If you’ve been keeping up to date with Tharsus news (which I know you have!), you’ll already know about our adventure to Madrid in early Feb to sponsor the Global Robot Expo (GR-EX). We know that not everyone will have been able to make it across the English Channel to sunny Spain, so we’ve put together some commentary on the exhibition because we’re nice like that. Highlights, observations and key trends – that sort of thing.
A tale of ‘firsts’
On reflection, the GR-EX posed a large number of firsts for us:
- Our first outing in our new robotics colours.
- Our first sponsorship of a completely robotics-focused event.
- Our first event on Spanish territory.
- And, our first step towards becoming active thought leaders in the robotics community.
No matter how hardened an exhibition veteran you are, and we are, that is an alarming number of firsts for one sitting. But when it comes to organising events, there’s only so far meticulous planning will get you, the rest is in the ether. As a result, we’ve always found that a successful outing lies in our ability to find that balance between clear leadership and chaos – so that’s exactly how we approached it! And it was a resounding success!
All jesting aside, it became very apparent as one conversation led onto the next that actually, we have a lot to say and a lot of experience to share in this space. The robotic products that we’ve been developing and manufacturing for a leader in warehouse automation technology over the past 3 years has propelled us to the forefront of the service robotics industry. And in doing so – we’ve learnt and absorbed so much!
There certainly was a moment of self-realisation at the GR-EX event; that although the robotics world has astronomical predicted growth it is still very much at an inflection point in that ‘big bang’ phase where people are still just finding their feet – accepting, learning, trying, failing and succeeding! And as an organisation we’re at the forefront of all of this. And that’s a really exciting place to be.
The limit is just the beginning:
From fully autonomous industrial forklifts and AGVs to remote cattle diagnosis and firefighting robots – the scope of what we observed was incredibly broad. Across every sector. And it’s only getting broader! It was great to see a high volume of really interesting high profile individuals with exciting and relevant commercial applications inviting robotics to come in and disrupt whole industries.
Akin to all of these ‘emergent theme’ events – the really great conversations came from those that first admired our “Robotics. Made. Simple.” stand from afar and then approached with utmost discretion – with their badges inverted as if they were donning their invisibility cloaks. It’s in the quantity of these kinds of individuals – working for the larger organisations, deployed to scope out exciting new tech – that you can rate an event by. And from that perspective the GR-EX performed really well.
As predicted, there was a legion of companies who were there representing the ten or so pillars of the service robotics world; ranging from agriculture, logistics, medical and rehabilitation, inspection and maintenance to defence and professional cleaning. Interspersed amongst the various corporations was the Spanish academic community (The Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, The Universitat Politecnica de Valencia and the Politecnica de Madrid) who were also doing their bit to showcase some of the really interesting (primarily medical) proof-of principle prototypes they’ve been working on – alongside some of their commercial spin-out companions like AURA and RoboCity 2030. It was refreshing to see these institutes adopting a slightly different approach to what we’re used to seeing in academia. Juxtaposed to the “we have a solution, does anyone have a problem” technology development methodology, the Spanish academics took a more challenge-led approach and are actively seeking industrial partners to help them make that next step to commercialisation.
The bustling stands demonstrating state-of-the-art tech were only one half of the proverbial coin at the GR-EX, peering down the crowded alleys of flocking delegates (like moths to robotic demonstrators) a manned, little white door grants access to a very modern and well-lit conference room where industry leaders delivered their highly-polished keynotes.
Noteworthy robotics stakeholders included:
- Our very own CTO Dave Swan – sharing his vast knowledge around ‘first of kind product creation’ which he’s honed over a 50-product portfolio
- Our friend and ally Rich Walker from Shadow Robot Company – sharing his latest dexterous hand innovations
- Our new acquaintance Paul Scerri at Platypus – talking about taking state-of-the-art research and applying it to real problems
- And our academic peer Sethu Vijayakumar from Edinburgh Centre for Robotics – demonstrating just how advanced some of the projects are that are running in the bat caves of some of the UK’s leading academic institutes. Sethu’s talk was entitled: “Pioneering large scale machine learning techniques in the real-time control of large degree of freedom anthropomorphic robotic systems”. A rough translation of this for us mere mortals: giving robots a level of self-awareness that enables them to become exponentially better at self-balancing through trial and error, whilst adapting on the fly to their changing environments (clever stuff right?).
So who did we meet and what did they know?
From Ford and Pfizer to Ferrovial and Asti, the list of well-known businesses we met and had great conversations with was pretty extensive. No two people we spoke to were facing the same challenges. But what they did all have in common was a single trait; the foresight to apply robotics as an enabling force to be more productive, efficient and cost effective either in their own industries or the industries of their customers. If for one second you think that the reach of robotics is limited – we have news for you! Visionary CEOs from industries that are so far removed from everyday life are already well on their way to creating robotic service products that have the opportunity to disrupt global industries and generate an incomprehensible competitive advantage. The race is on!
Side by side with these great publically trading companies were a flurry of smaller component innovators creating state-of-the-art sensor packages like Terabee – a spin-out from CERN developing the fastest, smallest and lightest distance sensors for robots in challenging environments. So for businesses like ours, whose services are empowered by generating strong supply chain relationships and the ability to leverage that for our customer’s benefit – the opportunity to sponsor events like the GR-EX and meet with the incredible SMARTs that are feeding the robotics sector with disruptive componentry has been and will be a vital privilege.
So I’ll leave you with this: if you operate in an industry that could be disrupted by the adoption of robotics or you’re part of a team in a large public company managing the introduction of robotic products – come and see us next year! If you can’t make next year’s GR-EX then have no fear, we’ll keep you updated on all of our other events throughout the course of 2017 in full, glorious detail. If you’re considering exhibiting at next year’s GR-EX, we’d highly recommend it and look forward to meeting you there!