Price War Favors Travelers to Robots 2008 in Boston

April 26, 2008

By Brian Huse, Director, Marketing & PR, Robotic Industries Association

There is a price war right now for flights to Boston and Northwest started it.

I can’t thank them enough. This is just in time to book travel for Robots 2008 in Boston, June 10-12. Hotels are filling up fast, but the executive team at Robotic Industries Association is working tirelessly to open up new blocks as others fill. (Thank you, Jeff!)

Price drops on non-stop flights hit suddenly. My ticket to Robots 2008 in Boston was almost $300 cheaper on April 25 compared to what it was on April 23. Registration is growing fast, so I hope a lot of people see this blog in time to get their savings!

How fortunate – but odd – that just when it seemed like the economy might work against us the opposite is happening. Didn’t we all just hear that air fares are going up and airlines are cutting back?

Is this a move to bolster newly announced plans to merge Northwest and Delta? I don’t know. Maybe it’s a sign that now is the time to check out robots for your business.

Hurry – airline price wars never last long and are pretty rare these days. Now we’ve got one, and my ticket to Boston went down hard and fast. Lucky for me, RIA’s senior administrator of membership, Melissa Alderton (who is helping produce Robots 2008), found out how to redeem an airline voucher so we could pass the savings along to our company, Robotic Industries Association.

Don’t wait to get your flight to Boston for Robots 2008. Get a ticket while the airlines are smiling on travelers. I’ll be at Robots 2008 with a big smile of my own as some of the most influential people in the robotics industry assemble for high level meetings. (Welcome to Boston RIA Board!)

If ever there was the time or a place, June in Boston is it for “What’s Next” in robotics. It’s the theme of Robots 2008 which looks at new developments in Next Generation Robots, industrial robots and robot technology for the non-industrial world.

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How Far Has Service Robotics Come in 25 Years?

April 23, 2008

By Jeff Burnstein, Executive Vice President, Robotic Industries Association

I attended the 5th annual RoboBusiness Conference in Pittsburgh to find out where service robotics is right now and what opportunities exist for RIA members. What I found is both encouraging and disappointing.

The encouraging news is that there clearly are some strong markets for robots in service industries (a broad term that I’m using to mean anything outside of the factory).  Military robotics, fueled by huge investments by the US Department of Defense, is one very hot market.  But, in his keynote address, Kevin Fahey of the Army noted that while funding is high now that could change when the war ends.  Still, given the successes of robots on the battlefield in operations such as clearing mines and detonating IEDs, it’s clear that robots have a growing role to play in the military.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the emerging service robot industry is for the most part just that:  emerging.  Many have forgotten, but RIA launched an International Personal Robot Association (later changed to International Service Robot Association) 25 years ago.  Joe Engelberger, the “father of robotics” and one of RIA’s founders, was a primary force in the creation of IPRA.  We held events in Albuquerque and San Francisco that were eerily similar in size to RoboBusiness (about 250 or so conference attendees, 900 or so total attendees when exhibits only audience is counted).  And, speakers talked about all the wonderful things robots would soon be doing in our homes and to help the elderly. 

All these years later, we do see robots in our home, but in very limited single function roles (vacuum cleaning, lawn mowing, floor cleaning and gutter cleaning and toys so far).  The goal of a multi-functional home robot still seems to be quite a distance away, although companies such as RoboSoft from France believe they can have something commercially available at an affordable price within a few years.  Others remain skeptical, believing a truly useful home servant would be very expensive and key technical challenges remain unsolved.

The aging global population is a key driver for developments in robots to assist the elderly and infirm.  The governments of South Korea and Japan, as well as companies in those countries, are spending a great deal of resources in this field.  And, I was grateful to see that former RIA Board Member Takeo Kanade of Carnegie Mellon has a new Quality of Life Technology Center at CMU, funded by the National Science Foundation. (www.qolt.org).  

But, I imagine Joe Engelberger, the earliest and most passionate proponent of service robots, is disappointed that his dreams for an elder care robot and a multi-functional home servant remain largely unrealized.  I hope that we’ll see both developments before another 25 years go by!

I’m convinced that the industrial robotics and service robotics communities have a great deal to learn from each other.  The industrial robotics companies have proven technology solutions and access to factory environments that would be invaluable to service robot companies.  The service robot companies have innovative technologies and access to markets outside the factory that represent new opportunities for industrial robotics companies.  In the months ahead, I will continue my discussions with key industry leaders from both communities to find more opportunities to work together with the goal of expanding the use of robotics to benefit everyone.


It’s a Great Time to be in Robotics

April 10, 2008

By Jeffrey A. Burnstein, Executive Vice President, Robotic Industries Association

I attended the 2008 Adept Global Conference in Livermore, CA last week.  John Dulchinos, Adept’s President, said this at the opening of the conference and I couldn’t agree more.  Despite concerns about the U.S. economy, the mood among the 250 or so attendees was very upbeat.  Great presentations highlighted the opportunities for robotics in areas such as medical equipment manufacturing, solar power, and food.  Many system integrators in the audience reported to me that customer demand for robotics was increasing.  With robot prices falling and capabilities increasing, the future for robotics looks very bright.  Adept is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.  Coincidentally, I’m celebrating my 25th year at RIA.  During this quarter-century, RIA and Adept have both seen their share of ups and downs.   Even in the worst of times, when RIA and the robotics industry (and possibly Adept) were left for dead, we’ve managed to recover and grow again.  So, while I have no doubt that there will be future bumps along the road, I’m very optimistic about the future of the industrial robotics industry (and RIA) and quite energized by all of the new market opportunities that are emerging, especially in non-automotive sectors.  Happy anniversary to Adept, and continued success to everyone involved in trying to drive the robotics industry forward!