Opinions & Editorials

Silicon Valley Robot Block Party and Ideas on Educating the Public

Silicon Valley Robot Block Party 2016

The ExR team had the opportunity to attend the Silicon Valley Robot Block Party held in April at the Jabil Blue Sky Center in San Jose, CA.  This is an annual event organized by Silicon Valley Robotics with the aim to introduce robotics and robotics technology to everyone who might be interested.  Admission was free, and thousands of visitors of all ages saw exhibits by over 30 robotics companies.  The whole event was very reminiscent of a tech convention with robots and their creators organized by themes inhabiting the same rooms.  This was a fantastic event where kids, parents and inventors alike talked and learned about the newest trends in robotics.

The Robot Block Party had everything from homemade robots, inflatables, industrial robots, clean room robots, controllers, 3D printers, humanoid robots and Segways.  As you can see in our video, the ExR team had a fantastic time:

While the Robot Block Party had over 30 companies, regrettably there wasn’t a single exoskeleton in sight. But as exoskeleton technology is starting to leave the shadows of obscurity and people are learning that the technology exists there is a lot of confusion forming on what exoskeletons can and can’t do.

If the exoskeleton industry is to move forward, companies and enthusiasts have to start reaching out to the general public.  It is everyone’s responsibility to set clear expectations on the capabilities and limitations of wearable robotics.  The Robot Block Party had several educational and outreach tools which can be used by the exoskeleton industry.

Mannequins with wearable technology

At the Silicon Valley Robot Block Party were several mannequins with electronics embedded clothing.  Two or three mannequins with an exoskeleton and a table for the presenters on the side can go a long way to capture people’s attention and interest.

Segway riding course

Representatives of Segway took advantage of the wonderful California weather and set up their table not inside but outside the event rooms under a foldable tent.  Segway had four devices for demonstration purposes and any adult could be trained to ride them in one to three minutes.  After that people who wanted to could take their Segway through a cone obstacle course, off roading or even a speed test between the buildings.  Segway has been involved in crash fatalities in the past so they had not one but two release of consent forms, but they took less than a minute to fill out and people were flocking to try out the machines.  As you can see in our video above, this was a genius and effective way to reach out to people.  Exoskeleton companies should definitely consider having demo stations like this in the future.

Brochures with educational material

Another successful education tool that I encountered is informational booklets that have commercial information only at the end of each chapter.  Each chapter or section would explain a particular phenomenon or source of error in general terms with 3D drawings (including for failure mode) in very general terms.  But only at the end of each section would there be a mini catalog of what the company has to offer as a solution.  I think exoskeleton companies need to start publishing such material as well.  For example, this is back strain caused by lift-and-carry, diagrams, explanation and at the end “here is how our exoskeleton fixes it.”  The companies that have products in multiple categories such as Ekso Bionics, CYBERDYNE and Hocoma should stand to gain the most by having a more educated public.

Special thanks to Silicon Valley Robotics for organizing the Robot Block Party.  It was a very fun event and I hope that there will be exoskeletons there next year.  The event was full of ideas on how to demonstrate and market robotics technology and build familiarity with new technology across multiple generations.

For more, visit the Silicon Valley Robotics website: https://svrobo.org

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