Robots: More Than A Technical Challenge


This is the DARPA Pet-Proto Robot (a predecessor to the Atlas model) showing some pretty cool initial operating capabilities for navigating around obstacles.

– Climbing over a wall
– Straddling a pit
– Going up a staircase
– Walking a plank

These things may seem simple to you and I, but for these robots, we are talking about their autonomously sensing what’s around them, identifying and evaluating alternatives to overcome them, deciding on what to actually do, and then successfully executing on it.

Not bad for a machine (even if we are spoiled by the the great science fiction writers and special effects of Hollywood)!

We will be seeing a lot more progress in this area in the 27 months in response to the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), where robots are being looked to “execute complex tasks” for “humanitarian, disaster relief, and related activities” in potentially “dangerous and degraded, and human-engineered” environments.

I’d say only another 15-20 more years and the robots will walking among us–but are we prepared for the significant shift about to occur.

Think about it–these robots will be able to do a lot more of the physical work (construction, manufacturing, service, care-taking, even warfighting, and more), and while we will benefit from the help, jobs are going to continue to get a lot tougher to find if you are not in fields such as engineering, science, technology, design, and so on.

This is going to lead to continued, significant social, educational, and economic disruptions.

What is now a robotics challenge to meet certain performance benchmarks, may in the future become a human challenge to shift from a human-dominated world to one which is instead shared or commingled with machines.

This means that we need to define the boundaries between man and machine–will we be working and playing side-by-side, how about loving or fighting each other, and is there the possibility that the machine will some day transcend the inventor altogether.

I believe that we need significant more study and research into how robotics are going to transform the way we live, work, and interact, and how humanity will adapt and survive this new monumental opportunity, but also looming threat.

What is just an obstacle to overcome in a simulation chamber may one day become an urban battlefield where humans are not necessarily the clear winners.

While I love robotics and where it can take us, this cannot be a field limited to the study of hardware and software alone.

RIM Is Doomed

Spiral
Judge David Young of Court TV has a frequent saying that “Denial is not a river in Egypt.”
 
When it comes to Research In Motion (RIM) the maker of the traditional organization mobile Blackberry device, denial now seems on par for their course.

On Tuesday (3 July 2012), the new CEO of RIM, Thorstein Heins was quoted as saying “There’s nothing wrong with the company as it exists right now.”

Yet since Mr. Heins took over RIM in January, the company’s stock is down 50% and is down more than 90% from it’s mid-2008 highs.

BlackBerry continues to lose out to stronger competitors like the iPhone and Android. On May 25, Digital trends reported in an article called “Poor BlackBerry” on IDC’s 2nd quarter 2012 marketshare numbers for Smartphones with Android at around 60%, iPhone at 23%, and Blackberry at a mere 6%.

Further the new Blackberry 10 has been twice delayed, and RIM announced it’s first operating loss in eight years, as it plans to downsize 5,000 employees (or a third of its workforce).

In the self-help industry, it is frequently said that the first step to getting better is to recognize that you have a problem.

In the case of RIM–we are looking at a company that unfortunately is either playing it too cool to be real with their customers and the marketplace, or they are in a deep and dangerous case of utter denial.

 
Either way, unless RIM takes decisive action soon–and that means first and foremost, coming to terms with their predictment and second, coming out with some major new disruptive technology for the mobile marketplace–they are doomed to the annals of tech history.
 
(Source Photo: here with attribution to Steve Jurvetson)

Innovation: Leaders vs. Liars

Innovation

There’s a big difference between doing something and saying you’re going to do something.

Or as I learned early on–words are cheap, but actions speak loud and clear.

The Wall Street Journal (23 May 2012) reported this week about how many companies (and even academic institutions) overuse the word innovation–“the introduction of something new.”

It’s practically become cliche–“chief innovation officers, innovation teams, innovation strategies, and even innovation days.”

So is innovation just the buzzword du jour or is ultimately something more?

Of course, the more we use something like the term innovation, the greater the chance to dilute its meaning.

– “33,528–times [innovation] was mentioned in quarterly and annual reports last year.”

– “255–books published in the last 90 days with innovation in the title.”

– “43%–of 260 executives who said their company has a chief innovation officer.”

However, innovation is not just a word to throw around and use lightly–innovation is our bread and butter in this country; it is what differentiates us from our global competitors (i.e. its one of our main competitive advantages) and is a source of our economic strength.

Not all innovation is created equal–there is “innovation lite” (my term), where we take something and make it better, faster, or cheaper, and then there is “disruptive innovation”–where we really bring something new to the market.

“Everybody’s innovating because any change is innovation,” but not every innovation is transformative.

We can’t afford for innovation to lose its meaning, because leaders and companies that abuse it and dilute it–and don’t ultimately deliver–will end up losing their jobs and ultimately the companies themselves.

Real innovation is like condiments, use it sparingly and it can pack a huge punch–pour it on indiscriminately, and you might as well just throw away the whole dish.

What we need are innovation leaders that don’t just mouth the words and buy the toys, but champion it, invest in it, and empower and encourage their employees to make it happen.

Innovate or die is our reality–so be a true innovation leader–don’t lie to yourself if it isn’t the real thing. 😉

(Source Photo: herewith attribution to Seth Waite)