Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

After pre-game networking, roboticists packed the seats to hear from top companies and experts.

Xconomy photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Learning to trust a robot's handshake in the demo room at SRI International.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

SRI works with DARPA on advanced military technology like this warrior suit.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Baby carriers with soothing parent-like bouncing and rocking from 4moms.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Robots have a wow factor for our youngest conference participant.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Xconomy moderator Bruce Bigelow leads a panel discussion on the pace of robot innovation.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Double Robotics CEO David Cann on his telepresence robots: “Our main goal is to have them culturally accepted.”

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Robots are now running outside cages: “We’re operating in the real world, and the real world is a frickin’ mess,” says Fetch Robotics CEO Melonee Wise.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Can Momentum Machines teach a robot to flip a burger? CEO Alex Vardakostas says, “It doesn’t need to flip.”

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Many people are very interested in solving hard technical problems that don’t matter, says 4moms CEO Rob Daley.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Ryan Kuder of Techstars-powered Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator likes startups that whittle down a problem and deliver on it with limited resources.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Lux Capital partner Bilal Zuberi: “Entrepreneurship requires you to have a mad focus on solving problems that have commercial realities.”

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Restoration Robotics CEO Jim McCollum gave the inside story on his recent robot hair transplant surgery.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Photographer Scott Bramwell couldn’t resist getting a shot of those robo-mapped follicles.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Robot definition from Blue Prism CEO Alastair Bathgate: “A robot automates with human-like skill.”

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

5D Robotics is moving from landmine detection to power line mapping, says CEO David Bruemmer.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

John Hsu of the Open Source Robotics Foundation got the best laughs with video of a desperately flailing robot captured by his performance simulator.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Liquid Robotics is creating an ocean network of wind and solar powered sensors to predict tsunamis and earthquakes, CTO Roger Hine says.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Rich Mahoney, director of the Robotics Program at SRI International says he’s now competing for top college grads with big companies hot on robotics.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

A surgeon in Seattle may some day teleoperate with a robo-assistant in a far-flung field tent, says Jacob Rosen of UCLA and Applied Dexterity.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Savioke found kids following its kid-sized robot around hotel corridors. “Robots attract people’s interest like you can’t believe, CEO Steve Cousins says.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Robo Madness West

Robo Madness West

Three roboticists went home with their own new robots. Xconomy publisher Jim Edwards handed out iRobot Roombas.

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Photo by Scott Bramwell

Xconomy’s fourth annual Robo Madness conference in Menlo Park this week drew the best of robotics audiences and speakers, carrying on a strong tradition. This original Robo Madness event is now called Robo Madness West, because its successes in the Bay Area spurred Xconomy to export the idea to Boston this year.

For the lively discussions, cool demos, and dense networking sessions, participants can thank our host and sponsor SRI International, fellow sponsors iRobot and the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, plus other partners and underwriters: Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Michigan Economic Development Corporation, ARCH Venture Partners, Avalon Ventures, Polaris Partners, and Founders Space.

A big round of applause to our expert speakers and panelists as well as our audience members—you may spot yourself in the pictures captured by photographer Scott Bramwell, who has a great eye for robot technology as well as the human moments that make these gatherings so much fun.

Here are the big themes that ran through all the conference conversations:

1. Robots have a wow factor that instantly attracts people, but the public is also wary of real or imagined dangers from products such as drones flying in the nation’s air space. Rich Mahoney, director of the Robotics Program at SRI International, says industry players need to dispel images of sci-fi robots like the Terminator. “We need to change the story people tell themselves about the future they will live in.”

2. The dropping cost of many components is spreading the use of intelligent automation to new industries such as agriculture, food preparation, healthcare, rehabilitation, and ordinary household equipment.

3. What is the definition of a robot? That question is fresher than ever. New product classes for wired homes and connected cars are blurring the lines between categories.

4. Robotics can “democratize quality” in complex procedures such as surgery, by capturing the precise movements and protocols of the best practitioners in the world.

5. The debate continues on whether robots will deplete the job market for human beings, or foster job creation by increasing productivity, wealth, and reinvestment in the economy.

6. Entrepreneurs must guard against the urge to tackle tough technical obstacles for the pure joy of it, and instead seize on commercial opportunities using discoveries already at hand.

7. Even so, it pays to keep your eye on the far horizon, where DARPA is funding research toward human-like limbs capable of feats like high-rate micromanipulation. “If you want to know robotics, pay attention to what DARPA is investing in,” Mahoney says.

8. Robot makers will face surprising (and funny) cultural challenges as robots circulate among humans. Hotel guests have tried to tip Savioke’s Relay robot when it delivers items to their rooms. They’ll also open their room doors to a robot without getting dressed, Savioke learned. (The company now blurs out Relay’s video vision when the door opens.)

Bernadette Tansey is Xconomy's San Francisco Editor. You can reach her at btansey@xconomy.com.