Skolkovo Robotics International Conference

Robotics on the threshold of a revolutionary breakthrough

As it was stated at the Skolkovo Robotics conference, unlimited perspectives can be opened soon for the robotics technology thanks to more available components, decreasing of time and cost of prototype manufacturing and a progress in artificial intellect.

Experts of the Skolkovo Robotics International Conference talked about fundamental changes taking place now, which might signal that the mankind is probably on the threshold of a great revolution in robotics.

They consider that this technological breakthrough by its scale is comparable to computer revolution of the 1970’s — 1980’s  of the last century, when from big in size and expensive computers, which one could see only in offices of corporations, the mankind made a step towards compact, light, inexpensive and strong PCs.


The specifics of the moment

Dmitry Grishin, Chairman of the board of directors of the Mail.Ru Group and the founder of the Grishin Robotics venture fund, Igor Agamirzyan, head of the Russian Venture Company along with other Skolkovo Robotics experts talked on the issue.

One of the fundamental features of contemporary times is that all happening to robotics remind a lot era of computer revolution. For example, we have been witnessing for quite a long period of time progress in the area of industrial robots in big companies, mainly for the purpose of manufacturing automation. And what is happening now (in robotics) was really hard to imagine just ten years agoDmitry Grishin.

These are the factors, which, as Grishin said, can foster possible breakthrough in robotics:

  • Now a team of four – to five engineers can deal with challenges in robotics; it won’t be possible at all without boom in smartphones and other electronics;
  • Components become quite cheap, one can get a camera-module for as cheap as $1- to $2;
  • Prototype manufacturing is also easier now, and it’s a crucial thing: previously it could take months and years and a great deal of financial resources. Now there is an opportunity to print practically any form from plastic or metals with the help of 3D printers;
  • And finally, you needed a company and a factory to build a robot. Now, using outsourcing networking one could do it without any significant CAPEX.
Today we still live in a world of physical (hard) technologies, created in the 1960’s. Meanwhile, progress in digital (soft) technologies has brought us to an absolutely different level. IT technologies and advanced artificial intellect became so strong that they started interacting with physical world, and we see a growing influence of IT on objects of physical worldIgor Agamirzyan.

As the head of the RVC said, robotics, along with such technologies as smart grid and digital manufacturing, made it possible a qualitative breakthrough in industrial world.

As he also said, we can already see first, manufactured in series, robots for smaller business, such as robots-packagers, for example, which were made especially for small businesses. And when they, given such a technological trend, become affordable it will completely change the way small businesses operate. The head of the RVC considers that Russia has all it takes to succeed in this sphere, including highly qualified engineers, technical universities and technologies. Therefore the RVC considers robotics and intellectual systems a very perspective area for technological development for Russia.

And Dmitry Grishin right away advised to potential Skolkovo Robotics Challenge participants to follow some rules. Firstly, not to make technology for the sake of technology, find an answer right away, what problem of society does the robot they make addresses. “You should also consider if your potential customer is ready to pay for your robot, a price of a personal robot should not accede a price of a middle quality notebook, and, please, remember, your robot should be well designed, nobody needs a bad looking robot,” appealed to scientists and engineers Dmitry Grishin.


Opinion of world robotics gurus

Steven Dubowsky, Director of the MIT Mechanical Engineering Field and Space Robotics Laboratory, was probably one of the noblest foreign experts of the conference. He shared his view on what kind of robots might be required by the market in the nearest future. 

It’s hard to predict the futurehe reminded an ironical joke.

But despite this, he said, now it’s well understood that on the background of progress and availability of robots, machines for small business will be popular. Home robots, including machines to help people wit limited physical abilities, as well as robots-nurses in hospitals, robots for logistics, sorting and delivery of merchandise will probably be in high demand.

Robot is a mixture of physical with digital, which can listen commands, can work autonomously without humans’ intervention. We need lower cost robotics, that can be programmed by not experts, programmed by weeks, monthsSteven Dubowsky.

Gary Bradsky is also a very noble expert. He talked about and played on video some fragments of a great story of a RoboCar invention and manufacturing. Based on this case he described the OpenCV system to manage robots. The robotized car, which today drives around Los Angeles and different states of California was born during DARPA Grand Challenge. And the story itself on how the legendary Challenge was very appealing to young engineers, who will take part soon in the Skolkovo Robotics Challenge. At that DARPA contest the “Stanley” car won, and Bradsky together with his colleagues invented the machine vision for the car.

I drove as a passenger on the back seat of the RoboCar for hundred milesBradsky told to inspired innovators, who got together in the Hypercube building of the Skolkovo Innovation Center that day.


Skolkovo Robotics Challenge votes results on the contest priorities

The vote on preferences for the Skolkovo Robotics Challenge was the final part of the conference. Overall, about thirty preferences were voiced out. Albert Efimov, Project director of the Skolkovo IT cluster asked participants to vote with the help of like-post-in stickers. 


And here are the results (TOP-10 preferences):

  1. A robotic platform for educational programs
  2. Automatic harvesting for agricultural purposes
  3. "Brain - Computer" interaction interface
  4. Exoskeleton and so called "third hand"
  5. Cognitive robots
  6. Personal protection robots
  7. Robotic delivery of goods to remote mobile groups
  8. Android robot
  9. An adequate model of robotic arm
  10. And the tenth place was shared between: Object recognition from a moving vehicle and a robot for medical diagnosis and therapy

It’s important to note that this list reflects only preferences of the conference participants, the list of official nominations will be known when the terms of Skolkovo Robotics Challenge are officially announced.


The photo album of the Skolkovo Robotics Conference