Robot Industry Blog

Where Is My Robot? (Part 1)

RIP: Anki, Jibo, Baxter, Mayfield, etc...

History foretells the fate of robot companies that attempt the burden of building and sustaining "the full-stack." Similar outcomes have affected companies from all industries where the founding partners were engineers. Today, we begin to ponder the question of where are the robots? Most importantly, why have so many robot companies failed, and what can we do to help robot companies succeed?

"Imagine the impact that robot products made by creative entrepreneurs would have on our lives!"

Perhaps the noise from social media, politics, and the current Covid-19 situation has caused startups and the investment community to forget a vital part of the industry life cycle stages. Organizations might have also overlooked this because it has also been several years since a new industry has emerged. Even the last few personal-computer sub-industries of mobile devices/apps, VR/AR, etc., have inherited sectors from existing mature and proven industries.

"A computer in the home! Why would anyone want a computer at home?"

Robotics is a unique industry, albeit not too different from the personal-computer evolution, where multiple disciplines united to form a consumer product. The Personal Computer took many decades to influence and support sub-industries of software, hardware peripherals, and a wide range of use cases. Today, a computing device is user-friendly and esthetically pleasing, and the complex engineering disciplines are well hidden (CPU, operating system, drivers, power management, etc.). Readers may recall early personal-computer diagrams that included input, output, processing, and storage devices. Even earlier than the 1980's personal-computer, a computer consisted of even more complicated engineering disciplines that seemed impossible to scale to what we have today. Today, a computing device is common-place, and the components that make up computing devices are not taught in school as they once were.

The Revolution of Robot Platforms

Today, a child can operate a computing device before knowing how to speak. This results from a mature industry in which every contributor plays their strength by focusing on what they do best when contributing to product development. For example, some profitable companies make integrated circuits with a single function of performing mathematical floating-point calculations incredibly fast; because that is their strength. Another company will manufacturer a button or connector because that is their strength. Again, another produces batteries because it is their strength. The distribution of these disciplines in computing is how organizations can build platforms like Unity, Android, and Wix. Creative entrepreneurs use these platforms to make products that seamlessly integrate with our lives as tools and entertainment. What will it take for the robotics industry to distribute disciplines across specialists and enable creative entrepreneurs to make robot products rather than engineers? Imagine the impact that robot products made by creative entrepreneurs would have on our lives!

So, Where Is My Robot?

This is the first blog entry in a series titled "Where Is My Robot?". We will cover the robot industry failures, strengths, and areas of improvement needed to fulfill consumer and financial potential. We will reflect on the fallen venture-backed giants that attempted to skip the industry life-cycle steps, such as Baxter, Anki, Jibo, Mayfield, Romo, and many others.

We will examine organizations that repeat Synthiam's message that "too many robot companies focus on the robot and not the business"; however, these same organizations build complex solutions targeted at engineers instead of creative entrepreneurs. In this article by TechCrunch, hardware manufacturers use Synthiam's message that "making robots should be easy" while contrarily designing products targeted at engineers.

In this "Where Is My Robot?" series, other subjects we will discuss are operating system choices that support rapid prototyping for creative entrepreneurs. Most importantly, how using Linux for r&d increases the barrier of entry, adds unneeded operational complexities, and limits productive creativity.

Provide feedback in the comments of topics in this area you would like to see covered. See you in the next blog entry - stay tuned!


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Organic life is still such a mystery to me that it is mind-boggling that my pinky finger can lift more than my robot!
definition of a human being - The most complex machine in the history of existence yet is manufactured by the least educated but most willing workforce!
#54   — Edited
Did I tell you about the meeting I had at CES in 2019? I couldn't believe it and thought it was a joke. It was not a joke. A high-profile person with deep pockets approached Robomodix about starting an R and D company with $$millions to back and create..a robot to download the soul/memories and conscience into and live forever. I'm not kidding. Real discussion, real person, real money. Some people want to live forever with their wealth. Needless to say I passed...too much pressure to deliver the truth..impossible with today's technology
#55   — Edited
@nink - we've had so many projects on market research to identify the industry size.. it's ridiculous. First, something like 90% of the robot industry market value is in manufacturing automation. So that aligns exactly what you were saying that there needs to be a way to separate what our type of robots are. I believe Robots 2.0 is the way to go on that.

Secondly, the rest of the robot industry market revenue is mostly hobby kits and toys. The funny thing about iRobot is depending on the industry report, they may or may not be considered a robot and instead considered an appliance. 

Last and most important, is that every industry research report has a different number about the industry size. And every report also has a different number for the forecast. It's almost as if the research reports are paid to include company forecasts. Oh wait, that's exactly what happens :). Every week or two, we receive CB Insights or some research company asking if we'd like to pay to be included in their reports. Think about that for a second - in order for their reports to be "accurate", they want the companies to pay to have their forecasts included in the report. So how do they validate the forecasts? They actually don't - because their assumption is that if a company is paying, it must be a valid financial forecast.

The trouble with today's economy is that it has evolved enough to have a price on absolutely everything. Even when certain websites release "top robots of 2020" or "best cars of 2019" - all it takes is who pays the most. It really is that simple. But you must be wondering how can that be? Well, do you remember when EZ-Robot had been voted "the best of" in the past? It's because we had paid - yup, that's right. We had paid many times to be featured in magazines and articles - and one day i just said enough is enough. 

As a consumer, you probably guessed this is how it works - but at the same time, wonder how can this be ethical? Ethics have been replaced with legal disclaimers and contractual commitments. This means that simply by viewing some content on a website, you have actually agreed to their terms of use or user agreement. Because access to the agreements is located on the website, you must have read it and therefore agreed to it. If you read into the industry insight terms, you'll notice that there are many round-about ways of them saying "the data is to the best of our understanding".

Boy, I can go on and on about this - but really what it comes down to is it is incredibly difficult to run an ethical business in today's economy. There are companies selling terrible software for robot programming that costs thousands of dollars - and i won't consider helping their SEO by mentioning them on Synthiam's website in this post.

We had a conference call with one of our customers last night who is building a surgical robot with ARC. The reason they ended up using ARC was that they had been using something else which had cost almost a thousand USD per month and it was more limited than ARC. So conversations like that make them wonder why we would charge so little? I receive that question all the time - why is Synthiam only $8/m when alternatives are thousands? 

It comes down to supplying the masses. @Perry asked if we could just remove some of the EZB indexes in the connection control because "no one probably uses them". Well, actually a lot of people use them and more. I wrote a blog post last week about the error count decrease, and that's somewhat of a sign to show how many people and companies actually use ARC. Think of it this way, a lot of people use Microsoft Windows but when is the last time you posted on Microsoft's forum? Scaling ARC with a low monthly cost is my way of building an ethical business that can grow with the industry.

Do I believe the Robots 2.0 industry is 120 billion USD? Not a chance - not even close. We're in the millions if that. Take a look at Boston Dynamics, for example. Somehow, they have a market share even though there's no revenue. This is because of their "forecasts" sales - and they have been doing that for many many years. "Oh, next year we'll have sales". "Actually this next year we'll have sales". "Okay, this is the upcoming year for sales". Fact is, no one wants that dog - it's entertaining and might as well sit in a closet next to Honda Asmo

First - your ideas need to become real.
Second - build it on a platform like Synthiam to reduce operating expenses and MSRP.
Third - change the world.
#56   — Edited
My 2 cents:

I came from designing images for entertainers for 25 years in Nashville.

I came to know what the uncanny valley was when I created Mr. Roman - so I set out to create Mr. Metal, better response.

Being a new person in this robot arena, unbeknownst to me was robots that look like humans are frowned upon.

This must be why Alexa is so popular, no head, lol...

I was not aware or thinking of all the movies, scary ones with evil talking dolls.

Even my grandkids have a dislike for my two Ventriloquist Dolls.

So to me any robot for personal use should resemble a robot in whatever capacity.

I remember when I first saw "Ez-robot" - the name attracted me - "easy". I never did anything electrical, with servos, motors, controllers, and all the rest. This was not in my world.

Now I am hooked  :-)

I do enjoy Synthiam and never thought I would learn so many things from all you guys, happy you are here for us all DJ.
#57   — Edited
Ya well I have always had the interest in robots and always hoped by this year 2021 we would have Flying cars and robots like C3P0 and R2D2 serving us with super A.I. and doing all the regular home tasks. Sadly life did not happen like that ideal Future. How many famous Actors and Billionaires were offered tickets to fly on a rocket ship, go to the moon or just orbit,never happened. No space Travel No starwars. I don't believe anything NASA does is true. Although I remember starting basic electronic projects at age 12 and building neat projects from those old Radio shack 100 experiment Lab kits. Then progressing to build Animatronic creations in the basement, The Grim Reaper that moved around with the old Clapper wired into "Color Organ" instead of a light bulb activated by sound,it moved motors on the Animatronic arms and head. ARC Synthiam has improved all these projects for kids wanting to learn how to control servos with Easy to use software,doing what I enjoyed doing as a kid with antique electronics. Still not much has really changed, I am still making weird creations in the basement,LOL! Driving a sports car from the 80's, listening to hippy rock from the 70's. Progress sure is slow ,where is my Flying car?xD

Edit----The coolest thing in Robotics would have to be The DJ Snow shoveling robot shown on the Synthiam web intro video clips, sometimes I will watch that for half hour,never ceases to amaze!
#58   — Edited
When I am at the farm, I am now always thinking about robots :-)   

I see some amazing machines doing some amazing things... like this  - Check this amazing video:

Maybe one day we will see some "big" robots with Hydraulics and Hydrostatic parts if possible to accomplish some great tasks... Sounds scary when I think about it.

denoting, relating to, or operated by a liquid moving in a confined space under pressure.

relating to or denoting the equilibrium of liquids and the pressure exerted by liquid at rest.
"the hydrostatic pressure of the cell"
Pneumatics is what the biggest companies use now.Air pressure smaller compressors,valves air tubes of plastic,can be very strong too.For one job I got right after high school, took the University courses in Pneumatics/PcL or pLC computer programming of industrial Pneumatics robots.I had a job after stayed 8 years before they moved back to Michigan,they did not like our Union.Best job ever.Huge company ATS merged with German industrial robots.we made Wind shield wiper motors for all the major car makers around the world.I started as setup guy,later Lead hand in charge of night shift 10pm to 6AM. Had to make 3000 armature motors on my side of factory per shift.So many robot Arms on the assembly line Jer,LoL! It was mainly just jumping inside a robot cage that was stuck,clear the jammed part or use computer to adjust speed or axis.Mostly easy work,hardest part was staying awake! One monster robot had 8 arms like  giant EZ hex 6 robot.Scairy as hell to go in that cage!
#61   — Edited
Great find, Perry. I think it's okay to assume that robots 2.0 has a place in small/medium business assembly/packaging/etc.. However, I do not think Boston Dynamics has ever consulted a business to understand their needs. Nor have they used creative staff for design/esthetics. I have very few positive things to say about Boston Dynamics. Loud, ugly, and impractical robots.

Also, i don't even think that robot photo is practical. Uh, so empty boxes i guess?

User-inserted image
BD should have tried to sell themselves to Tesla versus Hyundai.  
I can just hear Elon now. (2021)
"We will have fully autonomous mobile robots within 12 months"...
12 months later (2022)
"All our robots have all the hardware necessary on board to be fully autonomous all you need is the software..."
12 months later (2023)
"All Robots are fully autonomous ready we are just waiting on regulators..."  
12 months later (2024)
"All Robots are Tesla Robo Worker ready,  you would be a fool to buy any other robot"
12 months later (2025)
"We are entering beta soon for our fully autonomous robots we said we would give you in 2021"
News Headlines (2026)
Autonomous Robot rampages through football stadium  ....

I remember his presentation in 2016 "Tesla cars will be fully autonomous and drive ride-sharing while you're at home watching tv":

I remember it well because I stood amongst my friends one day and explained how the world is changing and even Tesla is only months away from it - because their CEO said so.... I was far more naive then and thought to be a CEO you had to be truthful. I didn't realize you could "play the media" and say whatever is necessary to manipulate the stock market.
BD  funding for years was from DARPA. None of these robots were meant to be anywhere but on a battlefield. So the designs are geared toward carrying equipment and eventually I'm sure weaponized. After years and years of development, they were acquired by Google. But how do you take years of military development designs and suddenly make it for robot delivery....well you don't and I think their next bosses Softbank, figured out that there would not be a market for their existing robots in a consumer setting (remember spot unloading the dishwasher with its head/gripper?). Now owned by Hyundai, it's back to at least B to B in an industrial setting, where the market is.
The loudest battlefield robots ever made... Again, to the point that Boston Dynamics was on a failing trajectory since its first conception.
Especially when they were gas powered.
Oh wow seriously - you're right about that one. All these videos have the robots in silence or with some foreground music. 

I feel Boston Dynamics is what you get when a bunch of money is thrown at a room full of engineers with no absolutely no plan LOL
LOL the boxes are clearly empty! The sound is hilarious - it's so muffled to make the viewer believe it's quiet. Wow, can you imagine those poor humans having to work next to this thing? Deafening I'm sure.

Completely empty boxes and I do feel as though they have adjusted the audio.
I do see a big market for summer time agriculture robots. Where my cottage is, there are huge farms all around depending on using the Mexican labor force,who work great in high heat and never complain. I guess they are flown in on annual contracts ,work fairly cheap. I bet robots could do similar work in farming. Or I do see robot Lawn mowers getting big in summer, I want to build my own mower bot instead of buying the expensive ones. We actually have a self propelling mower at the cottage, could be made into full robot control.
Hi, just a thought on a useful consumer robot. What about small roombas for walls. They won't clean but they could paint. People could take their painting and stuff down and walls could be painted overnight. Imagine one color on Tue and another on thurs. Place a painting wall clinger up and come back to a different color. 
Also, looking for a window washer robot that \can roomba my windows, inside and out.
That would be cool yea.  I do beleive a window washer robot already exist, but is used on large office buildings right now, mase bu Irobot I think.