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 taught. We want to spendthe time and the effort to create the modules in order for our robots togo out there and work, but then, in the bigger picture, to beable to empower a bigger, better robotics industry for our future. Youare listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey, brought toyou by vary. In each episode we have sharp, unfiltered conversations with executivesabout their IOT journeys, the mistakes they made, the lessons they learned andwhat they wish they'd known when they started. Welcome back to over the Air IOTconnected devices and the journey. My name is Ryan Processer, CEO very, and today we're joined by action DEUCED, CEO of Advanced Intelligence Systems. We'regoing to be talking about robotics, modularity and the future. Action.Thanks for being on the show. Thank you for having me on this show. Ryan, it's a pleasure to be here. Great so, for thosewho 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 little overview sofar. Appreciate it. So my background are. Usually don't talk muchabout myself, but since you asked, I studied in macrobiology and I amat heart, a business junky or a non groupreneur, however you wish toname it. I've been involved in many different businesses, both on a corporateside and a private side, and I have been involved in sales, intechnology, in real state, in finance. I've been in banking and I havethat on few different boards. I currently teach business at a couple ofdifferent universities. I sit on numerous different boards. I have been the CEOof Advanced Intelligence Systems since five years ago and I've had the hell of aright doing it. So, for those who don't have your linkedin right infront of them, action is currently pursuing a PhD, is an instructor ata few universities and CEO of a company. Is this a path that you wouldrecommend for others? It feels like this leaves very little time for sleep. Well, I've enjoyed it very much, but then I don't get a wholelot of sleep and I don't mind it. So I concur it's thepacked lifestyle, but it drives me forward. I love every minute of it andI wouldn't change it for anything else and I would highly recommend it toeveryone 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 tellfor out there that aren't familiar? Ai, yes, is a robotics company witha vision to have a practical robot for every task. Now, itdoesn't mean we want to go out there and create a million different kinds ofrobots, which is not feasible, but we want to be able to empowerother companies in order to create an ecosystem of where practical robot can be createdfor every task. The way we would accomplish that is by, you think, our proprietary library of hardware and software modules in order to reduce the developmenttime and development cost of creating new robots significantly and to make robotics the scalableone of the things. So this idea of modularity is near dear to myheart. We talked about this often with guests. You you look at likethe big tech firms on the consumer side and one of the things you don'tsee at all is modularity. You know. So like a phone is a youknow, works for a period of time and then it doesn't end.Very little in it can be upgraded or,... we used in any way,at least not by the end user consumer, Sono speaker is totally deadto you at the end of that Sono speakers life and it's Landfillm of course. What do you think is like? It sounds like your vision for roboticsis quite different, highly modular. That's something we hear a lot with likemore businesses to business companies. Why do you think that's not something that's asshared on the consumer side? Well, you know, when you look atmodularity, you have a longer development time when you want to create one productthat's modular. So it defies the purpose of having a lean startup and alean product where you spend the least amount of money in developing it and youget it to profit as soon as possible. But once you start creating things thatare modular, then the second or the third product you want to developyou have significant upside to it because it reduces your development time and cost byquite a bit. So the reason we went the modular way and the reasona lot people don't go the modular way is because it takes a lot moreto create a product that's modular and you know, under long run it helpsyou, in the short run it hurts you. But because of that biggervision that we have to have a practical robot for every task and to empowerother robotic companies to be able to not recreate the wheel from scratch, wetaught we want to spend the time and the effort to create the modules inorder for our robots to go out there and work, but then, inthe bigger picture, to be able to empower a bigger, better robotics industryfor our future. So you've built this pretty incredible company in the robotic spaceand you've done it you know, most recently, prior to this, youwere in academia. You've spent a lot of time in the private sector.Bounce back and forth. What you know? First, someone that's looking at techand say an opportunity is presented to them either, you know, tobe a chief executive officer or in some leadership role. Two folks out thereright now listening wondering if the idea or concept or role in the private sectoris right for them. What advice would you give to someone that? Ijust see these big jumps that you've made and they feel very bold and you'vemade them into winners. What are some of the hallmarks of like turning abig jump into a winner? Well, I believe first and foremost, foranybody to choose their role or to jump and ship and want to guide it, 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 thanjust the end result and see if you can enjoy the journey and if youcan contribute and create the impact. You have to look at your values andyou have to look at what drives you day in and day out. Onceyou choose based on duse criteria, then no matter what the outcome, youenjoy it, you love it, you'll give it your best, you learnand you'll grow. So those are the basis on which you have to makeyour decision. One of the things that I know, so for folks gettingto know aption today the for the very first time, very much in themold of a philosopher, you know. So our pre interview was filled withlike these magnificent philosophical tidbits. Two things that that stood out to me thatI know we share. One is this idea that there are only win winsor lost loss they're very rare. Is the situation where a person can winand this counterparty loses, and that also, and separately, we share a viewthat, like competition, is something...

...that should be welcome to raise thebar, you know, so it creates this motivation for improvement. Can youtalk about like, as you've built this robotics company, as you've built atechnology company, like are those principles that we would find infused in your corporateculture? Most definitely. Thinking of winning is shortsighted if you do not createa windwind situation. Only windwind situations built relationships and they are sustainable going forward. You can squeeze the heck out of every negotiation, but at the endof the day, if somebody leaves it thinking they've lived more on the tablethan they've gained, that relationship is not going to last and then you're goingto have to recreate those kind of relationships more often. So being able tolook at everything from two sides. There are two people and the table andthey're not fighting against each other. They are joining hands in order to achievethe same goal. So they both need to feel fulfill that the end ofthe day, and that is how we look at everything we do. IfI have somebody walk up to me today and ask for a job, Iwould sit them down and tell them yes, tell me how you can contribute,how much of an impact you can create. Let's put a value onit and let's see how much of that value we can allocate to you.So I've almost always hired people with more than they expect, but I've giventhem milestones that would empower them to achieve more than they could imagine they couldcontribute. And that is how you grow people. You create a culture whereeverybody believes that if we grow as a team and everybody will win, ratherthan an individual being able to excel on their own without the team following intheir footsteps. You know, one of the things that I've found most challengingas a business leader is this idea of exactly what you said, you know, getting everybody believing in the mission, you know, pulling the same direction, creating win wins. That's great and a lot easier when you know exactlywhat your company is trying to do. Yeah, but often in the earlystages of a technology company you get it wrong, sometimes like two, three, five, ten times. Can what were some of the big challenges foryou guys? I know that early on, you know you had kind of anag tech focus that you know, I think, is no longer asmuch of focus. Can you talk about that journey of you guys, yougoing through process of figuring out just exactly where you wanted to land in robotics, you know, what are some of the things you got wrong? Andin like technically, where there's sometimes you found yourself on the wrong side ofimpossible, you know, and you need it to be able to solve X, Y and Z, to achieve your to realize your vision. Can Talka little bit about that? Well, I love the phrase you use rightnow, the wrong side of impossible. If you never find yourself on thewrong side of impossible, you're not doing things right. You have to comeacross those challenges where you think, Oh my God, what I'm going todo next, and then you come through those challenges and you achieve something thatwill stand out and you look at it and you're proud of so yes,you're right. Every company would have to reinvent themselves at the face of adversitywhen things are changing and there aren't going their way. But how agile youare and how you can pivot and how you can make things happen will determinehow you will succeed in the long run. So we did start as an actorcompany. We are still an act that come penny at heart. Butwhen the covid hit, it gave us the opportunity to contribute to fighting covidby taking a robot, looking at our modularity and trying to invent a robotthat would come back Covid, and we were able to do that within elevenweeks when the mandate was given to the... and daddy showed the team thatyes, the modularity is working and we're not just talking about it, butyou can actually reduce our development time and development cost significantly. So it wasa testament what we claim. As we kept digging deeper, we realize thatthe COVID disinfact and a robot can also be used in ACTAC in order toto fight mildew in greenhouses. So it was a windwind situation on both frontsfor us. You know, it does happen that you have to pivot thattimes. How you make it to the best of your advantage and who are, how you align it with the bigger vision that you have at hand iswhat counts. One of the things that we hear a lot from folks thatare developing technology solutions for agg tech environments is having to be able to operatein a place where, like, GPS might be spotty or connections might bespotty. was that something that you guys had to encounter in the end?Did that have like are there instance for maybe that had like unexpected benefits inother business areas? Yes, you hit on a big court something that wespent a lot of time on. Acte is a tough environment to develop automationfor, because plants aren't like factory environment where you can just go in thereand expect exactly what's in front of you and to manipulate things around. Sothat was a challenge and, of course, the connectivity and being in places whereGPS might not be as reliable as other places was a challenge. Weended up developing our own non GPS localization system in order to overcome that,and that's one of our biggest achievements. But, like you mentioned earlier,when you come to a place where you're on the wrongs, that of impossible. You get to reinvent yourself and you get to solve problems and that becomesa part of the assets you've developed for the company. Another item I wantedto pick your brain on. So we've had a lot of folks come onthe show and talk about this idea of like robots as a service, machinesas a service, and I mean basically the idea is that the end user, the customer, wants the problem solved. Like Zip line makes these drone likeplanes that deliver vaccines and medical equipment too difficult to reach laces and ThirdWorld countries, and those countries don't care about owning robots, they care aboutgetting vaccines to the end user. And so zip line really landed on thisrobotics the service play. They lease it or there's some. Is that somethingthat you guys are are utilizing as well, and how? If so, Ilike. Has It worked well so far? Yes, very much slow. So we are an extremely customer centric in with 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 biggest complaints was thatwe are made promises and we are asked to invest in this big technology, which is expensive, and if it doesn't work or if the promises arein delivered on them, we are at the loss and, more importantly,that dis drops our workflow. So when we told them, what if wedon't ask you for a big initial capital expendature and what if you pay forthe work that's performed rather than owning a piece of technology that's not predictable,and all of a sudden we saw a glow in their eyes. They cameback to us and say, how would that happen? So we came upwith a way to price our products where...

...the customers we then have to comeup with big initial capital expenditures in order to get our product and we putour word behind what we promise. We said, you know what, ifit doesn't work, you don't pay, you pay for the work that's beingperformed, and they loved it. So we said, you know what,if our customers love it and they're willing to adopt it, then that's theapproach we're going to take. So all of our products are geared towards beinga machine as a service or a robot as a service, where we deploythe product, the customer would take the product and put it to good useand they pay us for the amount of work the product performs. It feelslike it's simplifies the relationship down to selling solutions for less than the cost ofthe problem. Is that like sort of how you guys view it? Thatits exactly what it is, and with every solution you sell I believe ithas to have that same approach. You know, the customers have to seethe value in what they use, but the mass or the rast approach goesa little bit beyond that. It helps create a solution that cost less thanthe problem, but at the same time it helps build a relationship because nowwe are a part of what you do and how you do things, andthat relationship has a lot of value because and they come back to us forfurther solution for their other problems. It also helps because it helps us asa company, because it adds to our enterprise value because we have more secureand lasting relationships. At the same time, we have real carrying revenue rather thanjust transaction based ones switching gears a little bit. One of the thingsthat you know, you mentioned a minute ago was, you know, you'retalking about people in alignment and, you know, just generally this idea oflike pulling in the same direction and and like helping get as much or moreout of people than they thought possible. One of the things that was reallyinspiring to me in our in our pre interview was like your view on teamyou know, and building the right team. And so I'll start with like avery general question for like, how do you think about putting together theright teams? Like, what are you looking for? What's important to you? Let's start with that, okay. Well, you know, I believeyou can't ask a fish to climb a tree right same way you can askan elephant to thread the needle. So if you're thinking about putting together ateam, you would have to look at the team from the point of viewof those team members. What's important to them? People want to feel liketheir value, they want to feel like they are actually seen as being apart of the team and that they are empowered to perform. We are allhuman beings. We could make mistakes, but we are if we are atthe right place and if we are given the opportunity to perform and be ourbest and if we all share the same vision, then we would come outand we would give it a hundred percent of what behalf. So empowering peopleto be themselves and to contribute and allowing them to make mistakes and encouraging themto experiment would go for we having loyalty and commitment from their people. Aroundyou, when you guys were going through some of your product market fit,I'll caught wandering in the woods face. Every tech company goes through it.You know, you're trying to figure out...

...what we're like. One of thethings I hear a lot from CEOS has it was difficult for me to knowwhat type of team to build until I knew what type of product we weretrying to build. And then you know. But, but, of course thatyou create this chicken and egg issue. As you guys were figuring out whoyou wanted to be when you grew up, how did you think aboutthis is the core team, these are the core skills were going to needto have no matter what. And you know what were some areas? Yousaid, these are areas where maybe we could find talented, a partnership opportunitiesand things like that. Did you have a philosophy in the early days there? We did. What we look at was what do we want to accomplishas a company? Do we want to be R and D shop? Dowe want to create products? What's the vision and how does everything fit intothat vision? So we started by hiring people who wanted to be their bestand who wanted to learn and who wanted to grow with the company. Soif you know how to Code and we asked you to code in a certainway and be give the opportunity to learn and do it, then you'd appreciateit. But we didn't look at people as being easily replaceable. We thoughtonce you're in your part of the family and if you need to learn andgrow with that family, you're going to have to give it your best tolearn 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 valuethem, then they'll give you their best in order to deliver on what yourequire. You know, the one of the things that strikes me about yourapproach, and I said I mentioned earlier, like very philosophical, and I findthat, you know why? Is People have made as many mistakes asunwise people, they just learned more from them. What? Like what youhave all these tremendous nuggets of knowledge? Like what's it especially with building teams? Can you point at an example of like, Oh man, here's oneI got wrong, you know, like tell me a story. Got Somescar tissue that you built up the hard way? You know, when yougo to the gym you always try to work out the strongest muscle because itfeels good, but the secret to have in a healthier body is to focuson the weaker parts rather than the strengths. So you need to create a balancebetween the two. And that is somewhere where we went wrong, becausewe had these really smart intellectuals on the team and we allowed them to experimentbeyond what was required from us as a company, and we turned around andturned it into a win because we captured everything they were doing and we foughteighty two patterns with over a thousand claims to inventions, and it turned outto be a great asset for the company. But now that I think about it, I'm thinking maybe, rather than at two, maybe fifty patterns wouldhave done. Maybe you should have focused them more on one vertical of knowledgeto go forward rather than experiment and keep finding patents. So creating get balance, I would say, is something that I've learned and that balance can workwonders because it can encourage the team to be who they are, but atthe same time it teaches them you have to pull together and be a littlebit tighter in certain areas in order to achieve the business schools to. Iran an energy storage company about ten years ago, focused on lithium, largecommercial scale, and we got we became obsessed with patents and I'm convinced tothis day that it drove our focus off...

...of the, you know, thebusiness of growing a business. You know, yes, we had you know,hey, let's let's aim to to patent, you know, this manyor five, you know, file this many patents per year, whatever thething was, and it was a made up number, you know, andwe wanted next year's number to be bigger than this year's number. And ithad nothing to do when you really unpacted and nothing to do with like buildinga great technology company that was solving important problems and it and I just missedthat at the time. So I your story resonates. Well, talk likelet's talk a little bit about the future. What's next for you guys? Soyou like it, we're sitting here halfway through exactly, almost to theday. So for listeners out there were recording this in July, of twothousand and twenty one, you know we're sitting here at the halfway point oftwo thousand and twenty one. What do you what's on deck for twenty tooand beyond for you guys? Well, we want to be well funded andat the same time, we want to commercialize some of our products and wewant to start looking at how we can leverage the intellectual property and also themodules that we've created to help the robotics industry to create that ecosystem. Thatwas our vision from day one. So that is the direction we wish totake and by the end of this year we hope to have accomplished quite abit on that front. Very cool. Well. So, as we moveto a wrap for for today, you know, if folks want to followup with you after today, how how can they find you? As linkedin. The best way. Do you have another Social Media Linkedin? Linkedin isthe best way. If you Google me, I am extremely transparent. So ifyou just google my name, as she induced, that's Afshi and theUS D, You get my contact number, my email and a bunch of thingsabout me on the Internet. So just Google me reach out if you'dlike to have an interesting conversation. You know, if you want to bea part of our team or if you think we might be able to helpyou in your robotics company grow faster better. We are there to help. Well, Ladies and gentlemen, my very good friend Ashtion do, CEO ofit danced intelligence systems after I really appreciate you being on the show today.It's been a pleasure, Ryan. Thank you so much for having me.Looking forward to chat more than the future. Absolutely, and for everybody out therewill see you guys on the Internet. You shouldn't have to worry about IOTprojects dragging on or unreliable vendors. You've got enough on your plate.The right team of Engineers and project managers can change a pivotal moment for yourbusiness into your competitive edge. Varies. Close Knit crew of ambitious problem solvers, continuous improvers and curious builders know how to turn your ideas into a realityon time and up to your standards, with a focus on mitigating risk andmaximizing opportunity. Will help you build an Iot solution that you can hang yourhat on. Let's bring your Iot idea to life. Learn more at verypossiblecom. You've been listening to over the Air Iot connected devices and the journey. If you enjoyed today's episode, make sure to hit subscribe in your favoritepodcast player and give us a rating. Have a question or an idea fora future episode? Send it to podcast at very possiblecom see you next time.

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