Why Robotics and 'Open Innovation' Go Hand in Hand

02/07/2014 17:23 BST | Updated 31/08/2014 10:59 BST

One of the recurring themes so far on the Technology Strategy Board's Robotics Mission to California has been 'open innovation'.

Isn't that the much hackneyed model developed by Henry Chesbrough back in 2003, and of course beloved of MBA graduates? Well yes, but the theories behind the system - when put into practice - are proving to work out here in California's tech corridor.

During this trip, the young UK robotics companies have continually seen the effectiveness of open innovation and collaboration when applied to the commercialization of products in nascent markets.

For example, today the group visited PARC (a Xerox company) where they were enthralled by a master class given by Lawrence Lee, PARC's Senior Director of Marketing.

Lawrence offered our companies a great, at times even theoretical, insight into the practical implementation of open innovation, and the power of collaboration. Of particular relevance to the RAS sector, his presentation highlighted the do's and don'ts of launching minimum viable products - including when it is and when it is not a good idea to do so. This is a critical concern for many of start-up businesses - like those on our Mission - as they strive to gain that all important market feedback whilst minimizing risks.

Following the fruitful session at PARC, the group moved onto Santa Clara to meet with virtual presence company, Anybot and OEM manufacturer, E-System. These two businesses share the same facility and a common goal of developing and building commercially viable robots that provide users with a personal remote avatar.

To the roboticists of course, potential practical applications for such products are endless - including within business, education and security. But what was of particular interest to the UK delegates was how this ten-man company was tackling the challenge of bringing products to market.

First, Anybot is building a strategic partnership with a provider of video, voice, content and communication technology. Through this company's distribution network, Anybot is able to establish initial customer traction. Second, by working informally with a call centre, the company is able to access a real working environment thus gaining a test facility. Finally, by forming an alliance with E-System, who provides a service in 'collaborative production', Anybot is able to source a cost-effective solution. The company is able to tap into E-System's expertise in sourcing globally, whilst building locally. This is important for Anybot, because the quality of the production product from E-System is high and the feedback loop between design and manufacture is short.

So, for the roboticists in the party, the day started with the theory of open innovation and finished with a case study of how its fundamental principles can be applied in the RAS space to great effect. The UK entrepreneurs learned first-hand how the formation and establishment of both formal and informal alliances can shorten the time between concept and commercialization.

Judging by the level of interaction post meetings, it was a successful day for both the UK and US participants.