Email: Peter Diamantis,re: Rodney Brooks

March 12, 2016

Here are Rodney’s predictions for the most exciting, disruptive developments coming in robotics technology over the next three years. As entrepreneurs and investors, these are the areas you should be focusing on, as the business opportunities are tremendous.

1. Smartphone modules becoming embedded supercomputers for robots.

While we may not realize it, the smartphones we use every day are really tiny supercomputers, and the same components powering these smartphones are now powering robotics as well.

The first Roombas had 512 bytes of RAM, and this was seen as groundbreaking. Today, the Roomba has a tiny supercomputer doing Visual Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (VSLAM), navigating a room autonomously, and retailing at about $300.

In the next five years, these capabilities are going to grow exponentially with profound impacts on robotics.

2. Shared learning in the cloud for robots.

This is one of the most important concepts to understand about the future of robotics – when robots are connected in the cloud, they can share data about their experiences, and in doing so, dramatically accelerate how quickly they “learn” in the real world.

The most profound example of this is in autonomous vehicles. The cars are constantly uploading their driving data (from all of their sensors) to the cloud so that the whole system can learn from every individual car on the road. For example, if one car avoids a new obstacle in the road, immediately all other cars know what that obstacle looks like and how to avoid it.

3. Widespread availability and uptake of collaborative robots.

A collaborative robot is a robot that is designed to safely assist and augment humans in executing specific tasks.

Rethink Robotic’s Baxter and Sawyer robots are great examples of collaborative robots being used in industrial settings.

The robots, which are “trained” by simply physically moving the robot’s arms in the correct motion, once, work with humans to manage some of the more menial, repetitive and physical work in production lines.

4. Neurally controlled prostheses.

In the next few years, brain-controlled prostheses will begin to make us superhuman.

Rodney explains, “We’re already making ourselves better, and that is going to accelerate. Cochlear implants are a great example, though they’ve been around for a while. There are big DARPA programs now on neurally controlled robotic devices. We’ll become superhuman.”

These prostheses will change the ways we actuate and interact with the world, giving humans abilities that we couldn’t have dreamed of decades ago.

Rodney continued, “We could become super rock climbers at age 70… there’s going to be an entire industry around people making themselves better by putting this stuff in their bodies.”

5. Physically assistive robots for the elderly.

There’s an incredible demographic inversion that’s about to happen. In Japan, for instance, we’re soon going to have 30 percent of the population over the age of 65. The same will be true in China by 2050, as well as in the U.S., North America, and in Europe.

As we extend the human lifespan, Rodney forecasts, “We’ll see a scenario where the elderly will have to look after the really elderly.” This is where a huge (multi-hundreds of billions of dollars) opportunity in robotics comes in.

“We are seeing many early trials of robots that help the elderly get into bed, get out of bed, get their groceries up the stairs, the sorts of things that we’ll need to keep our independence,” continued Rodney. “Even the self-driving car is another type of elder care robot because it lets us drive longer, lets us have our independence longer.”


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