Humanizing the Un-Human: The Current State of Robotics


I know what you’re thinking (insert 80’s pop culture movie with robots), I thought the same thing when I saw my company was digging its heels into robotics. But wouldn’t that take jobs away? Is there even demand for robots? What about robot attacks?

Well shame on me, I was completely wrong, across the board. Let’s talk about the state of robotics.

I recently drove roundtrip from New York City to Toronto, by way of Montreal and a little city in New Hampshire called Merrimack where I visited Waypoint Robotics, a company Valence is partnering with to bring digital innovation, and in this case, robotics innovation, to enterprise companies all over the world.

Upon entering Waypoint, you can tell these guys are serious about what they are working on and super (rightly) proud of it. After seeing Waypoint’s Vector, moving swiftly about the shop, I was pleased to spend time with Waypoint’s founder and CEO, Jason Walker, who let me take over the helm of the Vector.

Waypoint is something of an anomaly — they are a robotics company that is not even two years old, and they have already shipped dozens of robots. As everyone knows, hardware is hard, and getting a hardware product on the market within two years is pretty amazing; but with robotics, four years to market is more typical if it’s an exceptional team.

What really sets Waypoint apart is how easy the Vector is to use. That didn’t happen by accident and it’s more than just a product requirement — it’s Waypoint’s design philosophy. But the next layer of the onion, the “why” is what’s most interesting. Waypoint started with the workforce, and made their needs, their experience, the guiding light for designing the products; not just in terms of workflow and user experience, but from a cultural and sociological standpoint. Waypoint believes that the workforce is essential to the economy on the supply and demand side, but more importantly, the workforce is the fabric of our society. Waypoint recognizes, emphasizes, and utilizes that tremendous value.

Waypoints customers aren’t looking to eliminate their workforce; on the contrary, they typically have had a “for hire” sign in the window for years. But until Waypoint’s Vector came along, the only way to get a robot working was to hire a roboticist to go with it, and that’s just one more, even harder-to-hire person. Waypoint’s idea was to make a robot that is so easy to setup and use that the workforce that is on the job right now, can immediately take Vector and put it to work for them. There’s nobody better to setup a robot to help with moving materials than the person who’s been moving those same materials in that same factory for the last 15 years.

Over and over we see customers who have their most valuable people, their most skilled and rare tradespeople pushing carts for hours and hours each week. These workers know the value of their time and their talent, and they know what a waste it is to be pushing carts when they could be setting up CNC machines or rebuilding transmissions. It is frustrating to do work that underutilized your talents, and it’s ten times as frustrating when that work is physically exhausting or ergonomically stressful.

To sum it all up, the idea is to make a product that the workforce can take control of and use directly. The state of robotics is that we should empower the workforce with a new industry 4.0 tool. In doing so, we invest in our people as valuable teammates and add to their skill set. Simultaneously they are able to offload the most physically demanding, and essential but low-value tasks to the robot. And that in turn gives the workforce more genuinely productive and rewarding hours in the day. The state of robots is more productivity, less physical exhaustion, and a longer career all translate to a higher quality of life — and that’s the core of the onion; that’s the why.

At Valence, we take the latest technologies and apply them to the challenges faced by enterprise customers every day. Interested in hearing more? Contact us and we’ll start you off with a demo, to show how remarkable this technology can be!