continue with a packed agenda of briefings and partnership discussions with leading US robotics companies, academic organizations and research institutions as well as meeting with investors to explore US funding opportunities focused on innovation in the field of robotics. The Mission will end on Friday 27 June in San Francisco.
NOTES TO EDITORS
The companies earned their place on the Mission by demonstrating the potential of their technologies to the Technology Strategy Board.
The participants of 2014 Robotics and Autonomous Systems Mission are:
Agilic is a start-up based at The Bristol Robotics Lab technology Incubator. Agilic is developing a range of educational Robotics kits that inspire learning and play. The PiBot is based on the Raspberry Pi mini-computer, a low cost, credit-card sized computer that has gained worldwide adoption, it will allow anyone to build, program, and customise their own personal robot.
Advanced Unmanned Robotics & Automation TECHnology (AuraTech) was founded in 2012 and operates out of the Tees Valley in the North of England. AuraTech offers engineering and design consultancy services for remote technology applications, and is currently working on a Remote Operate Aerial Endurance Vehicle (ROAEV).
D-RisQ produces automated formal analysis tools that change the way the world develops safety critical systems and software in sectors where the consequences of failure -could be catastrophic including Aerospace, Defence, Nuclear Power, Rail, Automotive and Robotics. These tools cut the cost and time of development whilst ensuring safety requirements are met. Applicable to all business sectors, these tools have been used successfully on software systems for military aircraft.
MapleBird is at the forefront in the development of the smallest Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) in the world. This technology enables a range of small devices and opens up many possibilities, from sophisticated reconnaissance UAVs for civilian services and industrial plant inspection through to personal drones controlled through a smart phone.
Q-Bot is developing a robotics platform that can cost effectively survey, assess and apply treatments to existing buildings, without the cost and disruption of current insulation methods. With a focus on improving energy efficiency in buildings, Q-Bot provides real, scalable and cost effective solutions to reduce CO2 and enable affordable warmth.
Reach Robotics, founded in May 2013, is a robotics entertainment company based at the Bristol Robotics Lab incubator. The company has developed MechaMonsters – small, four-legged robots that can interact with their owners and each other (by playing games and challenging other MechaMonsters to duels). The Monsters can be customised physically and virtually, and are controlled through a smart phone app.
Sebastian Conran Associates (SCA) is a London-based product design and development studio that focuses on transforming science into culture to create robotic experiences in the home. Concepts under development include ‘MiRoCo’, a Mimetic Robotic Companion -designed to support and enhance peoples’ experience of later life by increasing their independence.
Shadow has a globally-recognised capability in taking cognitive robotics technology from the lab into the real world. Shadow’s key product is the Dexterous Hand, which gives robots the same capability and flexibility as the human hand, enabling a new generation of service robots for roles as varied as hazardous material handling and industrial quality control
About The Robotics and Autonomous Systems Mission 2014 (www.roboticsmission.cabbage.wpengine.com)
The Technology Strategy Board and UKTI are leading an entrepreneurs’ mission specialising in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) to California. It’s a unique week-long trip from 23-27 June 2014 for 10 of the UK’s most innovative start-ups and SMEs specialising in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS). The mission features a specially-developed programme for companies who want to lay the groundwork for expanding their business into one of the largest and most dynamic robotics markets in the world. The bespoke agenda is designed to provide a unique insight into the US robotics and autonomous systems landscape, open doors to customers and connect with robotics investors.
About The Technology Strategy Board (www.innovateuk.org)
The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency. Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy.
What will be the role of robotics in the workplace? How can startups in robotics become mass-market success stories? And what will the robotics industry look like in five, or even 50 years? Today, the Robotics Mission group joins academic, government and industry experts from California to explore “The Future of Robotics and Autonomous Systems” at a roundtable discussion.
The one-hour panel discussion and Q&A will begin at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time (9:30 pm BST) on Monday, June 23 in UCSD’s Calit2 Auditorium, Atkinson Hall. The event is open to the public and free of charge,and the session will be streamed live.
British and American researchers and executives who are not in San Diego this week. The webcast will subsequently be archived for on-demand viewing.
“The Qualcomm Institute is delighted to welcome the UK delegation to California, and we’re honored that our institute and UC San Diego are the first stop on a very ambitious and hectic five-day agenda,” said institute director Ramesh Rao, one of the leading faculty members involved in a robotics initiative at UC San Diego.
“California companies and investors also have a lot to learn from the early successes in Britain’s robotics industry, and it’s worth remembering that the industry in the UK and California owes much of its strength to the ideas and personnel coming out of the world-class universities in both places.”
During the panel discussion, UCSD Associate Vice Chancellor for Research Miroslav Krstic will welcome the UK delegation to the campus.
Willetts will deliver the keynote talk on UK science policy and the Conservative government’s efforts to nurture the startup environment for companies and investors in British robotics ventures – and his vision for cooperation between UK and California companies. Also on the panel:
• Ramesh Rao, Director, Qualcomm Institute and holder of the Qualcomm Endowed Chair in Information Technologies and Telecommunications in the Electrical and Computer Engineering department (moderator);
• Andra Keay, Managing Director, Silicon Valley Robotics, the leading networking association for robotics in Silicon Valley; and
• Rich Walker, Managing Director, Shadow Robot Company. Founded in 1987, Shadow Robot’s leading product is the Dexterous Hand, which gives robots the same capability and flexibility as the human hand with 20 degrees of freedom and over 100 sensors in a package the same size as a human hand.