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Inside the 'rapid advance of robotics' at TechCrunch's Robotics fair at MIT

TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics is bringing all things 'bots to a one-day event at MIT on Monday.
MIT Atlas Robot
MIT's Atlas robot will be demoed at the TechCrunch event and is one that Ned Desmond is particularly excited to see. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The future is now, and it may be most evident in the advanced world of robots. On Monday, some of the top players in the robotics field will come together at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics, a one-day event. There, experts will talk everything bots, from “building the robot brain” to robots’ role in humanity, as well as conduct workshops and show off demos of the latest working robots.

Ned Desmond, COO of TechCrunch, gave a rundown of what to expect at the event and what robots mean for our future.

How does this event compare to others TechCrunch has done?
The startup world has spread to an ever increasing number of categories and it has become impossible to address them all in a meaningful way in our larger Disrupt events, which we hold three times a year. We are starting to break out some of those topics into one-day focused efforts.

Robotics is a huge category that has become much more interesting to the startup world in the past year or two due to rapid advances on several technology fronts. In the past, robotics was largely centered on defense, academic and corporate (industrial) work, but now the startup scene is starting to take off on the many tech breakthroughs in autonomous vehicles, drones, collaborative industrial robotics, biomimetics and more.

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Robotics can still be daunting or sci-fi to many people, what do you say to them and what is the future of robotics that you see?
The rapid advance of robotics is inevitable, and to some extent just an ambient presence in the world around us. Autonomous drones fly and fight in military conflicts and self-driving cars are on the roads. Robots in industrial facilities are moving out of cages to work side-by-side with humans. Robots to take care of the elderly or deal with basic home care are also a reality.

For the most part, it's hard to argue that any of this is troubling because it's all in the service making our lives better and safer. The fears of a sci-fi nature tend to revolve around the idea of a superior AI capability that might make robots "smarter" than humans and result in unknown consequences. That's a real issue and we will discuss that it at the show.

What area of robotics is set to grow the fastest (i.e. autonomy, drones, etc)?
Great question! That's very much on the minds of the VCs and entrepreneurs at the show. Warehouse robotics is a very big category, as are collaborative robotics, which are the new generation of machines in the workplace and factories. Those are huge markets. Medical robots are hugely varied in type but also very important.

Is this event just for those trying to enter the world of robotics, or can anyone get something out of it?
The robotics scene, broadly speaking, is going to be a huge employer in the years ahead. The jobs will encompass everything from developers and fabricators to repair people, sales and marketing and operations folks. The opportunities are huge. And that's why everyone should be paying attention. Plus, who isn't intrigued by robots?

TechCrunch Sessions: Robotics begins 8 a.m. on Monday, July 17. Tickets are available at the door for $395. 

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