Building Things: 



  • A look at what product-market fit wayfinding looks like in a robotics startup. We've worked with a number of robotics startups over the years, for both consumer and industrial applications. In some ways, industrial robots resemble appliances: they are given particular controlled contexts, and very specific jobs to do. Consumer robots on the other hand, operate with the expectation of being able to handle a weirder, wider array of scenarios and spaces, all without skilled technicians to set them up or maintain them. Add to that the pricing pressures on consumer products, and the opportunity space shrinks down to a tiny sliver. To succeed within that sliver is very nearly a magic trick, requiring shrewd engineering, brilliant marketing, thoughtful design, and as with all things, a good deal of timing and luck. 
  • Grasping is among the technical hurdles preventing more useful robots from entering complex and constantly changing environments like the home, though the field is progressing quickly towards greater gripping capabilities and comprehensive modeling of how objects exist and move in the world. For now, the costs of the combined vision, computing, and mechanical grasping systems are above the consumer level threshold, instead serving industries like warehouse fulfillment and food packing. 
  • An article from the Boston Globe on the freshly made meal food-vending startup Spyce. The author writes of "robots making meals" though that's a vast overstatement of what is really happening. Such linguistic simplification on behalf of eager technologists isn't just inaccurate, it's an act of erasure for the real, very human labor toiling behind the curtain. In the case of Spyce, the food is picked, cleaned, sorted, and cut by human hands before it reaches the automated hoppers that then combine, heat, and dispense. Put into a more complete context, the robots are not so magical. The smoke-and-mirrors show here resembles the broader branding mirage common to top-tier restaurants and tech companies alike: one or more prominent (usually white, usually male, usually affluent) individuals act as the public-facing symbol of bold, brand new innovation while behind the scenes the products (whether gourmet meals or slick smartphones) are only possible because of the many skilled hands (often of color, often female, often underpaid) performing the substance of the work itself. 


Roadmapping the Future:  


Upgrading Ourselves:  


More next week.