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Adjusting Expectations for Your Robotics Project: A Download from Robotica 2016

The recent Robotica 2016 summit held June 6-9 in Devens, Mass., reaffirmed that customers looking to build a specialized robot often misjudge just how much time, money, and effort it takes to successfully complete their robotics project.

Leading a panel of industry experts in a discussion of how to accelerate robotics initiatives, Stanley Innovation’s VP of Operations Jason Walker said during the annual summit that it appears that customers, no matter the vertical, still don’t quite have a grasp on the type of investment they are about to make when beginning a robotics project.

“People are typically off by 50 to 100 percent as far as how much time and money it will take to do whatever it is they are trying to do,” said Walker. “I think this is because they see videos on the internet and TV of a robot doing something and because that one robot appears to be doing that one thing in that one video they think all robots can do all those same things in the same amount of time. The reality is that internet videos are often unreliable representations of the technology on display, let alone the state of the art.”

Confronting this misconception, Walker said he and other panelists did their best to adjust customer expectations — making sure to point out that that incredible advancements in technology have made robotics more accessible than ever to people wanting to incorporate robotics into their projects, no matter what the field of use.

As one of the panelists featured during the annual event, Dan O’Brien of Gibson Engineering said he was impressed with how the Robotica summit brought together early phase companies with academics, end users and members of the traditional automation and integration space.

“Advances in any one of those sectors snowball into benefits for all,” said O’Brien. “The energy, intellect and enthusiasm being focused in the local robotics space is incredible.”

One of the things that has made robotics more accessible, according to Walker, is ROS — which is a collection of open-source software frameworks that enables customers to customize their platform for almost any use or function, whether it is autonomous navigation, 3D mapping, manipulation, or computer vision.

Another reason robotics projects are becoming more achievable is that robotics industry experts have become far better at estimating what it takes to achieve their customers’ goals. Additionally, the level of expertise within the industry and the availability of better sensors, manipulators, and mobility platforms has moved the starting point of all projects years ahead of where it used to be. Walker said this has proven to be incredibly important, because the pace of development has increased so quickly in other fields that a head start in executing on one’s idea (as opposed to tinkering with hardware) is often the difference between making or missing a market.

“That speaks to the value of having a good teammate who can keep you realistic with respect to scope, time, and money,” said Walker, “and also a teammate that can help you make good decisions and accelerate the pace of your project”

But while accessibility to robotics has improved thanks to things like ROS and dependable partners like Stanley Innovation and Cooper Perkins, the process of starting and completing a robotics project is still more challenging than ever.

“If you want a real robot to do real work in the real world, it’s going to be a lot harder than you think. But this is by far the best time in history to do it because as hard as it is, it is easier than it has ever been” said Walker.

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