The Power of Vision

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Every essential product started as just an idea.

Back in the day, visionaries like Daimler, Maybach, Bosch & Co. pushed Germany forward. Their driving forces were vision, a passion for technology, and a strong sense of togetherness.

macht-der-vision_portrait

It’s something we take for granted: I’m sitting in a car from Metzingen to Munich. What took five days by stagecoach 200 years ago, we now do in a little over two hours. And since a colleague is driving this time, I’ve naturally opened my laptop and am working on this text. But why do we take all this for granted? Just because I always have a car and laptop handy? Neura Robotics in Metzingen is 40 kilometers from Bad Cannstatt, where Gottfried Daimler first built a motorcycle, then a draisine, and finally the steel-wheeled car. This happened in the 1880s. Those years were a special era: Manufacturer Artur Junghans, who founded what would become the world’s largest clock factory in Schramberg in the Black Forest during this time, called it «the decade of tech enthusiasm.» What did he mean by that? «We believe that we can solve all problems with technology,» he wrote. The emphasis was on «we.»

Togetherness as a driving force.

This sense of togetherness was omnipresent. Company founders, engineers, and technicians supported each other. For example, Artur Junghans was one of the first to buy a car from the notoriously underfunded Gottfried Daimler. When this vehicle caught fire on the steep Black Forest roads between Sulgen and Schramberg with Wilhelm Maybach at the wheel, Junghans sat down and tinkered with a technique to replace the dangerous hot-tube ignition. Since he didn’t have time to develop the idea further himself, he gave it to a talented young technician named Robert Bosch. Bosch developed it into the spark plug, and from the spark plug, a global company emerged. Isn’t that amazing? Imagine if Junghans had said what is common today: This idea is mine, no one else should benefit from it. Our world would have developed much worse. If we find any similar openness today, it is in the Open Source approach. Here, software is developed in a decentralized manner, with its source code being public. This way, many smart minds can contribute to advancing a technology. This is done out of selfless motives or to share high development costs.

The reason we live in prosperity and peace.

Recently, I sat on a panel discussion with high-ranking representatives from politics and business. Once again, the topic was the opportunities of cognitive robotics, and once again, I emphasized the advantages we hold in this country. Although I must say, we still hold these advantages, and I must underline and bold this still. We are still able to develop technologies that are better than what the rest of the world can achieve. We are still able to live well from the technological lead of our hidden champions. We still have prosperity and peace in our country because of this. However, I see with great regret how we are squandering these advantages, and once again, politics comes into play: Too often I speak with politicians who do not recognize, and unfortunately do not want to recognize, that it is five minutes to midnight. These people have made themselves comfortable in their niches – but the work of a hidden champion is not comfortable. We at Neura do not make ourselves comfortable either. We literally bust our – you know what I mean – day and night, 24/7. Because we know: The world out there is not sleeping, quite the opposite. Ten years ago, the renowned Harvard Business Review headlined: «Why China can’t innovate.» That is no longer the case today. The magazine has recognized this too and now writes: «China’s new innovation advantage.» Ten years have passed, and in these ten years, the situation has completely turned around. Incidentally, it also took Daimler, Junghans, Maybach, Benz, and Bosch ten years in the 1880s to bring Germany into the industrialized modern era. Before that, there was bitter poverty. Poor nutrition and lack of hygiene were the causes of disease and early death. In Junghans’ hometown of Schramberg, the average life expectancy in the mid-19th century was 37 years! Then came his clock factory, and with its success came electricity, the telephone, cars, grocery stores, doctors, pharmacists, houses, baths, parks – or in short: prosperity.

Cognitive robots will become as commonplace as cars and computers are today.

Therefore, I want to remind everyone how the pioneers of industrialization achieved their success: with their visions, their enthusiasm for technology, and their sense of togetherness. The task they tackled was technically demanding and complex. That’s exactly what we need because in Germany we still – there it is again, that dangerous word still – solve such complex technical challenges better than others. Cognitive robotics is one such complex task. If we manage to achieve what Daimler, Bosch & Co did, many generations after us will benefit from it – just as we benefit today from the achievements of the pioneers. That’s what drives me and my team at Neura.

At the Automate Show 2024 in Chicago, the most important automation fair in the USA, which ended a few days ago, we were simply «the talk of the town». Why? Because among other things, we presented our cognitive robot MAiRA with integrated vision, force, and speech recognition. Not for the first time, but for the first time in the USA, where a robot usable by people without programming skills was a small sensation, just like at Automatica 2022 in Munich, where we first presented MAiRA live to the public. And the visitors in Chicago immediately understood our idea: today, we don’t need to be auto mechanics to drive a car – so why should it be any different with using robots?

But in the land of the humanoid robot hype, our MAiRA caused a stir: a cognitive robot platform that safely recognizes people in the vicinity, acts precisely, and can be used for various tasks through software apps does not necessarily need to look humanoid. This is not necessary for many areas in industry, service, and household. However, the capabilities we demonstrated with MAiRA are all essential prerequisites for building a humanoid robot that can function safely alongside humans. Because perception, interaction, and learning are greater challenges than controlling four arms (technically, legs are also arms) on a humanoid robot. How do I know this so confidently? Because we demonstrated at Automate that our intelligent robot platform can control even eight arms. Understandably, our booth was crowded all day.

MAiRA – the world’s first production-ready cognitive robot – is proof that visions can become reality if you believe in them and work for them. And soon, I will be able to write here: I played around with my kids in the playroom without having to think about tidying up. While we are comfortably lying on the sofa reading a story, our household robot 4NE-1 takes care of that. This scenario will soon be as taken for granted as driving a car is today. In Germany, we essentially have everything we need for this: the vision, the enthusiasm for technology – and the current European Soccer Championship is a great occasion to rediscover the sense of togetherness.

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