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How to Get Started in Robotic App Development

At READY we want to engage the landscape of developers outside the robotics industry to be programmers in the robotics industry.  People who focus on user experience design, on cloud platforms, on data infrastructure, on machine learning who are playing in the app space or the SaaS business space should all be encouraged to work in the industrial space.  There is a huge potential of amazing things in the industrial robot and manufacturing space that they could contribute to and solve hard, interesting problems right now. 

So how do they find out how they can contribute? Well frankly, it’s something that, as an industry, we’re not doing the best at. If you look at just a some Google searches, and these are in quotes, you can see how well the Android and Windows spaces enable and provide starting guidance to developers:

“Getting started with ios app development” : 139,000

“Getting started with android app development” : 262,000

“Getting started with window program development” : 968,000,000

“Getting started with mac program development” : 697,000,000

These results are not magic. If you search for other terms like “getting started with iOS development for an iPhone”. “Getting started with Android app development”, “getting started with windows program development”, you see millions, or at least hundreds of thousands, if not millions of results for resources. If a person asks, “Hey, I’m interested in building an app for an iPhone. Where do I start?”, and they find plenty of help.

The robotics industry does not have this level of support, not even close.  Just look at these search results (as of Sept 9, 2020)!

“Getting started with robot app development” : 0

“Getting started with robot application development” : 0

“Getting started with robot program development” : 0

We’re not telling a clear message about how people outside our industry can get started and create value in robot application development or robot program development. If we broaden the search out a little more, “getting started with robotics” we at least get a few hits, but those results are mostly in the hobbyist space. 

“Getting started with robotics” : 17,000

“Getting started with robot programming” : 6

“Getting started with industrial robots” : 1

If I’m going to build a robot with an Arduino, then I can find lots of help. That’s awesome that people have found an accessible way to get into the industry through the hobbyist market. But when we talk about real industrial systems, there is next to no accessible content or support for the general developer. Whereas in the windows app development space, I can create almost any program with the documentation that’s out there. I can create a real enterprise grade application by myself. This is a story we’ve seen where people have created very impactful applications with very little resources and it made breakout success because they could create something that was industry grade with the tools that were available. 

How do we enable these developers?  Well, a true developer ecosystem exists when there is a clear path for those in other industries to get excited about this industry. And that’s something that, as an outsider, isn’t apparent. As a developer I’d think, “I don’t know where to start”, “I don’t know what value it is”. They either look at manufacturing and they don’t see how high tech and interesting it has become. But if they get a chance, then they get in and they’re like, “Oh, this is so fragmented. I don’t know where to start” and that is too bad. It really comes down to focusing on platforms that reduce the onboarding costs of a developer to get into our ecosystem and start producing something that is amazing.

You can build one piece of software that is widely deployed. Every startup I talked to in the robotic space, one of their major sort of efforts has been, “Oh, and I had to write my program so it can interface with this robot and this robot and this robot”.  I hear this challenge all the time.  There’s no path for them to build one program and it just works ubiquitously on all robots and peripherals as there is in the computer industry or the mobile industry.  Quite simply, this challenge is a turnoff for developers because they don’t want to build the same thing repeatedly. They want to focus on what their value proposition is. They want to just build the thing they want to make and start providing value immediately.

So what does a thriving developer ecosystem produce? Well, it produces useful robotic solutions that end users can use without direct help.  It produces plugins and sub platforms that other developers can use. So that’s a key piece of the mobile and other software platform spaces is that there are developers who make plugins for other developers, and innovative hardware.

At READY we are building an ecosystem where developers have very easy access to the tools that let them build industrial applications. They can start solving problems, they can start to monetize those solutions. And then the end users benefit by having these amazing applications that they can use to take their robot and really get stuff done with it, which in turn enables everyone else. It also enables the plugin developers, the hardware manufacturers, who are now more excited about the vibrancy of this ecosystem. It just raises everyone up. 

Please Contact Us if you are interested in learning about how you can contribute to our ecosystem of partners.

View the 9/8/20 RIA presentation by Kel Guerin, PhD: https://riaroboticsweek.pathable.co/meetings/virtual/XrP32mua5qPmix44j