Twin Cities region has a good start in robotics; let's capitalize on it

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Andrew Borene
Andrew Borene: Robots are moving into our personal lives in big and small ways.
Courtesy of Andrew Borene

Andrew Borene is executive director of Robotics Alley, an executive at ReconRobotics in Edina, and adjunct professor of political science at Macalester College.

The Twin Cities area has a head start to become an international robotics and automation center of excellence. A robotics ecosystem already taking form will build upon our region's expertise in effective high-tech innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration.

Robots are moving into our personal lives by cleaning living room floors, handling hazardous materials, parking cars and saving lives in roles from security to medicine. The world's emerging robotics industry has vast potential to benefit the quality of life for people all over the world, creating millions of high-paying jobs in the process.

In the international picture, the United States will make decisions to either be a net exporter or a net importer of robots in coming decades. Locally, our home can serve as a hub of activity in this exciting industrial transformation.

There are leading local companies in established robotics markets like PaR Systems, Polaris Defense, NPC Robotics and ReconRobotics. More upstarts remain to be discovered or advertised in fields like agriculture, transportation and medicine.

(The benefits of our region's strong head start will be discussed at an event Nov. 15 in Edina.)

American industries develop best when they are led by visionaries who reach for emergent goals not seen by others. Our Twin Cities region has a head start as a focal point in that leadership. This year there have already been some high-profile developments locally.

The White House adviser on robotics and automation spoke about the U.S. National Robotics Initiative this spring at the Humphrey Institute, joined by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate Commerce subcommittee on competitiveness, innovation, and export promotion. Together, they reinforced a message that American industry can build high-tech products with advanced manufacturing and sell them around the world.

This summer's International Conference on Robotics and Automation brought thousands of the world's leading robotics scientists and academics to St. Paul, under the chairmanship of Prof. Nikolaos Papanikolopoulos, who also directs the University of Minnesota's Center for Distributed Robotics.

A robotics campus concept is currently being shopped around Twin Cities locations by one of Robotics Alley's first success stories, Nena Street's new firm, Robotics Innovation, LLC. Plans are in place and site investigation tours are underway for a Global Robotics Innovation Park with the potential to do far more for long-term regional job creation than another sports stadium.

Nearby, North Dakota has staked a solid claim as a leader in unmanned aviation. There are also large companies with operations that will undoubtedly move into robotics markets, such as 3M, John Deere and Toro. The Twin Cities can pull these enterprises together geographically.

In the American economy, industry and entrepreneurial spirit lead the way with investment and sweat. Success follows when academia, government, and policy partners can also rally around a common, positive vision for growth.

Robotics can be a high-paying, job-creation industry for the Twin Cities region. The exciting opportunities in robotics and automation technologies fit our regional DNA for economic and business growth.