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July 18, 2017
Robots, Robots and More Robots – TechCrunch Sessions – Robotics Recap

TechCrunch’s Sessions events bring together those interested in a particular tech sector in a city where tech is booming. On July 17, TechCrunch hosted TechCrunch Sessions – Robotics on the MIT campus. A fitting location for an event such as this; after all, robotics have a long-standing history at MIT.

The event gave guests a variety of panels with engaging topics such as robot AI or how to find the right investors for a business. There were even a few workshops going on. The all-day event was packed with something for every robotics enthusiast in the Boston tech scene.

VentureFizz had the chance to attend TechCrunch Sessions – Robotics. While every panel and discussion was engaging, including one about Amazon Robotics and their future with them, there were particular presentations and discussion themes from TechCrunch Sessions which stood out to us.

iRobot's Massive Presence
iRobot was one of the sponsors for the event, but the connection did not end there. Nearly all of the panelists got their start in robotics working for the Bedford-based company, even before the Roomba craze. For example, one of the companies that was a part of the pitch-off, Franklin Robotics, has a CTO from iRobot. It appears the catalyst for robotics in the Boston tech scene comes from this particular company.

Later on in the event, iRobot CEO Colin Angle had a panel where he spoke of his company’s success not just with defense contracts, but with their automated vacuum cleaners. “I didn’t become successful until I became a vacuum cleaner salesman,” he jokes about iRobot’s achievements.

iRobot CEO, Colin Angle, discussing his company's success with the Roomba.
iRobot CEO, Colin Angle, discussing his company's success with the Roomba.

The Involvement of Disney Imagineers
Both Walt Disney World and Land theme parks blow guests away with the state-of-the-art animatronics. Martin Buehler, a Disney Imagineer, went in-depth about how the robots in their theme parks are giving guests are more engaging experience to fulfill Walt Disney’s goal. Buehler also showed behind-the-scenes footage of how the animatronics for the new Avatar area in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Martin Buehler discussing Walt Disney's accomplishments not just with film but with technology.
Martin Buehler discussing Walt Disney's accomplishments not just with film but with technology.

Recurring Discussions: AI as a Threat and Robots Replacing Humans
Several questions were asked at the panels, but two kept on coming up in one way or another. The theory of robots replacing humans at work and Elon Musk’s “threat of AI” theory. One panelist who discussed the first question was Tye Brady of Amazon Robotics, who believes that won’t happen since robots need to utilize human’s actions. As for Musk’s theory?  It was Rethink Robotics’ Rodney Brooks who summed it up best: “Everyone shares a common thread in that they don’t work in AI themselves.”

Fireside Chat with Rethink Robotics' Rodney Brooks.
Fireside Chat with Rethink Robotics' Rodney Brooks.

Tips for New Entrepreneurs
Robotics is an enticing field to start a business in, but a few panelists pointed out one major goal aspiring entrepreneurs should accomplish when taking the plunge. Instead of focusing on creating something “cool,” instead focus on solving a problem. One of the first panels, venture capitalist Josh Wolfe humorously stated, “Focus your efforts on what sucks, because that solves a problem.”

Discussing ventures with robotics.
Discussing ventures with robotics.

Demos and Pitch-Off!
In-between panels, several companies were displaying their robotic services and products. Some of the demos included: Soft Robotics, based in Cambridge, had an automated claw system ideal for food packaging plants and David Perry of the Harvard i-Lab focused on exosuits soldiers can wear to help them maintain stamina.

There was also a pitch-off where Franklin Robotics won, after showcasing their garden tending robot, the Tertill.

Franklin Robotics CEO, Rory MacKean, impressing the judges!
Franklin Robotics CEO, Rory MacKean, impressing the judges!

However, it was the MIT Cheetah, a robot from MIT’s Biomimetric Robotics Laboratory that truly stole the show.

After the event, guests were invited to network and mingle underneath a tent outside the auditorium.


Colin Barry is a contributor to VentureFizz. Follow him on Twitter @ColinKrash.