September 05, 2014      

Altered states

Live events can be magical places for you and your ideas to playfully romp around, to be confronted with opposing viewpoints, to shift perspectives in your thinking, and maybe even to challenge your notions of what you are doing and why.

It?s powerful partying for your intellect and creativity.

RoboBusiness is one such magical place, and the people who put it together make sure that there are enough keynoters, session speakers and panelists floating through the event program capable of stopping your thinking in its tracks.

Andy McAfee, Cynthia Breazeal and Pam Henderson are but three who can temporarily?maybe even permanently?alter perspectives and rock your world.


This October will be my third RoboBusiness event (Pittsburgh and Silicon Valley were the others), and I can see in this year?s program the familiar pattern of cool keynotes liberally sprinkled across the event descriptions that I?ll definitely attend. Andy, Cynthia and Pam are but three of many on my dance card.

These are the encounters that I?ll carry around for a long time after the event: exciting new ideas coming alive on stage that will later lead me to books, journal articles, film, podcasts, TED talks, interesting people and a whole lot of other stuff that I would never have discovered without the help of RoboBusiness.

I?m grateful for it all.


RoboBusiness is unique in that it?s not a concrete this or that in what it is all about. It?s malleable, and that?s a good thing for me. It?s open and ready.

Welcomingly available for most anything that?s happening in robotics, RoboBusiness defies stereotypes. The annual event, now celebrating its tenth anniversary, is a lot like robotics itself: constantly changing and evolving but still staying true to robotics.

It?s difficult to define what exactly RoboBusiness is. Exactly because it?s unpredictable is what piques my interest right away. That?s part of the fun of browsing the program guide.

The half-day of advanced manufacturing and factory of the future topics?four hours in four sessions, and all of it fascinating and thought provoking?is a place I?ll definitely want to be.

The Pitchfire is another. It?s a big crowd favorite jam-packed with people curious to watch the fortunes of startups and their projects as each gets grilled by a panel of veteran investors. The startups, a bright and feisty lot, are passionate and provocative with their presentations, and fun to watch.

From advanced manufacturing to the Pitchfire is like travelling between two differing worlds and energy levels, yet it?s all still robotics. And the RoboBusiness folks tell me that it is deliberately planned that way.

Sadly, last year?s Pitchfire winner (beating out 14 others), Unbounded Robotics, just shuttered its doors: it?s out of business, not because of the failure of its product, which was a raging success even at last January?s Consumer Electronics Show, but rather over issues totally unrelated to the heady engineering and inventiveness of its builders.

See more on that tale here: Unbounded Robotics Shutdown: A Lesson for All Startups. After winning the event, Melonee Wise, the company?s CEO and co-founder) was ecstatic about the future of Unbounded, saying, ?Our Pitchfire win was a validation that we have a good business plan.?

When the crowd files out of the Pitchfire, I?ll be planning a look-see at Smartphone Technology Powering the Future of Mobile Robotics. Yes! More insight into IT?s advance deeper into robotics, which more and more is looking like robots are a new form factor for IT.

Then circle a must-see: 3D Printing for Robotics Development, as once again advanced manufacturing collides with robotics.

Plan your trip well

Browsing the RoboBusiness program guide ahead of hand is a definite chore well worth the time. I try to group compatible topics together, and then switch up by linking to something completely different and more offbeat just to reorient my head for an hour or two.

I deliberately save a stroll through the expo area for the end of the day. There?s way too much eye candy there that will distract me from the sessions and keynotes. Later, over a glass of wine (Yes, they serve wine and food at receptions right in the expo area), I can stroll and mingle and buttonhole and chat and network, all the while picking off shrimp tempura and cheese-filled croissants from waiters gliding by with trays of goodies.

How cool is that?

Later, alone with my thoughts, I can reflect and synthesize and write. New thoughts will arise from new connections fostered by what I experienced during the day.

That RoboBusiness is three days, forty-eight speakers and thirty-four sessions is a lot of exploration to browse, circle and plan for.