Thursday, August 27, 2015

Six Recent Trends in Robotics and their Implications

There are signs all around us indicating that the field of robotics is going through a major transformation. Robots are getting significant coverage in the media. Many big companies that have virtually nothing to do with robotics are suddenly on the buying spree to acquire robotics companies. Countries that were not on anyone’s radar screen just few years ago are emerging as major players in the robotics arena. Many designs and operational constraints associated with robots are being obliterated by the use of clouds and social media. Costs are falling rapidly, enabling new applications. The notion of what was considered a robot is changing fast. Most people now agree that drones are robots. We seem to be on the verge of something big that can hopefully impact our lives in a positive way. 

This post lists six main trends and discusses their implications. 

1. Commercial Investments: Recently the commercial sector has made significant investments in robotics. Google has bought several robotics companies. Amazon has bought Kiva Systems and morphed it into Amazon Robotics. Qualcomm has also made investments in robotics. Even venture capitalists are interested in funding robotics companies. Hopefully, these will lead to the adoption of robotics in new applications and accelerate the technology developments.

2. Emergence of New International Players: Traditionally robotics advances mostly came from Japan, the US, and a few European countries. The field is expanding and new international players are emerging. China is making significant investments in robotics. Chinese manufacturers are currently leading the world in terms of procurement of new industrial robots. They are also developing their own low-cost industrial robots. The largest commercial drone maker DJI is from China. South Korea leads the world in terms of robots deployed per 10,000 workers. Recently, South Koreans won the DARPA robotics challenge by beating teams from the US and Japan. The globalization of robotics is expected to create new opportunities and challenge the leadership of the traditional players.

3. Reduction in Hardware Costs: The cost of industrial robots and drones has been declining in the commercial sector. This is expected to enable deployment of robots and drones in new applications. The agricultural sector is being projected as a major new market for robots and drones.

4. Popularity of Drones in Civilian Sector: The use of drones in the civilian sector both domestically and internationally is expected to grow at a rapid rate. Unfortunately, these robots have major vulnerability from the cyber security perspective. Recent examples of hacking of cars illustrate the vulnerability of these vehicles to cyber-attacks. New cyber-security technologies are needed to deal with attacks that can commandeer vehicles and cause physical damage. A serious incident in this area can influence public opinion and cause a major setback for this emerging field.

5. Cloud Robotics: Robots can leverage clouds to do massive data processing and exchange information with other robots in real time. Clouds are freeing robots from computing constraints and giving robots “big enough brains” to deal with challenging situations. Advances in big data are also being embraced by the robotics community to deal with the massive data generated by sensor-rich robots.

6. Leveraging Social Media Data: Robots now have access to data on social media. They can mine data (e.g., images) on social media to gain new “perception” capabilities that can in turn expand their ability to “understand” the environment. Social media can also be used to crowd source demonstrations for helping robots acquire new skills.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The Impact of Social Media on Entrepreneurship

Many people have observed that social media has the potential to fundamentally change entrepreneurship opportunities. It is beginning to play a key role in many aspects of creating a new business. Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube have emerged as tools to advertise new services and products. Clearly, this is beginning to have an impact on the marketing function. LinkedIn enables startup companies to recruit talent for their new businesses. Kick Starter allows entrepreneurs to raise funds to realize their new ideas. Moreover, new companies are able to buy manufacturing services and programming help on the Internet. Amazon can help a startup in selling a new product. In today’s connected world, theoretically one can be located in a significantly remote area and yet get a product manufactured, marketed, and sold without leaving home. 

Historically, few select places such as Silicon Valley have enjoyed the reputations of being the hotbed of entrepreneurship and the birthplace of many modern technological giants. These places have provided startup companies access to funding, talent, and infrastructure to get going. Has social media reduced the impact of geographical location on the startup creation? In this post, I examine this question from the entrepreneurship culture point of view.

I currently live in the Washington DC metropolitan area. People living in DC area know that chances of a startup succeeding are very small. Many people will tell you that nine out of ten startups fail, so most students graduating from college are not willing to join a startup and instead opt for a safer option. Most of them simply do not have any one in their immediate network who has become super rich working for a startup. This lack of role models discourages them from taking perceived risks.

I often visit the Silicon Valley area to attend meetings. The culture there is very different. People seem to breathe a different air. Even though the chances of any single startup succeeding wildly are not very high, people living there strongly believe that if you simply try enough times you are bound to succeed. Many graduating students from college know people who have become widely successful by taking the startup route. The existence of these role models encourages students to join a startup. They simply do not view startups as risky ventures. Instead, not joining a startup is considered a missed opportunity.

Here is a puzzle for you. Let us assume that you are playing a game in which odds are stacked against you. The probability of you losing the game is ninety percent. What is the probability is that you win the game at least once if you try ten times? Folks living in the Silicon Valley intuitively understand the answer to this puzzle. 

Social media has impacted the functionality needed to get a startup going. However, culture is a very important aspect of getting people to be engaged in startups. Ultimately, the existence of an entrepreneurship culture is what drives people to correctly assess risks associated with the startup companies and view them as opportunities not to be missed. Social media has not yet impacted the entrepreneurship culture in a significant way. Silicon Valley continues to rule the startup world because of its well-established entrepreneurship culture.

Social media certainly has the potential to impact the entrepreneurship culture in a significant way and help free it from geographical constraints. I am not sure how long it will take for this to happen.