RoboBusiness San Jose - September 28-29 Acorn exhibited at this year’s RoboBusiness Conference at the San Jose Convention Center – the conference was well attended, with over 2,000 attendees from over 20 countries discussing the latest trends in robotics. This is our second year at the conference, and the attendance seems to be growing each year, which we’ll take as a good sign for the robotics industry.
Some observations/trends we saw at the show:
The market is showing signs of maturing, as evidenced by the trend towards platforms. In early stage technology markets, there are generally no standards or building blocks – companies generally focus on solutions. As the market grows and matures, fundamental building blocks or platforms emerge, which allow for new entrants into the market to quickly and efficiently build new products based on these blocks, with their “value add” being the integration and application layer (be it hardware, software, or some combination).
Another sign of market maturity is the availability of open source designs/software platforms. In the robotics space, the open source Robot Operating System is being used on the Rethink Robotic’s Sawyer Robot, and is available with an open source SDK.
Stanley Tools showed a robotics platform/base that can be accessorized to meet specific needs. Companies such as BlackDog Robotics showed it’s modular robotic platform that is easily configured and repaired by users. Component suppliers are now offering their products specifically designed for robotic applications – lower cost/higher precision motors, controllers, Lidar systems, etc.
Applications for robotics are trickling down beyond manufacturing and expanding rapidly into the service sector. Companies are utilizing robots for things such as spraying insulation for buildings, preparing food, serving beer, and assisting customers in retail stores (the next time you visit a Lowe’s, you may run into a robot which can help you find that tool you’re looking for), disinfecting hospital rooms, and delivering hospital supplies to rooms/patients, robot-based RFID readers, etc.
Software, and specifically artificial intelligent software is playing an ever increasing role in the growth of robotics. On the manufacturing side, robots are learning how to work collaboratively, adapting to changes/variabilities in the manufacturing process, as well as developing an “awareness” of their surroundings/environment and the ability to react accordingly.
Other robots interacting with humans are being developed that can recognize facial expressions/tone of voice and context and adapt it’s response accordingly.
The growth in the applications of robotics is a worldwide phenomenon – companies from Europe, Australia, China, Japan, Korea were in attendance at the show.
As these robots move more mainstream and their production volumes increase, design for manufacturability (DFM) and cost are becoming increasingly important factors – many robotics companies are thinking more about how to design a robot for manufacturability from their initial stages of conceptualization. which is a shift from the pure research mode. That, of course, is music to Acorn’s ears!
Looking forward to next years’ show!
Ken Haven has been CEO of Acorn Product Development since the company’s founding in 1993. Ken has more than 25 years of product development experience including technical leadership roles with NeXT Computer, Attain, Inc., and Hewlett-Packard. He holds MS and BS degrees in mechanical engineering from Cornell University.