Business conclaves are always an excellent barometer of the state of the industry they’re focused on. And the Robotics Trends RoboBusiness Leadership Summit 2011, held last week in Boston, was no exception. Optimism reigned supreme throughout the two-day event, reflecting a view that the robotics industry was now back and stronger than ever, following months of slowed performance brought on by the recession.
Event founder and Chairman Dan Kara’s opening speech noted what would be one of the event’s key themes—namely, that while dirty, dull, and dangerous robotics tasks will remain at the core of the jobs robots will be expected to perform, the industry has matured to a point where roboticists can add another vital category to the aforementioned three: autonomy.
As Kara and others at the conference suggested, autonomy might well become robotics’ new killer app, which is to say that robotics systems, whether located in cars, underwater vehicles, aerial combat drones, or hospital corridors will have an ever-increasing ability to make routine decisions on their own, allowing their operators to focus on strategies, coordination, and other higher-level functions for which we humans are best suited.
Shortly after Kara’s opening remarks, iRobot founder Colin Angle vividly illustrated the dramatic impact robotics technology is already having on our world by showing two brief film clips of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. In the first, soldiers inspecting a car suffered injuries (though fortunately not severe). When the booby-trapped vehicle suddenly exploded, the troops quickly went into crisis mode. As they rushed to rescue the wounded and secure the area, you could plainly hear their tense, shouted commands. In the second video, an iRobot PackBot approached another suspicious car. Again the car exploded in a billow of smoke. This time the soldiers’ reaction was laughter. The robot was destroyed. But not a single soldier was hurt.
Indeed, throughout the event, there seemed a sense among the participants that this was the year when robots had proven their worth to the world. In the preceding months, not only had robots helped track down some of this nation’s most dangerous enemies, they were integral to the disaster recovery efforts in the Gulf of Mexico and at the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
After such illustrious performances, their greatest role might still lie ahead: caring for the world’s growing elderly and disabled populations, as in-home assistants and helpers in hospitals. Doing so will require a plethora of new technologies and legions of newly educated engineers to create them. The ever-present conversations that took place during the networking periods served as proof that the attendees and speakers were enthusiastically in pursuit of those solutions—and they were looking among their peers for help with developing them.
The excitement generated at a business event that occurs when that industry is poised for dramatic growth is as easy to sense as flames from a fire. And it is the sincere hope among all of us at Robotics Trends that this excitement will remain in the weeks ahead, and that the deals discussed will move forward in tandem.
As editor of Robotics Trends, I wish to sincerely thank all of you for attending and for sharing your knowledge, your insights, and your enthusiasm for the benefit of our industry.
Let’s keep the process moving forward. In the coming days we will be posting a growing library of videos and documents related to the event, in addition to the industry news and analysis pieces that are Robotics Trends’ mainstays. I hope that this invaluable body of knowledge will help serve as a catalyst for all those interested in building their robotics’ businesses and that the idea sharing and networking will continue.
I am happy to have become personally acquainted with so many of you who attended the event. And I look forward to seeing you once again, when we reconvene next October for RoboBusiness 2012 in Pittsburgh.