Robotics Mission to California part II – Opportunities for start-ups
The Technology Strategy Board has sent some innovative UK start-ups and SMEs that specialise in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) on a week-long programme and tour in the US to meet potential investors, customer and supply chain partners, along with networking opportunities to generate contacts, ideas and potential funding for their company.
Harry Gee, founder of Agilic Ltd (a start-up based at The Bristol Robotics lab technology incubator) and maker of the PiBot, shares his thoughts of the visit.
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.
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.
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.
Harry Gee, founder of Agilic Ltd, a start-up based at The Bristol Robotics lab technology incubator.