Robotics Summit & Expo 2024: Formant's Takeaways

The 2024 Robotics Summit & Expo, hosted in Boston by WTWH Media (a.k.a. our friends at The Robot Report) offered a fascinating peek into the current state of robotics. The Formant Boston team was able to walk the floor and we attended some great talks hosted by well-known industry experts. 

Here's a quick run-down of some of my top takeaways:

 

Day 1

 

Commercialization is a top challenge

A highlight of Day 1, the "Paving the Road to Success in Robotics Commercialization" panel, brought together experts from across the industry spectrum from Pittsburgh Robotics Network and companies in agriculture and construction. At one end, Brandon Contino from Four Growers, represented the fresh perspective of those developing novel solutions and navigating the complexities of established industries. Stephen Muck of Advanced Construction Robotics, on the other hand, showcased the experience of a seasoned professional working to invest in and bring developing tech to market. 

Despite their contrasting backgrounds, the panelists highlighted internal operations, particularly manufacturing and contract engineering, as hurdles to overcome when scaling their businesses. Contino's focus on a groundbreaking solution is still in the early stages was refreshing, while it was also discussed how RaaS can be leveraged as an entry point to successful commercialization.

 

Testing for reliability

The session on "Building a Scalable Testing Program to Drive Robot Reliability" with Nathaniel Czarnecki of Scythe Robotics offered valuable insights into ensuring robot performance. Czarnecki emphasized the importance of "mean time between assists" as a key metric and advocated for a comprehensive testing strategy that combines real-world scenarios with simulations. He also highlighted the importance of fostering a company culture that encourages open communication and rewards finding and reporting bugs.

 

Taming the data deluge

The final session of Day 1 that we attended, "Surviving the Flood of Robotics Data," was presented by Benji Barash of Roboto AI. The discussion addressed the challenge of managing the vast amount of data generated by robots. Barash outlined the challenges robotics companies face in handling large amounts of data and how the industry is behind others in utilizing standard data management practices. He highlighted the potential of AI to analyze large datasets and identify underlying issues in seemingly normal data that might otherwise go unnoticed. 

 

Day 2

 

Generative AI continues to take the stage

A highlight of Day 2 was the focus on the growing role of artificial intelligence in the field, which nowadays is always top of mind at any robotics event. A panel on generative AI's impact featured representatives from Toyota Research Institute, NVIDIA, and WTWH Media.

The key takeaway? While robots are becoming more capable, successful automation depends heavily on understanding the tasks they perform. The human role in designing and adapting automation processes remains crucial. The panel also emphasized the growing importance of generative AI, particularly its ability to analyze large amounts of data and pinpoint the root causes of failures.

 

What's next after building a robot?

The last discussion I had the opportunity to attend was with Ryan Gariepy, Co-Founder and CTO of Clearpath Robotics by Rockwell Automation, discussing the future of robotics and how robotics companies can leverage current industry trends to prepare for the future. He championed using readily available off-the-shelf tools to achieve functionality and highlighted the challenge of manufacturing robots at scale. Gariepy also cautioned against jumping directly to RaaS models, as the inability to offer guarantees and service level agreements (SLAs) can stifle innovation.

Overall, the Robotics Summit & Expo 2024 did not disappoint this year in terms of expert discussions and topics; it was awesome to see how robotics is continuing to shape up across industries outside of typical manufacturing applications. 

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