December 18, 2014      

Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator

Semiconductor manufacturer Qualcomm, with a market cap just shy of $135 billion, has partnered with Boulder, Colo.-based Techstars to launch an accelerator for startups operating in the robotics and intelligent machines space.

Techstars, together with other corporate partners, has established similar accelerators in eight other cities since its founding in 2006.

brain chip

For Qualcomm, with an eye toward marrying robotics and the use of its neuromorphic chips, which model in silicon “the massively parallel way the brain processes information, as billions of neurons and trillions of synapses respond to sensory inputs such as visual and auditory stimuli,” could offer a quantum leap in nex-gen robot information processing and energy conservation.

Qualcomm’s investment in Brain Corp., a neuroscience startup situated at its San Diego headquarters, offers a glimpse as to the chipmaker’s burgeoning interest in robotics, as well as “more recently with its own growing staff that has been quietly working for the past five years on algorithms to mimic brain functions as well as hardware to execute them.”

Qualcomm renovated space for the accelerator — also in its headquarters building — and pledged $1 million in funding. The company will select 10 companies for Techstars to mentor over the four-month program, slated to begin May 26, 2015. Applications for the 16-week program accepted through Feb. 22.

“For startups admitted to its accelerators,” reported Xconomy, “Techstars provides $20,000 in seed funding, mentoring provided by experienced entrepreneurs, and access to Techstars? network of mentors, alumni, and corporate partners.” All in exchange for part ownership in each company amounting to 7 to 10 percent.

accelerator robots

Upon completion (September 15, 2015), participants will be able to leverage Techstars’ network of over 3,000 entrepreneurs, mentors, investors, and corporate partners.

“The scale and pace of smartphone technology development is having a growing impact on many other technology sectors, and robotics is no exception,” said Matt Grob, chief technology officer of Qualcomm. “At Qualcomm, we work to provide entrepreneurs and innovators worldwide with the technologies that will help them transform the way we work, live and play, and this robotics accelerator is just one example of how we are trying to achieve that goal.”

“Robotics is a hugely untapped frontier that is quickly becoming a focus for Techstars given recent tech advances that let machines be prototyped faster and easier than ever before,” added David Cohen, managing partner at Techstars. “We have already had a number of successful robotics companies coming out of Techstars and are excited to see what this new batch of companies will achieve given the support they’ll receive from Qualcomm, particularly given the company’s deep expertise in mobile.”

Neuromorphic chips

MIT’s Technology Review, in comparing the neuromorphics to chips of the more traditional von Neumann architecture, wrote, “Instead of modeling the chips as closely as possible on actual brain biology, Qualcomm’s project emulates aspects of the brain’s behavior. For instance, the chips encode and transmit data in a way that mimics the electrical spikes generated in the brain as it responds to sensory information.”

‘Even with this digital representation, we can reproduce a huge range of behaviors we see in biology,” said M. Anthony Lewis, project engineer.

“Qualcomm is especially interested in the possibility that neuromorphic chips could transform smartphones and other mobile devices [as well as robots] into cognitive companions that pay attention to your actions and surroundings and learn your habits over time,” said the MIT Technology Review.

“If you and your device can perceive the environment in the same way, your device will be better able to understand your intentions and anticipate your needs,” said Samir Kumar, a business development director at Qualcomm’s research lab.

San Diego connections

Tight San Diego connections for the program go beyond Qualcomm and Brain, as Techstars recently hired San Diego hometown boy Ryan Kuder to run the accelerator.

“We are working our hardest to find great robotics startups to move to San Diego and become awesome companies,” Kuder said. “We want you to be as successful as you can be, because we are going to be investing in your company.”

In addition to Kuder, Qualcomm pulled in the Jacobs School of Engineering at the University of California, San Diego as another participant. UC San Diego is planning its own robotics institute that will emphasize consumer robotics.

See related: UC San Diego Licenses Technology to WowWee for MiP Robot

“The effort was conceived,” said Xconomy’s Bruce Bigelow, “as a way to put San Diego on the map as an up-and-coming innovation hub in robotics, create inroads for Qualcomm’s wireless technologies, and enable UC San Diego to join the ranks of elite universities already leading the nation in robotics R&D.”

About Techstars

TechStars is a mentorship-driven startup accelerator founded by David Cohen and Foundry Group’s managing director Brad Feld. TechStars’ mentors include Foursquare CEO Dennis Crowley, Tumblr CEO David Karp, HubSpot co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah, and Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures. Some of the prominent graduates of the program include SendGrid, Digital Ocean, Shuttlecloud, and OnSwipe.