I recently interviewed Andra Keay, Managing Director at Silicon Valley Robotics, about the opportunities and challenges she sees in the robotic community. She is a Robot Startup Evangelist, Founder at Robot Launchpad, Managing Director at Silicon Valley Robotics, and Co-Founder at Robot Garden. Andra also is the organizer and lead evangelist of the very popular Silicon Valley Robot Block Party I was thrilled that she could spend a few minutes with us.
Q: Briefly describe one robotic project that you have learned about this year.
Keay: Silicon Valley Robotics is the industry group for robotics companies and startups. What I love most about what I do is seeing startups emerge, making the transition from research to real world. I think the most exciting company of the last year is Unbounded Robotics. What’s crazy good about this team is that they have gone from idea to product in 9 months and they’ve built an incredibly sophisticated robot, but lowered the price point by a factor of 10.
Q: Based on issues you have seen in your community, what are some key “lessons learned” from the last 12 months?
Keay: But you don’t see breakthroughs every day. Unbounded were an outlier. They are a very strong team with a lot of experience. If you follow the research in robotics, then, it can sometimes seem like change is a long time coming. And for a startup this can be very frustrating also, as robotics doesn’t have the rapid development cycle of more purely software oriented industries. It can be hard to find funding and then your early stage funds need to stretch further.
Q: Based on issues you have seen in your community, what are some of the significant challenges/ opportunities that still remain?
Keay: I see a lot of potential for early customer development work building better value propositions before getting too locked down in design and prototyping. At the very least, early stage robotics companies should be engaging in business development in parallel with engineering, ‘cause you need to get to the money to fund your first builds.
Robotics is so multidisciplinary that you have a very eclectic reference shelf ranging from cognitive science to computer programming, business development to industrial design, and every aspect of mechanical and electrical engineering in between. There’s an overlap with biological systems work and new materials technologies, too. My favorite resource is Robohub.org because it provides information across a very broad spectrum.
Q. Is there a question or issue you would like to ask the readers: “ask the audience”?
Keay: How do you assess the potential markets for new technologies? Particularly the ‘blue ocean’ prospects? Or perhaps just, what sort of robots would you like to see being built?
We’re seeing a good deal of interest in robotics from many of the companies we work with. Our thanks to Keay for sharing her experience. Please let us know if you have any ideas of any robots you would like to see built.