Focus for an awesome robotic region

Cross stitch image by Jeffrey Veen. Used with permission. Some rights reserved.

Cross stitch image by Jeffrey Veen. Used with permission. Some rights reserved.

Our Region of Waterloo (and the surrounding area) is awesome. There’s no doubt about that. Full of tech, three amazing post-secondary institutions, rural areas, artistic, progressive. What more could you ask?

How about more robots?

What’s that you say? Robots? Yeah, robots!

Robotics already have a bit of a foothold (or wheel/track/propeller hold) in our area. There’s Aeryon Labs and Clearpath Robotics. ODG builds space rovers. New companies are popping up too, like Redtree Robotics in Guelph. Our secondary students get involved in First Robotics competitions. Conestoga College has a couple full-time courses involving robotics (of the industrial persuasion). I’m sure the post-grads at UW and WLU are cooking up some interesting research that none of us know about. Putting commercial bots and academia aside, we have a thriving bunch of enthusiasts (think Kwartzlab) building their own quad-copters and published robotics authors (hey Doug and Karl!).

So with all of that going on, why do I say that we need more robots? I believe our region could be a real force in the design, research, production and general advancement of autonomous robots. Drones are going to be a “big thing” in the (near?) future, and we can/should play a part. I’m not talking about the weaponized, mass surveillance type of drones that you hear/fear about in the news. I don’t really want to get involved in that. There’s so much good that can be done instead. Let’s talk about drones and precision agriculture. Let’s build bots that locate and rescue disaster survivors. Let’s think of crazy things that will help make the world a better, safer place.

I’m thinking I’d love to see a non-profit focused on advancing our area’s capability to design and build mobile and autonomous tech to do novel and useful tasks. A place where research is sought out and disseminated, helping start-ups build viable companies. There’s something like this out west called the Canadian Centre for Unmanned Vehicle Systems, although I don’t dig the seeming military connections. I want a spot where we can pull companies together to integrate their technology, host public speakers, share source code, guide government policies, explore, innovate… sorry, getting dizzy from my own buzzwords.

Do you think a non-profit like this would be possible, practical and/or beneficial to focus the region’s attention, energy and finances on robotics?