Reflecting on a roller coaster year for robotics

Reflecting on a roller coaster year for robotics

Joyce, big thanks Sidopoulos and Peter Barrett, as well as Ken Goldberg. Filling in the last few days. I am thrilled by the positive response to the newsletter in recent months, and I wanted to keep the lights on while I was away. Three weeks is the longest time I’ve taken off work.

I visited a lot of museums (do yourself an favor and visit Edward Hopper at Whitney and Morris Hirshfield American Folk Art Museum — cannot recommend them enough) and spent some time in Aruba. I’m still not sure why flights are so cheap, but I can help you find a nice place to stay for $150 per night if you have any questions. There is also an excellent animal rescue. Make friends with a miniature donkey.

However, the moment you get off the plane at JFK you will be. . . Let’s just say that the inner peace you get from meditating on a white sandy beach every morning wears off faster than the tan. You suddenly find yourself in New York during 30-degree weather, and you are thrown back to the beginning of travel season. I’m available to help anyone in the Leeward Antilles who is interested in writing a newsletter.

It’s true that I’m back on the computer this week because we are less than a week. Week out from CES. Yesterday I spent hours combing through 1,600 emails that were not read in an inbox that was empty the day before I left. Without giving away too much, I can tell you that Actuator will have plenty of material at the show. Next week’s newsletter will likely be written from CES, or about CES.

Although we’ve seen robotics slowly creep in recent years, this feels very different. The simple fact that I, along with many others, have not been to the show in a few decades (January 2020 was a very lucky date for an event that brought 171,000 people across the globe into the same space) is another reason. Robotics has seen a revival in recent years, so it is likely that it will be present at the largest consumer electronics show.

To all my fellow journalists covering this space, a word to warn: Bad robots are not new. They are more common in the consumer space than elsewhere. People who are looking to spend a few hundred dollars on a home robotics system won’t do the same amount of research that it takes to choose a $100,000 system for their factory.

Claims can get exaggerated, things don’t go as planned, stuff breaks, and no one from the company is available to fix it. Be careful. There will be many bad robots mixed in with the positive ones. Multiple emails have been sent to me from companies claiming that they will bring the first consumer robot in the world to the show. We all know how absurd and false this claim is.

Automated mass production line using robots and automated machines that run by themselves. which are impossible to control by humans. Automation technology for business and industry. 3D illustration rendering

Image Credits Thamrongpat Theerathammakorn/Getty Images

Another important aspect of this is the extent to which CES Over the past decade, has evolved into an automotive show. This is a clear indication that automakers are becoming more aggressive in their pursuit of robots, either through investments or their own divisions. Last year’s show was very focused on Hyundai’s Boston Dynamics acquisition. The industry has also seen the impact of autonomous driving systems, which are less obvious but still very important. Vision systems, drones and Lidar are all here and robots will follow.

I received an email from CTA titled “Start your Year Off at CES 2023”, which I am going to do somewhat reluctantly. Even in normal years, CES is a chaotic and soul-destroying event. But after many years, it’s going be a lot. While it is annoying from the perspective of trying to enjoy the holidays, it makes sense from the point of view of trying to be the top of the tech news list. CES was the first tech show of the year and it isn’t slowing down. Ironically, CES is on a plane full hungover people. To The show.

Hyundai CES 2022 plug n drive

Image Credits Hyundai

It’s almost inevitable that the Actuator next week will be looking ahead to the year ahead due to the nature the show. A trio of more experienced people provided their 2022 predictions and debriefs right here. However, the week between Christmas Eve and New Years is supposed to be quiet reflection. Let’s take some time now and see if any prediction creeps in.

Although it’s a bit dramatic to suggest that 2022 was the year when robotics crashed back to Earth, there was undoubtedly a lot market correction. This will continue into the new year. There was a window of opportunity for robotics and automation to cruise on the forward momentum provided by the pandemic.

This was not something that you had to be a genius to understand. These forces will eventually come for us all. Let me make a positive observation: I have yet to find the person who changed their mind about robotics in all of these areas. While there is some disagreement about the details, people from all walks and business sectors still believe that robotics ubiquity will be a constant. This bodes well for the space.

However, 2022 ended on a less bullish note than it began. This has manifested itself in many different ways. From startup folding (we did an extensive piece on them here) to large-scale layoffs due to inability to raise enough funds. We will likely see more consolidation in the industry through the closure of companies and shuttered projects (most startups fail — I don’t need to tell that).

Warehouse workers

Image Credits Marko Geber/Getty Images

It’s not always good for people to lose their jobs. I have been laid off a few times. It’s a terrible experience, both financially and emotionally. I wouldn’t want it to happen to anyone. There may be a silver lining to all of this. Founders have a way to overcrowd the market. There is a sudden land rush when a product or idea brings in money. This is how bubbles are formed. You can turn economic despair into something wonderful if you have the right people and the right luck.

I see the industry growing stronger on the other end of this.

Roomba

Image Credits Brian Heater

This will include acquisitions. There are many reasons why a startup can’t see a viable way forward. Economic headwinds will only make these problems worse. The company with deep pockets knows that it’s easier to simply buy a company that has a track record than to try to remanufacture momentum. This is especially true given the time, resources, and brain power required to launch a robotics company.

Expect big companies to be more aggressive in acquiring robotics businesses once they have established their robotics strategies. If a company is in financial trouble due to economic factors or bad timing, it’s a good reason to buy. There are two major obstacles to this: (1) conglomerates are cutting their spending, and (2) the FTA has indicated that it will be more aggressive in its antitrust investigations. As expected, The Amazon/iRobot deal It was announced in August that it is facing exactly this.

The most important piece of robotics news that I missed in my time off was, by far, Intrinsic acquires Open Robotics. I am making a note to speak to the parties after CES. However, the deal is at the very minimum interesting. Alphabet/Google (via Intrinsic), has essentially purchased the for-profit components of the company, and not Open Source Robotics Foundation which is the stewardship of ROS.

wendy tan / Intrinsic

Image Credits Intrinsic

Brian Gerkey, co-founder and CEO, explains:

Intrinsic will acquire assets from these for profit subsidiaries, OSRC and OSRC SG. OSRF remains an independent nonprofit with the same mission. However, there are new faces and a stronger focus on governance, community engagement and other stewardship activities. This means that there is no disruption to the day-today activities in relation to OSRF’s core commitments to ROS, Gazebo and Open-RMF for the entire community.

Google will not own the open-source operating system, but it is buying many of the brains who helped to build it.

Another thing that I was somewhat disappointed about not being able to write about (nope. Not every dumb Elon tweet). It was San Francisco’s. Reversal of the deadly force robotics clause. This is one example of those cases when press coverage amplified an issue authorities probably thought/hoped would go unnoticed. The city by the bay reached out to its activist roots (they are there if you look closely enough). This caused lawmakers to temporarily reverse their course.

The story is an example of how the things the clause represented and the precedent it would set were equally important to the story. Would the phrase have led to bomb-trapped robots? Maybe. Maybe not. However, I believe that this concern is justified. In a political climate where Democratic politicians voted for it over fears that deadly robots would be blocked as anti-policing, it’s much easier to give law enforcement authority than to revoke it.

I’m glad that the story drew more attention to this space. The debate is far from over, not only in San Francisco but all around.

I would add all the Ghost Robotics automated rifles to this bucket along with the opening letter signed industry leaders calling for the end of weaponized general-purpose robotics. Although the future wasn’t exactly what we expected (futures have a way to do that), it is here.

The robotics conversation is centered on labor. A rise in automation investment was due to the inability to fill blue-collar positions. This is in line with labor struggles such as unionizing and living wages that have been raging for years. This is a very important conversation that I expect to continue to cover in the years ahead. It’s important to look at the past and precedent in order to contextualize this. However, it’s equally important to take note of the unique elements.

There are both reasons to be optimistic and reasons to be worried. Anyone who claims to know how it all turns out is merely trying to get high on their own supply. As always, the one position that I am advocating is unchanged: It’s our responsibility as a society and to speak for those who do not have a voice. Life’s quality of life will be affected, whether it is short-term or long-term. We must ensure that people don’t get dragged under this train if we are to believe technology has a positive impact on society.

Tesla Robot in action

Tesla Robot moving and waving Image Credits Tesla

Although 2022 wasn’t a big year for humanoid robots, we did see some important seeds being planted. Tesla’s robot It was exactly what roboticists expected. It was a microcosm from every conversation about why robotics is difficult. It was important for two reasons. It rekindled a conversation about robotic form factors and it reset expectations about what a robot can and will be in 2022.

At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Big Ben lights up with a spectacular display of firework displays. Image Credits Getty Images

Here are some other things to keep an eye on:

  • Resurgent agtech robotics
  • Prosthetic breakthroughs
  • Bio-inspired and soft robotics advances
  • Particularly in the medical field, nano/microbotics
  • The moment has finally arrived for eldercare robots

It may feel like we’ve been doing robotics for forever, and there were certainly times when it felt like progress was slowing down. If you look at the big picture, it becomes clear that we are a lot closer than we think to the end. Congratulations if you are reading this.

It’s going to be a great ride, so buckle up and put on your helmet.

Image Credits Bryce Durbin/TechCrunch

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