#GlobalAussies: Robotics expert Andra Keay is helping Aussie deep tech startups go global

Andra is an Advance member based in California, who’s continuously growing opportunities for Australia on the global stage. She discusses her journey and provides some tips to help accelerate the future of Aussie startups, investors and policy makers in the robotics space.

By Andra Keay | Contributor

Curiosity took me to Silicon Valley in 2010, in the pursuit of the latest innovation in robotics. Why? Because the social, technological and economic drivers were lining up for a, ‘Cambrian Explosion in robotics,’ as Dr Gill Pratt from DARPA said in 2015. We’ve had almost sixty years of the Robotics 1.0 industry, which was full of big, expensive programmable, but not adaptable robots. Primarily these machines were caged in factories, painting and welding robots for the automotive industry and consumer electronics assembly. They aren’t the stuff of science fiction, and the economic impact in 2020 was only approximately $50B in revenue for machines, software and servicing.

Robotics 2.0: A paradigm shift since 2010

Where robots used to be, ‘dirty, dull, dangerous and dumb’ – the 4 Ds, newer robots are, ‘smarter, smaller, full of sensors, and safer.’ That’s the ‘4 Ss of Robotics 2.0.’ Robots built this decade are becoming affordable, adaptable and potentially multipurpose, because these robots have the ability to navigate in real time, in the real world. Robotics is becoming a platform technology, like computing, and rippling out in every single industry.

You’ll see Robotics 2.0 self-driving cars, sidewalk delivery robots, hospital or airport disinfection units, fast food handling robots, robots in the vineyards and packing plants, or the beauty salon (hair plug implants, manicures, custom mixed beauty products, eyelash extensions). OK, I’m not totally convinced that all of the new breed of beauty robots will survive contact with a wide range of customers, but some will.

Everyone can now see the value of a workplace that is less vulnerable to the loss of human labor, and is more capable of, ‘contact free,’ workflows for the safety of humans

The pandemic killed off a whole crop of young robotics startups who hadn’t quite raised funding, as investors shied away from meeting new companies for about 9 months, but every robotics startup that’s a bit further along has been overwhelmed with demand. In health, retail, logistics, construction and agriculture, I hear the market saying that while they were planning on testing robots in 2021, they’ve now moved ten years into the future and they’re ready to acquire whatever robots they can.

So, good news for robotics companies!

In fact in 2020 the amount invested into robotics startups, or into the acquisition of robotics companies totalled $50B. For reference, it was $0.001B in 2010. We’re seeing exponential growth in Robotics 2.0. And that’s great news for people too, because firstly, robotics companies are hiring. Secondly, ALL companies that are starting to use robots are hiring. There is NO evidence that a company that buys or rents a couple of robots immediately sacks people.

There IS evidence that companies that automate maintain profitability and grow, whereas companies that don’t automate go bankrupt or go overseas, which is when the jobs are really lost.

And finally, people should not be doing ‘robotic’ jobs. People are amazing at things that robots just can’t do – carrying on a conversation for example. Let robots do the dull, dirty and dangerous tasks while we run the robots, or invent more creative things to do with our time.

Connect with Andra

Andra Keay is the Managing Director of Silicon Valley Robotics, the non-profit industry group supporting innovation and commercialization of robotics technologies. She is a mentor, investor and advisor, founder of the Robot Launch global startup competition, Robot Garden makerspace, Women in Robotics organisation and Visiting Scholar with the CITRIS People and Robots Initiative at UC Berkeley.

As an expat, she’d still love to return to Australia, but for now Andra can be more helpful to Aussie robotics and deep tech startups in Oakland, with 32,000 sq ft of science and robotics startups, prototyping equipment and Silicon Valley Robotics helping to accelerate the future. If you are looking to take your deep tech company globally, connect with her on LinkedIn, or follow her updates on Twitter via Robot Launch and the Silicon Valley Robotics.