The 2022 BT Robotics Festival was held at Adastral Park in Ipswhich, United Kingdom.
BT AND ADASTRAL PARK... Ad Astra
Adastral Park is where BT do all their "top secret research" into future technologies like 5G, 6G, 7G, etc. We learned that "Ad Astra" means "To the Stars" in Latin... and on another note, there's a space film with the same name, for anyone interested in yet another Brad Pitt movie (link).
The "Robotics Festival" was highly marketed as the place to be. And with BT backing it, we had high hopes from the second we added our details on the registration page, not an event to miss out on!
Ipswhich is 100Km's away from where we are located in London. Or a near 2 hr drive by car.
The drive took us past relatively light Felixstowe traffic and we arrived at Adastral Park around 8.30am. Once at the location, everything was very well organised and it was easy enough to find parking with all the people showing the way. BT is obviously very used to putting on events with visitors.
The venue is pretty impressive with many independent buildings. A bit like an industrial park for offices.
The event was split in 4 or 5 buildings out of all the 10's of building at the Adastral site and unfortunately the weather was not on robotics side when walking between buildings... it rained quite a lot in between sessions.
You may be excused for thinking you were at Comicon with the first thing we saw was this human robot or robot human... a human inside a pretty neat robot shell.
Whilst quite amusing, not entirely sure if this display would have suited Comicon more than a supposedly serious B2B event... although, do remember this event was referred to as a "Robotics Festival" and not a conference or a trade show! So, perhaps it was suitable after all?
Remote controlled vehicles featured a lot at the festival and one of the winners of Robot Wars (no pictures, soz) was present alongside a Robot Wars arcade thingy.
There was also this robotics art installation... or art installation.
The DJ booth also had its own Johnny 5 Lego robot from the film Short Circuit (1986).
We got the feeling organisers were trying to celebrate anything related to robots and robotics.
At STIQ we are acutely aware the British robotics ecosystem is in need of a bit of "TLC" and is also the reason we spun up our own STIQ TLA Robotics Networking events (read a writeup from our Nov 16th, 2022 event here)
Our impression was that there were a lot of BT people around. And, this is perhaps also the reason they put on events, to kind of showcase stuff to their own staff as well as external people and mix them all together. Although, I don't think I spoke to too many BT people at the event...
We met with a few non-BT people at the event: One person from the networking industry, a father and a 6th form son combo with an interest in satellites, an industrial designer and a partnership manager at a British university. Not the usual audience at robotics events, but anything that attracts an audience for robotics has to be good.
Presentations were a mix of in-person, remote and pre-recorded. For example, the link with the guy from Nasa was awesome and worked very well (probably the most interesting talk at the event).
There were great presentations for sure, even though most of the corporate sponsors tried to sell their wares (as is usual at any conference we have visited).
Lisa Parsons opened the event and it is great to see women leading the way in robotics at BT.
The event schedule was packed with presentations in 3 theatres.
There were a few more presentations from BT to plug some of their advancements in networking and how that relate to robots.
Mike Wilson from the MTC (Coventry) gave his view on the trends in robotics and thought more manufacturers should use more robots. One audience member asked if we really need more manufacturing in the UK or if we should be the place of IP instead, including design, etc. instead of manufacturing.
Our view on manufacturing is that high value manufacturing should be kept in the country. For example, making Lego pieces may not be the best value add, but making high tech medical devices might be. Anyway, that's for another conversation.
The audience was treated to a quick maths class with this recorded (!) presentation from Cambridge University. Whilst very interesting covering Swarm Robotics, no questions were allowed/possible.
Ocado Technology was also at hand to talk about their robotics. And, inadvertently perhaps also highlighted the lack of robotics research in the UK... look at the many European partners! However, this was a Horizon project (EU funded) and Ocado may not have had any choice in the partners, so perhaps a bit unfair comparison.
THE SHOWCASE/TRADE SHOW
There was also a small trade show area where sponsors and robotics companies exhibited. Most of the robot companies were part of BritBots (a UK seed investor focused on robotics) portfolio companies and hence quite small or early stage.
On the other hand, there were also giants like SAP, Kearney, Wipro, Red Hat, etc. showcasing.
The difference in size between very young startups and enterprise exhibitors made the exhibition area a bit lopsided. However, kudos to BT and they managed to use smoke machinery and black drapes to create an interesting atmosphere in the area - note taken for any of our own future events!
The exhibition space
Bladebug's inspection robot. The inspection part was a feature and there were 2-3 inspection robots on display from different companies.
Perhaps this Boston Dynamics dog was a bit tired after all exhibiting?
The Ministry of Defence was also on site and showcased this behemoth they partially use for deploying drones in theatre.
We should also add there were two or three sensor companies exhibiting as well. But also many additional BT system integrator partners, value added retailers, etc. and some with very little relation to robotics, such as Jabra (headsets).
A few of the presentations ended up talking about AI in general (voice recognition, etc) rather than "robotics".
THE RESEARCH LAB
BT Adastral Park also hosts a research or test lab where they can test robots to examine if they are any useful for real life. This was primarily made up from trial robots or robots in various testing phases.
Impressive test facility
BTs drone display. STIQ has seen this at other shows, Farnborough Air Show, etc.
We were excited to learn about this snake/worm robot. Although it was first developed in 2015 and not the very latest creation perhaps. Again, this was also the result of a research project with a gas utility company. Perhaps it failed as a part of utility companies changing priorities and regulatory focus? This seemed to be the reason from the way it was explained to STIQ on site.
Dogtooth showcased their strawberry picking robot. Apparently this is currently being tested in the UK. STIQ publish reports on Farm Robots.
A FESTIVAL... AFTER ALL
BT getting behind a robotics event in the UK was impressive. However, if we visited to see what robotics the British are up to, this would most likely have left someone a bit disappointed... or satisfied... depending on their agenda.
However, whilst the event was heavily marketed (great social media team at BT!!) this was definitely not marketed as an opportunity to see the very best of British Robotics (don't miss our webinar on "Best of British Robotics" - try this YouTube video from our 2021 TLA Robotics webinars).
At STIQ we also regularly visit top robotics events around the world so have perhaps a skewed idea of what we expect from robotics events.
We would love to help out if BT organise another robotics event... hint hint!!
+ Read about STIQ TLA Robotics Networking events and let us know!
- STIQ TLA Robotics Nov 16th writeup
- STIQ TLA Robotics Jul 19th writeup
- STIQ TLA Robotics Mar 24th writeup
Furthermore, we have secured 4 more events in 2023! Whilst our scale is far smaller than that of BT, we do have an ambition to improve the domestic robotics sector, not only by grant funded studies that lead to yet another POC robot. This includes looking at international robotics companies, mixing people, displaying stuff, etc. Yes, basically STIQ TLA Robotics