Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - March 15, 2013

Aye, robot

Industry faces challenging but bright future, proponent says

Andra Keay is bullish on the future of robotics but thinks that its very success could make the term "robot" obsolete.

"Within 10 years, there will not be any such thing as a 'robot' because everything we have will be robotic," said Keay, the managing director of Silicon Valley Robotics, a membership organization whose mission is to promote innovation and commercialization of the robotics industry.

The group organizes events, such as meetings between investors and startups, and has co-hosted the Robot Block Party at Stanford University.

Keay, whose background is in researching human-robot interaction, said one challenge facing the industry is a talent shortage, caused by roboticists being in high demand by other industries, such as software, mobile and aeronautics.

"They can have skillsets that can go across platforms: electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and computer science," Keay said.

She also said high levels of student debt could contribute to a slower pace of innovation, providing a motivation for recent grads to choose a stable, well-paying job over the uncertain prospect of a startup.

But Keay said as the costs of launching a startup decrease, she expects the availability and affordability of useful robots at the consumer level to increase.

Concerns of the broader technology sector — such as patents and work visas — are also shared by the robotics industry, Keay said.

The three-year-old organization is currently conducting an industry survey to help it set a policy agenda.

— Bryce Druzin

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