Qualcomm in Talks to Fund Robotics Initiative at UC San Diego

11/1/13Follow @bvbigelow

San Diego-based Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM) and Brain Corp., the Qualcomm-backed startup developing technology that emulates the human brain, are in talks to provide funding for a broadly based initiative in robotics at UC San Diego.

“We are working on building a robotics institute, robotics lab, and (more importantly) a robotics incubator,” writes Eugene Izhikevich, Brain Corp.’s founding chairman and CEO, in an e-mail. “All this effort is to create a consumer robotics ecosystem in San Diego.”

Brain Corp.’s role is significant because a robot that requires a power cord (or frequent charging) has only limited use, whatever its ultimate capabilities might be. Brain Corp. was founded in part to develop computer systems that model the biological processes of the brain, which is unmatched in terms of achieving a high order of processing with minimal electrical-power demands—that is, the brain is highly energy-efficient.

Discussions between Qualcomm, the world’s largest wireless chipmaker, and UC San Diego began in earnest about two months ago, when UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep Khosla met at Qualcomm with top executives who work closely with Matt Grob, Qualcomm’s chief technology officer.

The meeting took place just a few months after Khosla officially settled into the chancellor’s job in San Diego. He was previously the dean of engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, where he began in 1986 as an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering and robotics. Khosla flourished in robotics at Carnegie Mellon, where he was named as founding director of the university’s Institute for Complex Engineered Systems in 1997, director of the Information Networking Institute in 2000, and founding director of the Carnegie Mellon CyLab in 2001. He became dean of the engineering school in 2004.

“The plans are not finalized yet, and Qualcomm did not commit any funding (only an oral commitment,)” Izhikevich says. “So it is too early to discuss the details. We still have to find a person to lead the robotics incubator, though I have a pretty good candidate.”

Discussions between Qualcomm and the university deepened as the parties began to address just how much funding would be necessary, and how it would be spent, according to a source at the periphery of the initiative. One area of discussion, for example, is how much of a say Qualcomm would have in determining the best candidate for an endowed chair in robotics if the company provides the funding needed to establish an endowed chair.

A report today by U-T San Diego reporter Gary Robbins suggests that UC San Diego would still have to raise “tens of millions of dollars” beyond Qualcomm’s contribution to … Next Page »

Bruce V. Bigelow is the editor of Xconomy San Diego. You can e-mail him at bbigelow@xconomy.com or call (619) 669-8788 Follow @bvbigelow

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