May 16, 2014

Robotic Innovation: Playing the Long Game with Competition

We live in a new age of innovation—and that’s not just in terms of robotics. Entrepreneurs, startups, and independent crowd-funded ventures of all kinds now have unprecedented access to their markets through alternative funding mechanisms, new ways of promoting their projects, and increased connectivity with colleagues, investors, and more.

googlecarIn the realm of robotics, this has never been more apparent. From tech giants like Google and Amazon to high schoolers and “armchair engineers,” robot innovation in 2014 can come from virtually anywhere.

Does that mean that making robots is easy? Hardly. The pervasiveness of robotics today means that competition will likely continue to intensify in the coming decades—it also means that those companies looking to excel in this competitive space will need more than just an idea and an engineer. They’ll also need focus, dedication, and an ability to persevere.

If Google Can’t…

Today, it almost seems like Google is investing in robotics firms and ventures all the time, acquiring Boston Dynamics, Redwood Robotics, and more, all in a matter of months. In recent years they’ve also been pioneering the world’s first autonomous, driverless car. Surely, when a tech goliath like Google turns toward autonomous robotics, they’ll become the clear market dominator, right?

Not so fast—Grant Templeton of notes that established car manufacturers may still have an edge, due to their close connections with parts manufacturers. In addition, Google’s campaign to clear legal hurdles for autonomous cars may also essentially “clear a path” for its competitors.

“Google gets most of the credit for self-driving cars in general, but that by no means guarantees it will profit from them,” says Templeton. As much credibility as Google has in the tech space, it has just as little in the manufacturing realm. Robotics’ inherent crossover between software and hardware means that virtually anyone from those two sectors can push forward the next great idea, if given appropriate support.

…Then Who Can?

The answer is simple: Virtually anybody. From autonomous robots like Deka Arm—a near-fully functional robotic limb that can pick up fragile objects gently and snatch items thrown at it out of mid-air—to our very own TUGs, robotic innovation knows no bounds.

Recently, we’ve seen that game-changing robotics ideas can come out of universities (which are increasingly establishing their own robotics departments); out of high school robotics competitions; or, they can come from a simple one-minute pitch at a robotics startup competition like Robohub Launch. A commercially successful robot can sprout from an idea to fully-funded venture through crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. Even magicians are starting to experiment with robots, with the help of technologists, of course.

A Long Game

All this competition means that robotics companies must play the “long game”—dynamically reacting to the projects that rise to the top, utilizing new concepts and functions, and sticking to the game plan even as competition intensifies and presents new challenges.

At Aethon, we could have stopped with our TUG autonomous robots, but we didn’t. And like our contemporaries, we don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.

Additional articles