Robo Madness, Xconomy’s 3rd Annual Robotics Bash, Coming April 10

Consider a few of the big news headlines in the field of robotics in the last 12 months:

—NASA’s Curiosity rover celebrated its first year on Mars, and its first kilometer traveled, and found evidence of ancient freshwater lakes on the red planet. Meanwhile, Voyager 1 left the solar system, and a Chinese rover soft-landed on the Moon.

—Amazon said it plans to introduce Prime Air—package delivery via robot helicopters—by 2015. (eBay’s CEO called that a fantasy.)

—Six teams made it to the trial stage in the DARPA Robotics Challenge, in which a humanoid rescue robot must drive a vehicle, get out, traverse difficult terrain, climb a ladder, clear debris, open a door, drill through a wall, close a valve, and unreel a fire hose.

—A pair of Oxford scientists estimated that by 2034, nearly half of all U.S. jobs currently done by humans will have been handed over to computers and robots. An Army general said robots could replace one-quarter of all soldiers by 2030.

—Google bought no fewer than nine robotics and AI companies, including Schaft, Industrial Perception, Redwood Robotics, Meka Robotics, Holomni, Bot & Dolly, Boston Dynamics, Nest Labs, and DeepMind.

By any measure, it’s been a wild year, with the technology and business of robotics advancing faster than anyone would have dared to predict. That’s part of the reason we picked the title Robo Madness 2014 for our third annual Silicon Valley robotics event, scheduled for April 10 at SRI International in Menlo Park. There’s an unmistakable frenzy in the air.

For years, robots have excelled at dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs like building cars, finding nuclear-reactor leaks, or exploring the oceans and planets. But suddenly they’re turning up in all sorts of new and surprising places—and being groomed to work right alongside humans. They’re driving on our highways, moving medical supplies, connecting remote workplaces, and even teaching our children.

The robotics revolution is starting to hit home, in every sense. At Robo Madness, we’ll delve deep into the why, the how, and the when.

We’ve already signed up great speakers like Helen Greiner, whose company CyPhy Works is building pilotless flying robots for surveying, mapping, and reconnaissance; Scott Hassan, the founder and CEO of Suitable Technologies, which hopes to bring remote presence to millions of workplaces and homes; Brian Gerkey, who’s working to promote faster product development in robotics through the Open Source Robotics Foundation; and Melonee Wise, whose company Unbounded Robotics is figuring out cheaper ways to build mobile manipulation robots.

We will also welcome Vikas Gupta and Keller Rinaudo, whose startups Play-i and Romotive are making robots that help kids learn computer-programming concepts; Aydin Senkut, founder of Felicis Ventures, a boutique venture fund that has invested in CyPhy Works and Romotive; Peter Hebert of Lux Capital, a media, research, and investing firm with a growing interest in robotics; and David Mindell, an MIT historian who studies autonomous and cybernetic systems for space and ocean exploration.

We’re also thrilled that John Markoff, the New York Times journalist who broke the stories of Google’s driverless car and its stealthy acquisition binge in robotics, will be on hand as a special guest moderator.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll bring you stories about several of the companies and innovators who’ll be at Robo Madness, as well as more details about the event program. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, register now while the “early bot” registration price is still good.

Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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