Sunday, September 21, 2008

Personal Robotics, The Next WWW

I was trying the other day to convey to a friend why I am so thrilled by the personal robotics field. My friend, a network software guru, was unimpressed…the typical blasé attitude I’ve seen by high-tech people. They consider robotics to be, you might say, a “dud” of a technology. (Those tech gurus can be narrow minded…until they see big money being made, at which point, they convert.)

In any case I was trying to find an analogy to convey to him the promise of this field, and I remembered many years ago, my first introduction to the World Wide Web. Back then, it was this nerdy technology that a few local people were raving about. I remember the Well, an early and influential online community in the Bay Area, where people said silly things like “The World Wide Web is going to change the world in ways you cannot even imagine. Just wait and see.”

I remember being cynical about those comments. But they were right. The new paradigm of the World Wide Web turned into an earthshaking, mind-blowing change in human existence.

That’s what I see in personal robotics. Perhaps not as big, not as fundamental a shift as the Internet. But certainly a very significant change. I think this next phase of robotics will be much larger than the old-style industrial robotics field that I worked in.

Another analogy: you might consider old-style robotics firms, like ABB and Denso, to be the equivalent of Tandem and Wang Computers. The new up-and-coming personal robotics field will spin off the Dells, Compaqs, and Googles of robotics. I see a few startups even now that, with the devices and concepts they are developing, have the potential to be these superstars.

In the robotics field, the biggest is yet to come.