Episode 11: Modularity in Robotics: A Vision for the Future

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With Afshin Doust

CEO at Advanced Intelligent Systems

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Modularity in Robotics: A Vision for the Future

What would it take for you to adopt the latest technology?

More than a promise, right?

The most common complaint about new technology is that it comes with a string of promises, but if things don't work out, you, the consumer — not the producer — lose out.

How can we make robotics scalable and cost-effective?

One man believes the answer lies in modularity.

Most of our tech isn’t developed to be modular. Our cell phones, speakers, and TVs are designed to be used for a limited window of time and can’t be reused in any way — at least by the end consumer.

However, Afshin Doust, CEO at Advanced Intelligent Systems, has a different vision for the future of robotics. 

In a recent episode of Over the Air, Afshin explained how modularity minimizes development costs and time while empowering a bigger and better robotics industry for the future.

We talked about:

  • Making robotics scalable
  • Bringing modularity to consumer technology
  • Why Robotics-as-a-Service?
  • Determining the core skills needed on your team

This post is based on a podcast episode with Afshin Doust, CEO at Advanced Intelligent Systems. To hear more interviews like this one, subscribe to Over the Air wherever you listen to podcasts.

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A Vision for a Modular Future

At Advanced Intelligence Systems, Afshin has a big vision, to use a practical robot for every task and to empower other robotics companies to avoid having to create everything ex nihilo

"We want to spend the time and the effort to create modules in order for our robots to go out there and work," Afshin explained. "But then in the bigger picture to be able to empower a bigger, better robotics industry for our future.”

The goal is to integrate more modularity into robotic technology. 

Modularity requires a longer development time. It just takes longer to create a product that's modular than it does to create a single piece of stand-alone technology. 

This approach defies the idea of a lean startup, one where you spend the least amount of money possible to develop a product that turns a profit as soon as possible.

That's the reason a lot of people don't go the modular way: it takes a lot more time and money to create the product. 

But once you start fashioning something modular, you significantly reduce your cost when you're developing your second or third product.

In the short run, yes, modularity hurts you as a developer. But in the long run, it helps you.

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That's why Afshin believes in establishing a proprietary library of hardware and software modules for robotics developers.

Benefits of Modularity

  • Reduces development time
  • Reduces development costs
  • Makes robotics more scalable 

Why Robotics-as-a-Service?

Customers who buy robotics complain about promises:

  • We were asked to invest in this big technology, but … it's expensive.
  • The technology didn't work, so … we lost.
  • The robotics company didn't deliver on its promises, and… our workflow got disrupted.

These complaints spurred Afshin to start asking hard questions: What if we don't ask you for a big initial capital expenditure? And what if you only pay for the work performed rather than owning an unpredictable piece of technology? 

"All of a sudden," Afshin told us, "we saw a glow in their eyes."

Afshin and his team came up with a way to price their products so the customers wouldn’t have to put forward an expensive initial capital expenditure to secure the product.

"And we put our word behind what we promised," Afshin said. 

If the product doesn't work, the customer doesn't pay. 

Everyone loved it.

Now, all of Advanced Intelligent Systems' products are geared towards being a machine-as-a-service or a robot-as-a-service. The company deploys the product. The customer puts the product to use and pays only for the amount of work performed. 

Benefits of RaaS

  • Creates a solution that costs less than the problem
  • Builds customer relationships
  • Adds to enterprise value
  • Adds recurring revenue

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Building a Team with the Right Skills

You can't restructure your approach to robotics development as fundamentally as Advanced Intelligent Systems did without putting the right team and the right skills behind it.

Afshin and his team began asking key questions:

  • What do we want to accomplish as a company? 
    • Do we want to be R&D sharp? 
    • Do we want to create products? 
  • What's the vision? 
    • How does everything fit into that vision? 

Those questions drove human relations and talent acquisition.

"We started by hiring people who wanted to be their best," Afshin said, "who wanted to learn and grow with the company."

For example, if you know how to code and the team needs you to code in a certain way, you get the opportunity to learn how to do that. As a member of the team, you get taught new skills, not replaced.

Once you're in, you're part of the family. Like any family, everyone learns and grows. As the company's direction sharpened and focused, team members grew into the spots that needed to be filled.

"As long as they see that you value them," Afshin said, "then they'll give you their best in order to deliver on what you require.”

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