3 things we learned at this Malvern robotics summit by Technically Philly

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Article & Photo by Roberto Torres

Though walls were still being painted and furniture being moved in, Rajant Corporation — makers of a wireless communication platform used aboard autonomous vehicles and drones — had an open house of sorts at its new 28,000-square-foot Malvern headquarters on Thursday.

The Greater Philadelphia Autonomy Summit gathered robotics startups and stakeholders at Rajant’s HQ in Chester County. Above the office park, as the event took place, a drone using Rajant’s mesh communication network hovered.

“Rajant started as a three-person company in Wayne,” said CEO Robert Schena in his opening remarks. Our offices weren’t as big as the lobby area.”

The company employs 100 staffers split between Downingtown and Malvern offices. Half of that headcount is already at the new site, and they will all move in to the new HQ by the end of the summer. A growth spurt of another 50 employees is expected over the coming year.

Here are some things that caught our eye:

1. An East Falls drone company makes a cool battery-swapping station
Founded in 2015 by MIT grad Damon Henry — an alum of Boeing and GE Aviation — Asylon is an East Falls company that manufacturers DroneHome, a battery-swapping station that lets untethered drones swoop in, get a fresh battery pack installed and zip out to complete their tasks.

The company employs a team of seven. Admittedly, there are similar solutions in the field but Henry says his company makes the only brand-agnostic station: it can swap batteries for any type of drone. It also offers a software component that lets clients have access to data through a web API.

2. Rajant has a big global reach
The mesh communication technology that Rajant manufactures is deployed in over 50 countries across a wide-ranging swath of industries: think mining, oil and gas exploration, military. A presentation by Utah-based ASI Robots showed how the communications platform was being used to allow control of unmanned farming equipment and vehicle fleets.

3. There’s hope still against the dystopian fear of robotics

In a wide-ranging keynote speech on the future of robotics and autonomy, COSY cofounder Jonas Cleveland drew hope on how, despite fears that our lives will be forever-changed by robotics, the end result will be net positive when it comes to the prevalence of human interaction.

“Our desire to communicate with each other is central to all innovations,” Cleveland said.  “Automation and robotics can never take that away from us but can, perhaps, facilitate it.”

The researcher and entrepreneur, who founded his robotics company as a spinout of the GRASP Lab at the University of Pennsylvania, warned that businesses who are hesitant about automation could go the way of Blockbuster and other businesses lost to the advancement of tech.

“If you’re not adopting AI in your business, you’re missing the sky,” Cleveland said. “It will replace jobs and transform the way business operates. Maybe we’ll have just great coffee machines [instead of baristas at Starbucks] but people will do other things like taking insights from data to increase operational efficiency.”

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