Robotics to take center stage in Edina

Everything from robots capable of doing stand-up comedy to robots saving the lives of military service members  will be discussed when robotics industry leaders come together.

Edina will be at the center of the robotics industry when more than 300 people in robotics research, design, business development and investment gather for the Robotics Alley Expo at the Westin Edina Galleria Hotel. Companies will also have their robot technologies on display during the conference on Thursday, Nov. 15.

Robotics Alley is a collaborative effort between ReconRobotics, headquartered in Edina, and the non-profit Minnesota High Tech Association, headed by former Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

During its inaugural year last year, more than 150 people attended. They’re on track this year to reach capacity for registration, conference Executive Director Andrew Borene said. Borene is also the director of corporate business development and government relations at ReconRobotics.

New this year is a business breakfast with select sponsors like 3M and Polaris Defense to discuss the Twin Cities’ leadership in the robotics industry. They’re bringing together something that’s unique between newer companies like ReconRobotics and a more established company like PaR Systems, Borene said.

Several keynote speakers are expected to speak between breakout sessions throughout the daylong conference.

Dan Wilson, the keynote luncheon speaker, will be presenting on fact versus fiction in the industry. Wilson authored the science-fiction book “Robopocalypse.” However, that isn’t Wilson’s view of the world. Wilson, who hold a doctorate in robotics, believes technology is changing the world for the better, Borene said.

Heather Knight will use part of her keynote address to show off the comedic chops of a robot with a stand-up comedy routine. Knight, president of Marilyn Monrobot Labs, is pushing robotics into a completed unexpected realm: the use of robots in entertainment, Borene said. Knight also created the Robot Film Fest.

Knight’s keynote address will conclude with The Robettes, the robotics team from Visitation School, showcasing their work. The Minnesota High School League supports robotics as a varsity activity.

Many objects that exist in every day life were created by defense industry, whether it’s jet engines or the Internet. Chris Mailey of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International will explain the emerging markets for robotics based on his research on the phenomena of defense industry-created technology that becomes mainstream.

Retired Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch is expected to share his expertise with the crowd on how robots are saving the lives of military members. In his position, he worked with the White House on where robotics could be used on bases and to familiarize service members with robots. Richard Voyles, National Science Foundation program director, will also discuss steps the federal government is taking and why the National Science Foundation initiative is important, he said.

Panel discussions during the conference will vary from the ethics and policy issues surrounding the proliferation of drones in the United States, to working to create high-tech growth in the Twin Cities.

Robotics Alley has also recently created the first searchable, crowdsourced map of the global robotics industry at that will be demonstrated during the conference. The map includes robotics manufacturers, suppliers, research organizations and university robotics departments.

The map is expected to include more than 5,000 organizations by January and nearly 10,000 organizations by the end of 2013. It’s searchable by region, market sector or company name.

Researchers, investors, policy makers, educators and suppliers can use the map to connect with each other.

“We created this map to reveal the geographic concentration of robotics organizations in the Midwest and to show the breadth and growth of the robotics industry across the United States and around the world,” Andrew Borene said.