Modularity in Robotics: A Vision for the Future


Most of our tech isn’t developed to be modular. Our cell phones, speakers, and TVs are designed to be used for a limited window of time and can’t be reused in any way — at least by the end consumer.

However, Afshin Doust, CEO at Advanced Intelligent Systems, has a different vision for the future of robotics.

In this episode, he explains how modularity minimizes development costs and time while empowering a bigger, better robotics industry for the future.

Topics covered:

- Making robotics scalable

- Bringing modularity to consumer technology

- Why Robotics-as-a-Service?

- Determining the core skills needed on your team

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We thought we want to spend the timeand the effort to create the modules in order for our robots to go out thereand work, but then in the bigger picture to be able to empower thebigger, better robotics industry. For our feature you are listening to over the air iotconnected devices and the journey brought to you by vary in each episode. We have sharpunfiltered conversations with executives about their iot journeys,the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned and what they wish they'dknown when they started welcome back to over the air iftconnected devices and the journey. My name is ryan prosser, ceo, berry andtoday were joined by afton duced, ceo of advanced intelligent systems, we'regoing to be talking about robotics, modularity and the future action thanksfor being on the show. Thank you for having me on this show roy an it's apleasure to be here great. So for those who don't know,tell us a little bit about your background and advanced intelligencesystems, and i'm going to be asking a bunch of follow. Ups about yourbackground, i think it's been pretty fascinating but give us a littleoverview so far. I appreciate it so my background. I usually don't talkmuch about myself, but since you asked i started, i macaboy and i am at heart, business junkie or i m, not your proner.However, you wish to name it. I've been involved in many different businesses,both on a corporate side and a private side, and i have been involved in salesin technology in real state in finance. I've been in banking and i have sat ona few different boards. I currently teach business at a couple of differentuniversities. I sit on numerous different boards. I've been the co ofadvancing to justice since five years ago, and i've had the hell of a ride,doing it. So for those who don't have your linked in right in front of them,action is currently pursuing a phd is an instructor at a few universities andceo of a company. Is this a path that you would recommend for others? Itfeels like this leaves very little time for sleep. Well, i've enjoyed it verymuch, but then i don't get a whole lot of sleep and i don't mind it. So iconquer it's a packed lifestyle, but it drives me forward. I love every minuteof it and i wouldn't change it for anything else and i would highlyrecommend it to everyone if they get to enjoy it. Tell us a little bit about ais, so you guys are in the robot space like what can you tell folks out therethat aren't familiar as it's a robotics company with the vision to have apractical robot for every task? Now it doesn't mean we want to go out thereand create a million different kinds of robots, which is not feasible, but wewant to be able to empower other companies in order to create an equalsystem where practical robot can be created for every task. The way wewould accomplish that is by using our proprietary library of hardware andsoftware modules in order to reduce the development time and development costof creating new robots significantly and to make robotics is scalable. Whatare the things? So this idea of modularity is near dear to my heart. Wetalk about this often with guests. You, you look at like the big tech firms onthe consumer side and one of the things you don't see at all is modular. Youknow so like a phone is, you know, works for a period of time and then itdoesn't and very little in it can be...

...upgraded or like we used in any way, atleast not by the end user. Consumer sono speaker is totally dead to you atthe end of that sono speaker's life and it's land film of first. What? What doyou think is like it? It sounds like your vision for robotics is quitedifferent, highly modular, that's something we hear a lot with like morebusiness to business companies. Why do you think? That's not something!That's as shared on the consumer side! Well, you know when you look at modularity,you have a longer development time when you want to create one product, that'smodular, so it defies the purpose of having a lean startup and a lean product where you spend alist amount of money in developing it and you get it to profit as soon aspossible, but once you start creating things that are modular than theesecond or the third product you want to develop. You have significant upside toit because it reduces your development time and cost by quite a bit. So thereason we went the modular way and the reason a lot o people don't cote. Themacular way is because it takes a lot more to create a product. That'smontule, and you know, under long run it helps youin the short run. It hurts you, but because of that, bigger vision that wehave to have a practical robot for every task and to empower other roboticcompanies to be able to not recreate the wheel from scratch. We thought wewant to spend the time and the effort to create the modules in order for ourrobots to go out there and work, but then in the bigger picture to be ableto empower the bigger better robotics industry for our future. So you'vebuilt this pretty incredible company in the robotic space and you've done it.You know, most recently, prior to this, you were in academia. You've spent alot of time in the private sector, bounced back and forth what you know.First, someone that's looking at tech and say an opportunity is presented tothem either. You know to be a chief executive officer or in some leadershiprole to folks out there right now, listening wondering if the idea orconcept or role in the private sector is right for them. What advice wouldyou give to someone that i just see these big jumps that you've made andthey feel very bold and you've made them into winners? What are some of thehall marks of like turning a big jump into a winner? Well, i believe, firstthem foremost for anybody to truth, her all or to jump on ship and want guidit.You have to have the passion and the dedication and the resilience to beable to do it. So you have to look at the journey rather than just and resultand see if you can enjoy the journey and if you can contribute and createimpact. You have to look at your values and you have to look at what drives youday in and day out, once you choose based on those criteria,then no matter what the outcome you'll enjoy it, you love it you'll, give ityour best. You learn and you grow. So those are the basis on which youhave to make your decision. One of the things that i know so forfolks getting to know action today, the for the very first time very much inthe mold of a philosopher. You know so our pre interview was filled with, likethese magnificent philosophical tidbits, two things that that stod out to methat i know we share one. Is this idea that there are only win, wins or lostloss? They're very rare is the situation where a person can win, andthis counter party loses and that also and separately. We share a view that,like competition, is something that...

...should be welcome to raise the bar. Youknow, so it creates this motivation for improvement. Can you talk about like asyou've built this robotics company as you've built a technology company like?Are those principles that we would find infused in your corporate culture? Mostdefinitely thinking of winning is shortsighted. Ifyou do not create a windwood, only windbitten built relationships andthey're sustainable going forward, you can squeeze the heck out of everynegotiation, but at the end of the day, if somebody leaves it thinking, they'veleft more on the table than they've gained. That relationship is not goingto last and then you're going to have to recreate those kind of relationships,more often so being able to look at everything from two sides. There aretwo people on the table and they're not fighting against each other. They arejoining hands in order to achieve the same goal, so they both need to feelfull still. At the end of the day- and that is how we look at everything we do,if i have somebody walk up to me today and ask for a job, i will sit them downand tell them yes tell me how you can contribute, how much of an impact youcan create. Let's put a value on it and let's see how much of that value, wecan allocate you so i've almost always hired people with more than they expect,but i've given them mile stones that would empower them to achieve more thanthey could imagine they could contribute, and that is how you growpeople. You create a culture where everybody believes that if he grow as ateam and everybody will win rather than an individual being able to excel ontheir own without the team following in their footsteps, you know one of the things that i'vefound most challenging as a business leader. Is this idea of exactly whatyou said? You know getting everybody believing in the mission you knowpulling in the same direction. Creating win wins, that's great and a lot easier.When you know exactly what your company is trying to do, yeah, but often in theearly stages of a technology company, you get it wrong so time like two threefive ten times what were some of the big challenges for you guys? I knowthat early on you know you had kind of an ad tech focus that you know, i think,is no longer as much a focus. Can you talk about that journey of you, guysyou going through process of figuring out just exactly where you wanted toland it robotics. You know what are some of the things you got wrong and inlike technically, where there's some times, you found yourself on the wrongside of impossible. You know and you need it to be able to solve x, y and z,to achieve your to realize revision. Kay talk a little bit about that. Well,i love the phrase. You used that right now the wrong side of impossible. Ifyou never find yourself on the wrong side of impossible you're, not doingthings right, you have to come across those challenges where you think. Oh,my god, what am i going to do next and then you come through those challengesand you achieve something that will stand out and you look at it and you'reproud of so yes, you're right. Every company would have to reinventthemselves at the face of adversity when things are changing and therearen't going their way, but how agile you are and how you can pivot and howyou can make things happen will determine how you will succeed in thelong run. So we did start as an active company. We are still an acted companyat heart, but when the coved hit it gave us the opportunity to contributeto fighting covet by taking a robot looking at her modularity and trying toinvent a robot that would come back of it and we were able to do that withineleven weeks of when the mandate was...

...given to the team and thad showed theteam that yes, the modularity is working and we're not just talkingabout it, but you can actually reduce our development time and developmentcost significantly. So it was a testament to what we claim as we keptdigging deeper. We realized that the cove disinfecting robot can also beused in a tech in order to to fight mildew in green houses, so it was awingwise on both fronds for us. You know it does happen that you have to beat that times, how you make it to the best of your advantage and who, how youalign it with a bigger vision that you have at hand is what comes one of thethings that we hear a lot from folks that are developing technology.Solutions for ad tech environments is having to be able to operate in a placewhere, like gps might be, spotty or connections might be spotty. Was thatsomething that you guys had to encounter and and did that have like?Are there instances where maybe that had like unexpected benefits in otherbusiness areas? Yes, you hit on a big court, somethingthat we spent a lot of time on a tech is a tough environment to developautomation for, because plants aren't like a factory environment where we canjust go in there and expect exactly what's in front of you and to maniplethings around. So that was a challenge and, of course,the connectivity and being in places where gps might not be as reliable asother places was a challenge, and we ended up developing our own non gpslocalization system in order to overcome that, and that's one of ourbiggest achievements but, like you mentioned earlier, whenyou come to a place where you're on the wrong side of impossible, you get toreinvent yourself and you get to solve problems and that becomes a part of theassets you've developed for the company. Another item. I wanted to pick yourbrain on, so we've had a lot of folks come on the show and talk about thisidea of like robots as a service machines as a service, and i meanbasically the idea is that the end user? The customer wants the problem solvedlike zip line, makes these drone like planes that deliver vaccines andmedical equipment to difficult to reach places in third world countries andthose countries don't care about owning robots. They care about gettingvaccines to the end user, and so zip line really landed on this roboticservice play they lease it or there's some. Is that something that you guysare utilizing as well, and if so like has it? I worked well so far. Yes, verymuch so so we are an extremely customer centric, a bit our approach, and sowhen we talk to our customers- and we asked them, what would they want inorder to adopt the technology? That's coming forth, one of their biggestcomplaints was that we are made promises and we're asked to invest inthis big technology which is expensive and if it doesn't work or if thepromises are delivered on them, be at the loss and, more importantly, thatthis drops or workflow. So when we told them what, if we don't ask you for abig initial capitalist pendit, and what, if you pay for the work, that'sperformed rather than owning a piece of technology, that's not predictable andthen all of a sudden he saw a glow in their eyes and they came back to us andsaid how would that happen? So we came...

...up with a way to price our productswhere the customers we don, have to come up with big initial capitalexpenditures in order to get our product, and we put our wordbehind what we promised. We said you know what, if it doesn't work, it don'tpay, you pay for the work, that's been performed and they loved it. So i saidyou know what, if our customers love it and they're willing to adopt it, thenthat's the approach you're going to take, so all of our products are gearedtowards being a machine as a service or a robot as a service where we deployeda product customer would take the product and put it togood use and they pass for the amount of work the product performs. It feelslike it simplifies the relationship down to selling solutions for less thanthe cost of the problem. Is that, like sort of how you guys view it that didexactly what it is and with every solution you self? I believe it has tohave that same approach. You know the customers have to see the value in whatthey use, but the mass or the ras approach goes a little bit beyond that.It helps create a solution that cost less than the problem, but at the sametime it helps build a relationship, because now we are a part of what youdo and how you do things, and that relationship has a lot of value,because then they come back to us for further solution for their otherproblems. It also helps because it helps us as a company because it addsto our enterprise value, because now we have more secure and lastingrelationships. At the same time, we have recurring revenue rather than justtransaction basements, switching gears a little bit one of the things that youknow you mentioned a minute ago was: you know you were talking about peopleand alignment, and you know just generally this idea oflike pulling in the same direction and like helping get as much more out ofpeople than they thought possible. One of the things that was really inspiringto me in our in our pre interview was like your view on team. You know andbuilding the right team and so i'll star with, like a very general questionlike how do you think about putting together the right teams like what areyou looking for? What's important to you start with that? Okay? Well, you know,i believe you can't ask a fish to climb a tree right same, but you can have anelephant to thread the needle. So if you're thinking about putting togethera team, you would have to look at the team from the point of view of thoseteam members what's important to them. People want to feel like they're valued.They want to feel like they are actually seen as being a part of theteam and that they are empowered to perform. We are all human beings, wecould make mistakes, but we are if we are at the right place and if we aregiven the opportunity to perform and be your best and if we are share the samevision that we would come out and we would give it a hundred percent of whatwe have so empowering people to be themselves and to contribute andallowing them to make mistakes and encouraging them to experimentwould go far with having loyalty and commitment from the people around you.When you guys were going through some of your product market fit i'll caughtwandering in the woods face. Every tech company goes through it. You knowyou're trying to figure out what would... one of the things i hear a lotfrom ceos is. It was difficult for me to know what type of team to builduntil i knew what type of product we were trying to build, and then you know,but but of course, that you create this chicken and egg issue, as you guys werefiguring out who you wanted to be when you grew up? How did you think aboutthis is the core team. These are the core skills, we're going to need tohave no matter what and you know what were some areas. You said these areareas where maybe we could find talented partnership opportunities andthings like that d d. Did you have a philosophy in the early days there we did. What we looked at was what could be wont to accomplish as acompany do we want to be r nds to want tocreate products, what the vision and how does everything fit into thatvision? So we started by hiring people whowanted to be their best and who wanted to learn and who wanted to grow withthe company. So if you know how to call- and we ask you to code in a certain wayand be give you your opportunity to learn and do it, then you wouldappreciate it, but we didn't look at people as beingeasily replaceable. We thought once you're in your part of the family andif you need to learn and grow with that family you're going to have to give ityour best to learn and grow with the family. So as we learned ourselves and as werealize what direction we need to take, our team members grew into those spotsthat needed to be filled and as long as they see that you value them, thenthey'll give you their best in order to deliver on what you require. You knowthe one of the things that strikes me aboutyour approach, and i said i mentioned surlier like very philosophical, and ifind that you know wise people have made as many mistakes as unwise people.They just learned more from them. What like what you have all these tremendousnuggets of knowledge like? What's it, especially with building teams? Can youpoint at an example of like oh man, here's one i got wrong. You know likeit tell me as a story about some scar tissue that you built up the hard wayyou know when you go to the gym. You always try to work out the strongestmuscle, because it feels good, but the secret do have in a healthier body isto focus on the weaker parts rather than the stress. So you need to createa balance between the two and that is somewhere where we went wrong becausewe had this really smart intellectuals on the teamand we allowed them to experiment beyond what was required from us as acompany, and we turned around and turned it into a win because wecaptured everything they were doing and we followed eighty two pattens withover a thousand claims to inventions and it turned out to be a great assetfor the company, but now that i think about it, i'm thinking maybe righterthan eighty two. Maybe fifty patents would have done. Maybe you should havefocused them more on one vertical of knowledge to go forward rat thanexperiment and keep filing patents. So creating a balance, i would say, issomething that i've learned and that balance can work wonders because it canencourage a team to be who they are, but at the same time it teaches them.You have to pull together a be little bit tighter in certain areas in orderto achieve the business schools to. I ran an energy storage company about tenyears ago, focused on lithium, large commercial scale, and we got we becameobsessed with patents and i'm convinced to this day that it drove our focus offof the you know the business of growing...

...a business. You know. Yes, we had. Youknow hey, let's, let's aim to patent, you know this many or five. You knowfile this many patents per year, whatever the thing was, and it was amade up number you know, and we wanted next year's number to be bigger thanthis year's number and it had nothing to when you really unpacked and nothingto do with like building a great technology company. That was solvingimportant problems and it- and i just missed that at the time. So i yourstory resonates well talk like. Let's talk a little bit about the future.What's next for you guys, so you like it we're sitting here halfway throughexactly almost to the day, so for listeners out, there were recordingthis in july of two thousand and twenty one. You we're sitting here at thehalfway point in two thousand and twenty one. What do you what's on deckfor twenty two and beyond, for you guys well w? We want to be well funded and at thesame time, we want to commercialize some of our products, and we want tostart looking at how we can leverage the intellectual property and also themodules that we created to help the robotics industry to create that equalsystem. That was our vision from they wont. So that is the direction we wishto take and by the end of this year we hope to have accomplished quite a biton that front, very cool. Well, so as we we moved to a rap for today, youknow folks want to follow up with you after today. How can they find you islinked in the best way? Do you have another social media linked in lintonis the best way. If you, google me, i am extremely trasparent. So if you justgoogle, my name af shin duced, that's afshin oust, you get my contact numbermy email and a bunch of things about me on the internet. So just google mereach out if you'd like to have an interesting conversation. You know ifyou want to be a part of our team or if you think we might be able to help youand your robotics company grow faster, better. We are there to help. Well, ladies and gentlemen, my verygood friend afton duce, ceo of advanced intelligence systems, a action. Ireally appreciate you being on the show. Today it's been a pleasure ryan. Thankyou so much for having me looking forward to chat more in the futureabsolutely and for everybody out there we'll see you guys on the internet. You shouldn't have to worry about iotprojects dragging on or unreliable vendors. You've got enough on yourplate. The right team of engineers and project managers can change a pivotalmoment for your business into your competitive edge. Various close knitcrew of ambitious problem, solvers, continuous improvers and curiousbuilders know how to turn your ideas into a reality on time and up to yourstandards, with a focus on mitigating risk and maximizing opportunity willhelp you build an iot solution that you can hang your hat on. Let's bring youriot idea to life, learn more it very possible com. You've been listening toover the air, io t connected devices and the journey, if you enjoy to day'sepisode, make sure to hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player and giveus a rating. Have a question or an idea for a future episode. Send it topodcast at very possible com. See you next time. I.

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