The Robotics and Autonomous Systems Mission is off to a great start in sunny San Diego. My main highlight from day one was seeing the presentations from leading robotic technologists at the UCSD/Qualcomm Robotics Laboratory. In particular, Tom Bewley, Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from UC San Diego, provided a fascinating insight for the young UK robotics companies on the mission in how to exploit and build routes to market for new robotics concepts and products.
The companies learnt how the convergence of technological advances in mobile phones, 3-D printing and 3D CAD are enabling the transfer of robotics concepts to achieve Professor, Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and commercialisation. The availability of commercially available, off the shelf, sensor solutions along with robust, reliable and low power microprocessors from the mobile phone industry is really driving the adoption of robot solutions. This is supported by the advances in 3D printers and 3D CAD, which are enabling rapid prototyping and the development of minimum viable products to test market acceptance. But the most interesting is that the world-class team at UCSD are applying all this to making toys.
That's right: Toys.
The UCSD team has established an alliance with Woo Wee, a leading supplier of robotic toys. There are many reasons for this collaboration. One is it provides a great insight for the robotics engineers at UCSD on the challenges of developing designs ready for manufacture: Typically, there is a x4 multiplier between board costs and the manufacturers recommended selling price. Second, with this knowledge, the UCSD team can start addressing the challenges of designing more sophisticated robots, but low cost solutions for applications requiring deployment in "swarms".
So two key lessons for the UK companies:
- First, think about the formation of alliances, and how a partner possessing complementary knowledge can provide insight and a route to market.
- Second, the most effective way to innovate your technology might not be into the market you first anticipated.