|Fort Mason, San Francisco. Host to the Engadget Expand event held last weekend.
|FormLabs’ Form 1 $3,300 hi-res 3D printer.
The East Coast tech boom, really the New York City tech boom, is very real and growing. 127 start-ups happened in NYC in 2012 – three of which were robotics-related (Falkor Systems, DreamBots, and Robotic Systems & Technologies) and four more nearby (see The Robot Report’s Global Map and filter for Start-ups) – showing the vitality of NYC and also that there are serious alternatives to Silicon Valley in terms of software development, technology and entrepreneurship.
Many of the robotics-related start-ups on Kickstarter and Indiegogo fall into two categories: (1) funding for school teams and contests, theater/film/documentary/video/web projects, little gimmicks, gadgets and toys (which call themselves robotic but… it’s a stretch), and (2) everything else. A sampling of the eclectic second group includes RoboBrrd, a robotics DIY kit, DiveBot, an ROV with HD cameras, Dragonfly, a GA Tech spin-off hit which raised over $1 million in two days, and RepRapPro Huxley, a new 3D printer which can print all the parts to make… another RepRapPro Huxley.
Certainly this form of crowd-funding is good for some aspects of robotics. But I fear that much time, new-investor enthusiasm, and money are wasted on gimmicks and gadgets that are out of date within a season and have no real follow-up business plan. Further, because crowd funding, like TED Talks, is fun in and of itself, there is a challenge to present, share and seek recognition, an ego-building adventure in addition to the original goal of seeking money for product development.
I understand that from games and toys often comes familiarity, growing awareness and job applicants, but I wonder if a few more successful robotic products like iRobot, Intuitive Surgical, Kiva Systems and Liquid Robotics would have the same effect or better effect. This is the theory espoused by Colin Angle, iRobot’s CEO, who has said:
The idea that a humanoid robot with arms would push a vacuum cleaner is an image that has set many expectations and, in some ways, has set back the industry, when, by just rethinking what needs to be done, we can build a product that satisfies a specific need (vacuuming), as iRobot did with their Roomba line of robotic vacuums. I used to think that I was a self-respecting high-tech entrepreneur, but it took me becoming a vacuum cleaner salesman to actually have some success for my company, my investors and myself.
Also see my other article about robotics at the Engadget Expand event.