Give Me ‘Disruptive’


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Robotics: From Tesla in 1898 to Exits in 2011-2016



Submerged version of Nikola Tesla's remote-controlled boat

Submerged version of Nikola Tesla’s remote-controlled boat


[Nikola] Tesla wanted an extraordinary way to demonstrate the potential of his system for wireless transmission of energy [radio]. In 1898, at an electrical exhibition in the recently completed Madison Square Garden, he made a demonstration of the world’s first radio-controlled vessel. Everyone expected surprises from Tesla, but few were prepared for the sight of a small, odd-looking, iron-hulled boat scooting across an indoor pond (specially built for the display). The boat was equipped with, as Tesla described, “a borrowed mind.”

“When first shown… it created a sensation such as no other invention of mine has ever produced,” wrote Tesla. As happened fairly often with his inventions, many of those present were unsure how to react, whether to laugh or take flight. He had cleverly devised a means of putting the audience at ease, encouraging onlookers to ask questions of the boat. For instance, in response to the question “What is the cube root of 64?” lights on the boat flashed four times. In an era when only a handful of people knew about radio waves, some thought that Tesla was controlling the small ship with his mind. In actuality, he was sending signals to the mechanism using a small box with control levers on the side.

Tesla’s U.S. patent number 613,809 describes the first device anywhere for wireless remote control. The working model, or “teleautomaton,” responded to radio signals and was powered with an internal battery.

Tesla did not limit his method to boats, but generalized the invention’s potential to include vehicles of any sort and mechanisms to be actuated for any purpose. He envisioned one operator or several operators simultaneously directing fifty or a hundred vessels or machines through differently tuned radio transmitters and receivers.

When a New York Times writer suggested that Tesla could make the boat submerge and carry dynamite as a weapon of war, the inventor himself exploded. Tesla quickly corrected the reporter: “You do not see there a wireless torpedo, you see there the first of a race of robots, mechanical men which will do the laborious work of the human race.”

Tesla’s device was literally the birth of robotics, though he is seldom recognized for this accomplishment. The inventor was trained in electrical and mechanical engineering, and these skills merged beautifully in this remote-controlled boat. Unfortunately, the invention was so far ahead of its time that those who observed it could not imagine its practical applications.

[Nikola] Tesla’s work in robotics began in the late 1890s when he patented his remote-controlled boat, an invention that absolutely stunned onlookers at the 1898 Electrical Exhibition at Madison Square Garden. [Tesla said in 1935:]

At present we suffer from the derangement of our civilization because we have not yet completely adjusted ourselves to the machine age. The solution of our problems does not lie in destroying but in mastering the machine.

Innumerable activities still performed by human hands today will be performed by automatons. At this very moment scientists working in the laboratories of American universities are attempting to create what has been described as a ” thinking machine.” I anticipated this development.

I actually constructed ” robots.” Today the robot is an accepted fact, but the principle has not been pushed far enough. In the twenty-first century the robot will take the place which slave labor occupied in ancient civilization. There is no reason at all why most of this should not come to pass in less than a century, freeing mankind to pursue its higher aspirations.

CB Insights:

Last year was the busiest year for robotics M&A activity, with the industry seeing nearly 15 acquisitions of private companies (we excluded reverse mergers and unit acquisitions). This year there have been three M&A deals involving private robotics companies year-to-date.

  • Around 50% of acquisitions were in industrial robotics: A majority of the acquisitions in the last 5 years have been in the industrial robotics sector. A notable deal was Teradyne’s acquisition of Denmark-based Universal Robotics in Q2’15. The startup, with subsidiaries in countries including China and Singapore, makes robotics arms for application in a variety of industries including electronics, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals.
  • VC-backed acquisitions: US-based Segway, backed by investors including smart money VC Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, was acquired in 2013 by Summit Strategic Investments, and later acquired by China-based personal transportation startup Ninebot in 2015. Other VC-backed startups that were acquired include Aldebaran Robotics and VGo Communications.
  • Canada-based acquirers: This year, Ontario-based medical device and robotics corporation, Bionik Laboratories, acquired Massachusetts-based Interactive Motion Technologies, a startup providing robotic technology for neuro-rehabilitation. Two other Ontario-based corporations, Great Rock Development and Ross Video, acquired autonomous robotic startup Cyberworks and robotic camera startup FX-Motion, respectively.
  • Google dominates 2013: Google acquired 7 robotics startups in 2013 — including US Department of Defense grantee Boston Dynamics, Japan-based SCHAFT, and robotics motion control startup Bot & Dolly — as part of an ambitious plan to boost its robotics division. But Google has now put its Boston Dynamics unit for sale amid leadership changes and management issues, Bloomberg reported, listing Amazon and Toyota Research Institute as potential acquirers.
  • Amazon makes key industrial robotics acquisition in 2012: The previously-mentioned Kiva robots are now used at Amazon’s warehouse and fulfillment center. Post the acquisition, “there has been a scramble of new providers [like Iam Robotics, Locus Robotics, and 6 River Systems] to fill the void left by Kiva’s technology,” Frank Tobe wrote in The Robot Report.
  • Aldebaran rebrands as SoftBank Robotics: In 2012, Japan-based SoftBank Group bought a majority stake in Paris-based Aldebaran Robotics, the makers of NAO, Pepper, and Romeo robots. Aldebaran was rebranded earlier this year as SoftBank Robotics.


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Textbooks and College Tuition Lead Price Increases 1996-2016


Source: BLS

HT: CB Insights

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Economic Impact of U.S. Venture Capital


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AI: The Story So Far, Stuart Russell (Video)

Machine Learning Research Institute:

As previously announced, we recently ran a 22-day Colloquium Series on Robust and Beneficial AI (CSRBAI) at the MIRI office, co-hosted with the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute. The colloquium was aimed at bringing together safety-conscious AI scientists from academia and industry to share their recent work. The event served that purpose well, initiating some new collaborations and a number of new conversations between researchers who hadn’t interacted before or had only talked remotely.

Over 50 people attended from 25 different institutions, with an average of 15 people present on any given talk or workshop day. In all, there were 17 talks and four weekend workshops on the topics of transparency, robustness and error-tolerance, preference specification, and agent models and multi-agent dilemmas. The full schedule and talk slides are available on the event page.

Stuart Russell, professor of computer science at UC Berkeley and co-author of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, gave the opening keynote. Russell spoke on “AI: The Story So Far” (slides). Abstract:

I will discuss the need for a fundamental reorientation of the field of AI towards provably beneficial systems. This need has been disputed by some, and I will consider their arguments. I will also discuss the technical challenges involved and some promising initial results.

Russell discusses his recent work on cooperative inverse reinforcement learning 36 minutes in. This paper and Dylan Hadfield-Menell’s related talk on corrigibility (slides) inspired lots of interest and discussion at CSRBAI.

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Benchmarking Digital Transformation



If your organization is moving toward digital too slowly, your people may be looking to leave. That’s one of the findings highlighted here and explored more fully in Aligning the organization for its digital future.

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IoT Facts and Figures


Business Insider:

  • In total, we project there will be 34 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020, up from 10 billion in 2015. IoT devices will account for 24 billion, while traditional computing devices (e.g. smartphones, tablets, smartwatches, etc.) will comprise 10 billion.
  • Nearly $6 trillion will be spent on IoT solutions over the next five years.
  • Businesses will be the top adopter of IoT solutions. They see three ways the IoT can improve their bottom line by 1) lowering operating costs; 2) increasing productivity; and 3) expanding to new markets or developing new product offerings.
  • Governments are focused on increasing productivity, decreasing costs, and improving their citizens’ quality of life. We believe they will be the second-largest adopters of IoT ecosystems.
  • Consumers will lag behind businesses and governments in IoT adoption. Still, they will purchase a massive number of devices and invest a significant amount of money in IoT ecosystems.


1. The worldwide Internet of Things market is predicted to grow to $1.7 trillion by 2020, marking a compound annual growth rate of 16.9%. – IDC Worldwide Internet of Things Forecast, 2015 – 2020.

2. An estimated 25 billion connected “things” will be in use by 2020. – Gartner Newsroom

3. Wearable technology vendors shipped 78.1 million wearable devices in 2015, an increase of 171.6% from 2014. Shipment predictions for this year are 111 million, increasing to 215 million in 2019. – IDC Worldwide Quarterly Wearable Device Tracker

4. By 2020, each person is likely to have an average of 5.1 connected devices. – Frost and Sullivan Power Management in IoT and Connected Devices

5. In a 2016 PwC survey of 1,000 U.S. consumers, 45% say they now own a fitness band, 27% a smartwatch, and 12% smart clothing. 57% say they are excited about the future of wearable technology as part of everyday life. 80% say wearable devices make them more efficient at home, 78% more efficient at work. – PwC The Wearable Life 2.0: Connected Living in a Wearable World

6. By 2020, more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some element, large or small, of the Internet of Things. – Gartner Predicts 2016: Unexpected Implications Arising from the Internet of Things

7. 65% of approximately 1,000 global business executives surveyed say they agree organizations that leverage the internet of things will have a significant advantage; 19% however, still say they have never heard of the Internet of Things. – Internet of Things Institute 2016 I0T Trends Survey

8. 80% of retailers worldwide say they agree that the Internet of Things will drastically change the way companies do business in the next three years. – Retail Systems Research: The Internet of Things in Retail: Great Expectations

9. By 2018, six billion things will have the ability to request support. – Gartner Predicts 2016: CRM Customer Service and Support

10. By 2020, 47% of devices will have the necessary intelligence to request support. –Gartner Predicts 2016: CRM Customer Service and Support

11. By 2025, the Internet of Things could generate more than $11 trillion a year in economic value through improvements in energy efficiency, public transit, operations management, smart customer relationship management and more. –McKinsey Global Institute Report: The Internet of Things: Mapping the value behind the Hype

12. Barcelona estimates that IoT systems have helped the city save $58 million a year from connected water management and $37 million a year via smart street lighting alone. – Harvard University Report

13. General Electric estimates that the “Industrial Internet” market (connected industrial machinery) will add $10 to $15 trillion to the global GDP within the next 20 years. – GE Reports

14. General Electric believes that using connected industrial machinery to make oil and gas exploration and development just 1% more efficient would result in a savings of $90 billion. – GE Reports

15. The connected health market is predicted to grow to $117B by 2020. Remote patient monitoring is predicted to be a $46 billion market by 2017. – ACT Report

16. Connected homes will be a major part of the Internet of Things. By 2019, companies will ship 1.9 billion connected home devices, marking an estimated $490 billion in revenue (Business Insider Intelligence). By 2020, even the connected kitchen will contribute at least 15 percent savings in the food and beverage industry, leveraging data analytics. – Gartner Research Predicts 2015: The Internet of Things

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