Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

The room was packed with an audience eager to see (and experience) the cutting edge of robotics. The speakers and demos definitely delivered.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Rethink Robotics' Rod Brooks chats with Matt Lloyd (iRobot) and Joyce Sidopoulos (MassTLC).

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Empire Robotics shows off its industrial gripper, which can pick up a wide range of objects.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Marc Raibert says robots will continue to approach humans and animals in their abilities to move around and manipulate the environment.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

It is in fact possible to exchange business cards with UMass Lowell professor Holly Yanco without using a robot.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Thanks to iRobot for giving away three new Roombas to lucky audience members.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Amazing handheld robot looks like a Coke can, flies like a drone.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Vecna's Daniel Theobald talks about the state of the union in New England robotics.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Dmitry Grishin holds court about consumer robotics startups. (Hint: he likes them.)

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

The BiOM powered ankle and foot prosthesis, made by iWalk, makes walking more natural for amputees.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

The closing panel on the future of robotics featured (l-r) Dmitry Grishin, Paolo Pirjanian, Todd Dagres, and Marc Raibert. Moderated by Bob Buderi (far left).

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

UMass Lowell's NERVE Center is a dedicated facility for testing robots, and they were out in full force. This would also be an awesome metal band photo.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Eric Paley (middle) and Ben Einstein (right) gave me a hard time about what constitutes a "robot." (Is a $3B exit enough? See Nest.) Peter Vicars of VGo looks on.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Taking a picture with CyPhy Works' Helen Greiner, sans drone.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Rudina Seseri and Steve Chambers can laugh, now that they have $25M+ to build Jibo.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Rod Brooks shows the crowd how artificial intelligence can still be pretty stupid in the real world.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Charles Carignan from iWalk makes a point about powered prosthetic devices.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

The robot demo room at Google was packed. Even R2-D2 had a hard time getting through.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Those blue-shirted Cirtronics folks were everywhere, spreading good cheer.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

That's a Harvest Automation robot for moving plants around in agricultural and horticultural settings. (Cirtronics booth in background.)

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Jacob Rosen flew in from California to talk about an exoskeleton for stroke rehab.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Get them while they're young--kids love robots. That's a NAO humanoid robot from Aldebaran Robotics.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

No food-related robots at this event. Perhaps Google catering could get Boston Dynamics to build a walking buffet table.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Kiva Systems' Pete Wurman (left) talks shop with the audience.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Emerging markets for startups: (l-r) John Kawola, Roger Matus, Bill Culley, and Duy Huynh, moderated by Curt Woodward (left).

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Audience members had plenty to talk about before, during, and after the robot sessions.

Keith Spiro Photography

Robo Madness Boston

Robo Madness Boston

Duy Huynh came up from New York to demo his Robotbase personal assistant robot (peeking out between him and his laptop).

Keith Spiro Photography

Our first-ever dedicated robotics event in Boston was a smash hit. Here’s hoping the local community can keep the momentum going and solidify its standing as a worldwide leader in the field.

Huge thanks to our event sponsors who made the conference possible: Argosight, BDO, Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, IDA Ireland, and iRobot. And of course thanks to our host, Google, who provided a great space and support for people and robots alike.

A special thank-you to our speakers and audience, many of whom show up in the pictures above. You all made the afternoon pop and really kept the room electric throughout. All photos by Keith Spiro Photography (thanks Keith!).

Now for my top 5 takeaways from the day (and attributions):

1. Robotics is obviously not a new field—iRobot’s been around for 25 years—but there is a lot of new interest from investors, big companies, and consumers. (See Todd Dagres at Spark Capital, Dmitry Grishin of Grishin Robotics, Google, Amazon, Facebook, and pretty much everyone else.)

2. Artificial intelligence is showing up in lots of tech-company products—things like language processing, computer vision, and machine learning—but its capabilities tend to be overhyped by outsiders. (Rod Brooks, CTO of Rethink Robotics.)

3. Speaking of hype, drones—perhaps you’ve heard of them…But hype aside, they could actually deliver stuff to your door at some point, once the regulations get sorted out. (Helen Greiner, CEO of CyPhy Works.)

4. There are also real emerging markets for robots in areas like agriculture, transportation, warehousing, and rehab. (See Harvest Automation, Google car, Kiva Systems, iWalk, and others.)

5. The Boston area still has a leading position in robotics, but it risks losing out to other regions if it focuses on lower-level technologies instead of solving big problems in big markets. (Eric Paley, managing partner at Founder Collective.)

As a side note, there was some discussion about whether “robotics” will be subsumed under the broader umbrella of tech—things like mobile, connected devices, cloud services, sensors, and artificial intelligence. That may be the case when people think about solving customer problems with specific products. But I think a subset of techies will always identify with working on machines and systems whose classification as “robots” is not in question.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and Editor of Xconomy Boston. E-mail him at gthuang [at] xconomy.com.