Aligning Forces in Canadian Robotics
Posted on Sep 29, 2017 12:00 PM. 4 min read time
Today, I have the honor to open the Stakeholder meeting and workshop of the Canadian Robotics Strategy event in Vancouver BC. It's an important time to reflect of what has been done so far and what are the next opportunities to seize. We'll mainly discuss the future or robotics research in Canada, its commercial potential and the collaboration between academics and industries.
The Canadian Robotics Strategy event in Vancouver BC
I'm sharing my opening words with you today, so that you feel the passion that drives us, Canadians, to unite our efforts in building a better future with robotics.
Opening Words: How I Ended Up In Robotics
This is somewhat of an accident.
I never planned on being in robotics. It is astronomy that brought me to study engineering physics at Laval U in Québec. Then one Summer during my bachelor degree, I did an internship at Prof. Clément Gosselin's lab.
The job was quite fun! With other students and engineers, we had to prepare demos for guests who were coming at the end of the Summer for an international conference, similar to the one that was held here this week. So we spent the summer programming various demos
I had absolutely no reference from the robotics world. I did not have a clue of who would be there and what their reaction would be. I was just happy to make real things move around with my programs.
So, at the end of the Summer, the event was held and I would run the demos with the rest of the team. What I saw was a great surprise. Top robotics researchers from around the world were enthusiastically visiting the lab and being absolutely amazed by the various robots we were presenting!
It made me realize, wow! It looks like there is very high quality work being done here! And at the same time: wow, we gotta do something to bring this expertise to the world!
And this was one of the driver behind the foundation of Robotiq 5 years later. Robotiq today employs 70 people (double from last year) and exports 95% of its products to more than 40 countries around the world.
Focus / Alignment
We started the company licensing a robotic hand technology that had been financed in part by the country's space program. This technology almost made it to space (before the Robotiq time) on the Dexter robot at the end of Canadarm 2, that very robot that we can see today on canadian 5$ bills.
The fact that we use a robot as the ultimate illustration of canadian ingenuity is in itself noteworthy. But it’s also a powerful symbol of the contribution space robotics has made to the Canadian economy… My company is just one of many that have spun out of the space program.
What is the process that made this possible?
How did we end up with this robot on our 5 $ bills?
To me, it's a mix of commitment to research investment and focus. I may have arrived by accident to the area of robotics, but achievements on the scale of the Canadarm don’t happen without first having a bold vision. There must have been a point in time where the actors of aerospace from across the country, led by the Canadian Space Agency, did just like what we're doing today.
They got together and decided how they should align forces to make a difference in the world. They knew that they had to concentrate the skilled but scarce resources of the country on some specific goals to become useful and unique in some key spatial technologies.
And by becoming useful and unique, Canada became an active and globally recognized contributor to the world's space program
So to me, if I had to chose only one question to be answered at that stakeholder meeting, it would be:
What unique contributions can canadian robotics make to the world ?
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