Roboticists Do It Better — At Startup Weekend, Assembling Code and Mechanics in Meat Space

Robots are suddenly becoming a very attractive startup idea. Startup Weekend showed us that app development is a topical area that is chock full of ideas, but not well populated with executed business ideas. I will have a post on this later, but startup culture is a design and human interaction / problem set scenario. We need startups that solve human issues that are not solvable using the same thinking that created them, or using the solutions that already exist.

My feeling is that a lot of apps developers and other startup developers are creating brilliant stuff, but some of it is only about what people do on the mobile. The really great startup in mobile or the cloud is the startup that takes the person out of spending time on the phone or in the web and makes life outside easier.

(Photo Credit: Erica Hsu, on Flickr)

Thta's why when I look at robot developments at Startup Weekend, I see a convergence of life problems with mechanical and coding solutions. 

I'm not the only one. 

Andra Keay, from Robot Launchpad saw this first hand. She was one of the mentors of the Startup Weekend robot track. What I like about her post is that she points out that roboticists are not only important in the spectrum of entrepreneurs, they are also "testing assumptions" about everything from tasks to be done, to human and robot interaction

Rodney Brooks, from iRobot, recently said that the real question for robotics now isn’t “what CAN a robot do?”, it’s “what SHOULD a robot do?” Startup Weekend is a wonderful opportunity to test assumptions about what a robot should do, to do it rapidly, to iterate and to validate. While we had some very good robot businesses, the winning team, “Eyes on Demand” had an incredibly strong value proposition, achievable cheaply with available technology.

More than that, the weekend showed that robots are part of the startup ecosystem, and will be for a long time. 

MEGA Startup Weekend proved that you can mix startups and robots together and build new robot businesses. Now we need to work out how to repeat the success. It’s clear now that having real robot platforms is very inspiring. So is providing soldering irons, arduinos, and other materials like moldable plastics. But most of the teams who hacked on a robot platform or built their own robot still had to make trips to the shops.

So, how do we do this? 

Entrepreneurship these days has been mobile-centric and app-centric.  Everyone is trying to take successful web ideas and push them into mobile frames, as if the real problem to be solved is making the web smaller and mobile. 

That's not quite it. The real issue is that there are problems out in the world and we live in a distributed environment, so we need to find technology and human interactions that solve those problems and make them easier. 

Robots can do this, and robotocists are a different breed of engineer-developer hybrids and probably positioned excellently in some ways to engage meaningfully with a world that needs solutions. Read the rest of Andra's post to get a sense of where she's going. 

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