Robots and You: See the Connections on May 3 at Xconomy's Forum on the Future of Robotics

4/23/12Follow @wroush

Maybe you’re under the impression that robots are still sci-fi technology, decades away from the point where they might affect your everyday life.

Well, tell that to Jeff Bezos, who just spent $775 million of Amazon’s cash to acquire Kiva Systems. If you’ve ordered a handbag or a pair of shoes from Amazon subsidiary Zappos lately, chances are a Kiva robot fetched it in one of the company’s warehouses.

Tell it to Helen Greiner, co-founder of iRobot, which has sold more than 6 million autonomous robotic vacuum cleaners.

Tell it to Henry Evans, a stroke victim who is working with Menlo Park, CA-based Willow Garage to explore how Willow’s humanoid robot, PR2, can help him shave and complete other daily activities (see the video below).

Tell it to General Motors, which says it expects to bring self-driving cars to market by the middle of this decade.

The point is, robots are here now—and they’re about to become a lot more common, both on and off the factory floor. If you want to meet some of the key people making this future happen, there’s no better opportunity than Xconomy’s May 3 forum, The Future of Robotics in Silicon Valley and Beyond.

Time’s running out to register for next week’s forum, which will be on the campus of SRI International in Menlo Park, CA. It’s a half-day event featuring a remarkable lineup of speakers, including Greiner, who’s now head of robot-aircraft startup CyPhy Works; Kiva Systems founder and CEO Mick Mountz; Java creator James Gosling, who’s now chief software architect at ocean-exploration startup Liquid Robotics; and Tiffany Montague, who oversees Google’s space initiatives, including the Google Lunar X Prize—a competition that aims to put privately built robots on the surface of the Moon by 2015.

One of our big goals for this event is simply to highlight the huge variety of robotics research and development going on around the Bay Area. To help tell that story, we’ll showcase entrepreneurs like Steve Cousins and Brian Gerkey from Willow Garage, whose modular PR2 robot and open-source ROS operating system are accelerating innovation across the robotics field; Aaron Edsinger from Meka Robotics, which makes heads, arms, torsos and other parts for humanoid robots; and Charlie Duncheon from Grabit, an SRI spinoff working to reinvent the way robots grasp objects (it’s all about electroadhesion).

Our second goal is to ask what can be done to get local robotics R&D moving even faster. It’s no secret that cities like Boston and Pittsburgh boast larger, more established clusters of robotics labs and companies than the Bay Area. But Rich Mahoney, director of robotics division at SRI, argues there’s no reason Silicon Valley can’t also be a world capital of robotics, and he’ll use part of his own presentation next week to talk about Silicon Valley Robotics, the local industry association he helped to organize. In a closing panel featuring Greiner, Mahoney, Mountz, and Adept Technology CEO John Dulchinos, we’ll look at lessons from other robotics clusters and ask how entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley could apply them here.

To spice up all that discussion, we’ll have plenty of robot demos and videos and, of course, networking time. Get your ticket now!

Willow Garage shared the following video in July, 2011.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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