Roger Chen

Roger Chen is an early-stage investor at O'Reilly AlphaTech Ventures (OATV). In a past life, he was a scientist tinkering with photons and electrons at the smallest scales. Now he tinkers with big ideas on how technology will shape society, while trying to find some time to shoot hoops.

The robotics industry could use an infusion of new DNA

A melting pot of technologists, makers and product minds will lead to a new wave of robotics companies.

Editor’s note: this post originally published on Chen’s blog Beyond the Bell Curve; this edited version is republished here with permission.

A couple years ago, I dug deep into the robotics space because I thought we were seeing the birth of exciting next-generation robotics companies that would reshape the way our society lives and thinks. Companies like Rethink Robotics, Industrial Perception, and Redwood Robotics emerged to tackle factory and warehouse logistics. Willow Garage was gaining notoriety for being a center of robotics talent and innovation that spawned many of these companies. Meanwhile, Amazon had just acquired Kiva for $775M, driving even more entrepreneurial excitement.

Where are these players now? Rethink had a well-publicized round of layoffs, and Willow Garage ceases to exist. Industrial Perception and Redwood Robotics were part of Google’s robotics shopping spree, and while acquisitions can inspire activity like Kiva’s did, Google’s purchases may have had the opposite effect. In one fell swoop, many of the most entrepreneurial and talented roboticists were shuttered away from the world. I often worry that this has caused the entire field to take a step back, or at least is a major progress inhibitor. No longer will the acquired talent build and support new technology for others to build upon, at least for now. What Google decides to do with the talent they purchased will have big ramifications for how the industry and field move forward. There’s potential for a positive outcome here. Perhaps these groups eventually will leave Google with an understanding of best practices in building and operating a business, something Google is quite good at. Read more…

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The connected car experience continues to fall short

Connected cars need more UX design emphasis on behavioral science and neuroscience.

Editor’s note: this post originally appeared on Roger Chen’s blog, Beyond the bell curve. It is reposted here with permission.

There’s been a lot of buzz about the connected car recently. That’s nothing new, but it feels a little more serious this time around. The discussion has become more sophisticated, driven by the ongoing maturation of smartphones and device connectivity. My reason for interest in the connected car remains a rather simple one: cars aren’t going away. Smartphones aren’t either. And people will only use information technology more and more going forward. Yup, more selfies and snaps behind a steering wheel (I feel myself getting angry already).

A lot of discussion has centered on how the connected car will evolve. How heavily will car makers lean on third-party platforms like Android or iOS? How will car companies facilitate third-party integration? How much do they want to do on their own? What about cross-brand functionality? What standards will have to be in place? Who’s going to set them — the automotive industry or the government? Given the plethora of existing content and legitimate uncertainty about the answers, I don’t want to focus on those issues here. Instead, allow me to dive into how drivers will interact with the connected car. Sure, people have discussed this as well, but there is a critical point that most seem to overlook: the winning connected car experience will be the safest connected car experience, hands down. Read more…

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