Why there are very few innovative robotics companies

I am absolutely astounded by what I have found out. Recently, I started a new business. I wanted to do two things- make small
computer related devices and also start a live, over the web simulation. The simulation has a small robot in a "sound stage" that is laid out to mimic a setting such as the Moon or Mars. Classrooms can schedule "missions" and run them live and get results back, just as if they were using a real roverbot. Simple. Very easy to do, fun to set up and operate. Now, I get the quotes from insurance companies- most have utterly declined to provide coverage, and one quoted $10,000 per year, and another $30,000 per year! Come on, the building is only $900 per month and I have no employees- and my projection is no more than 5 employees within a year! They stated that the dangers were extremely substantial- like what the hell is going to happen, one of these little robots is going to go terminator and reach through the webcam and choke somebody? These things are confined to a stage setting, remotely operated by a computer, and are about as dangerous as a radio controlled car. What a damned racket the insurance business is- and no wonder that robots are stuck in the lab or in hobbyist's garages. I was essentially told that I could start a business but it would be pretty much bagging groceries.
Cheers!
Chip Shults My robotics, space and CGI web page - http://home.cfl.rr.com/aichip
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Insurance, and wild claims in court, has been the main thing that has killed off end consumer aviation, to the point that it is 2003 and we still drive a car. As a matter of fact, I doubt that if the car were to come along today that it would have the chance to make it without years of litigation and unfortunately required covert advances.
Robotics are so far unknown to the twits of the world, and this is why substantial advances need to happen before all facets are categorized, weighed before the insurance companies, and smothered under the myth that it requires "big corporations" to make advances. The more this myth is perpetuated the more Insurance companies will see a cash cow and, working with less than scrupulous legislation and/or legal settlements, make it impossible to go public without a HUGE backer to float the required coverage to do anything slightly away from the mainstream.
(Exits soapbox, stage left)
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I have mentioned the issues of liability several times over the past few years here, and it's something few people consider. Every time someone suggests creating this robot or that for autonomous activity around people I smile, knowing they haven't yet talked to an insurance underwriter.
There may be ways around your problems. One is to not call them robots. From your description, these vehicles sound like they're more like R/C cars -- to an insurance underwriter, at least, and that's all that matters. They understand what an R/C car is.
Insurance is based on actuarial tables. The ones for "robot" look scary. Most robots in the US are for factory automation and can kill you instanty if you get in their way. That's what they're basing their quotes on. Pick another name for your little critters, and you'll probably get your insurance down to about $1,500 or 2,000. (That's about right for $1 million coverage, employees in a building, yada yada.)
As an aside, my company, Budget Robotics, doesn't build robots. We build educational toys for ages 3+. $1,000s difference in insurance, youknowwhatimean.
-- Gordon Robots for Less at Budget Robotics: http://www.budgetrobotics.com/ Author: Robot Builder's Sourcebook & Robot Builder's Bonanza
Sir Charles W. Shults III wrote:

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I read a brief blurb in the paper today about the upcoming movie, I Robot. It's probably not gonna help out much that, in the movie, Will Smith's job is to investigate the case of a robot killing its owner.
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dan michaels wrote:

Old story, so it probably won't have much impact. It was published in 1939 by Eando Binder ("The Trial of Adam Link", Adam being the robot accused of killing his creator), and made into an Outer Limits episode in 1964. That episode starred Leonard Nimoy, who played a technophobic and skeptical reporter. Will Smith plays a technophobic and skeptical police detective.
The Will Smith movie is supposidly inspired by the "I, Robot" anthology by Isaac Asimov, but it's clearly a ripoff of the Binder brothers' earlier short story. Adding to the confusion is that the Adam Link stories were anthologized as "I, Robot" -- but before Asimov's publisher's came out with a book of the same name.
Expect lawsuits.
-- Gordon Robots for Less at Budget Robotics: http://www.budgetrobotics.com/ Author: Robot Builder's Sourcebook & Robot Builder's Bonanza
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Gordon makes a good point about the 'toy' aspect side of it. Also another thing most laymen first think of when you mention the word "robot" is Battlebots or some other destructo type machine. One thing to make sure to do as Gordon said is to make sure your insurance agent understand what it is you are trying to insure. Another good thing to do that I have found when I was looking for this type of insurance was to shop around. This sound obvious, but here one approach: Find someone or someplace that does a similar thing as them who they recommend. This serves two things: it gets you in line with the right type of agent and it lets the agent know that you have done some research and may know what your contact pays for insurance.
-Kip Mussatt

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Yeah, I have instituted a new policy- say nothing, just act stupid, let them guess. If the numbers sound good, go for it.
Cheers!
Chip Shults My robotics, space and CGI web page - http://home.cfl.rr.com/aichip
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Wisdom, pure wisom.
I'm partial to the story of Henry Ford. He had parts manufactures ship in crates with specific hole placements for his "automated" factory. To sell the parts, the suppliers were fine with crate specs. Ford then took apart the crates for the floorboards and the holes were for the pedals to stick through. It cost him nothing to get them to make the floorboards as well. :o)
Bruce

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Chip,
Sounds pretty typical. Unless these are battle bots that spit fire etc. (hmmm...cool idea), don't even mention it to them. You are doing light R&D and that's all they need to know. Sometimes too much information is not helpful.
-- Shawn

small
The
a
run
roverbot.
declined
per
employees- and

hell
and
a
as a

robots
that I

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Chip,
have a look at <http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/pp/04005/258065.stm for similar project by NASA.
Paul.

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