Minnesota has emerged as one of the key areas on a list of emerging centers for growth in the robotics industry.
Robotics is a global industry anchored by a series of regional hubs - cities like Pittsburgh, Boston and San Francisco in the U.S. and countries like Japan, China, Korea and Germany around the world. As robotics explodes with growth, other clusters have developed where the required mix of academic and business resources meets a history of high tech business success in predecessor industries.
Minnesota's growth as an industrial cluster on the global robotics map is mirrored by the trajectory of Robotics Alley, the international robotics conference and expo based in the Twin Cities.
The North Star State's robotics community is held together by a diverse array of companies, institutions and enthusiast groups both new and old. PaR Systems, which specializes in automated manufacturing and material handling, has been in business for more than 50 years. Stratasys (which recently purchased MakerBot to effectively merge the worlds of professional and desktop 3D printing), was founded in a Twin Cities suburb more than 20 years ago - before anyone even knew what 3D printing was. Newcomer ReconRobotics, which just reported it has sold more military and police robots worldwide than any company (aside from iRobot), started only six years ago. All of these companies, and others like Polaris Defense and NPC Robotics, will be in attendance at the event, along with other regional, national and international robotics industry players.
Those companies are able to thrive in Minnesota because they are part of a growing robotics ecosystem. Besides a strong group of core businesses, the backbone of any robotics cluster is research, and the Center for Distributed Robotics at the University of Minnesota fulfills that role in the Twin Cities. Its research led directly to innovations like the Throwbot from ReconRobotics, and it continues to break new ground in important areas like search and rescue, navigation and video surveillance. Additionally, lest people believe the burgeoning maker movement only exists on the coasts, Minnesota is home to the Hack Factory, a Minneapolis-based maker space where budding roboticists and other creative do-it-yourselfers can go to ply their trades.
In its inaugural year in 2011, the Robotics Alley conference was a relatively modest event at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota - though even in that first year, it attracted world-class speakers like Pete Singer of Brookings Institution and author of the book "Wired for War." The following year, the event moved to a new venue and got bigger in every way: more speakers, more exhibitors and more industry leaders in attendance.
Last year the event drew guests like Dr. Chul Hue Park, director of the Korea Institute for Robot Industry Advancement, and Dan Wilson, author of Robopocalypse (which Steven Spielberg committed to direct as a movie). This year's event promises to draw a similarly diverse group of visitors, and we hope you are one of them.
Now in its third year, Robotics Alley will be hosted by the new Twin Cities AUVSI Chapter (Minnesota's local nonprofit affiliate of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International). This relationship will allow for a greater ability to support important global industrial growth, fund STEM education initiatives, and work with government partners dedicated to a shared mission.
This November, the event's impressive growth continues with significantly expanded expo hall, more of the robots we love (including standouts like America's Baxter, a Nao robot, and Japan's Paro), a new STEM education showcase and a satellite showing of the Robot Film Festival featuring a Q&A for aspiring roboticists with founder (and WIRED magazine Cover Girl) Heather Knight. Confirmed speakers include Michael Toscano, president of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International; Jonathan Cobb, executive vice president at 3D-printing giant Stratasys; Lt. General Rick Lynch, who is now the executive director of the University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute; and more. (You can get the full rundown here.)
Robotics Alley was founded by the Minnesota High Tech Association and ReconRobotics to take advantage of Minnesota's existing ecosystem and help it flourish. However, as organizers of the event, we strongly believe that a solid robotics presence in the Midwest is good for the industry as a whole - and growing the industry overall remains one of our most important goals. We want to be a resource for the industry, like our sister site - The Business of Robotics - a news blog that was launched by ReconRobotics in 2013 with the same goals as Robotics Alley: to act as a tool that helps facilitate learning and dialogue within this rapidly changing industry.
We couldn't be happier with the growth of Robotics Alley and the support we've received from around the world, but we need your help to create an even more vibrant and prosperous global robotics industry in the years to come!
Come to the 2013 Robotics Alley Conference & Expo on November 12-13 at the Saint Paul RiverCentre to see what Midwestern robotics is all about and mingle with some of the world's leading businesses, universities, media, investors and policy professionals in the global robotics industry. We guarantee you'll meet some interesting people (and robots) who are driving economic and industrial growth into the future!