Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Requirements please!

I have seen it many times: One company hires another to do a project, after a while, they end up in court because the contracting party does not want to pay the contractor, arguing they didn't receive what expected, while the contractor say they did as agreed. Most of the times requirements are not adequately written, giving each company the freedom to create their own expectations, that may not match.

But, why this happens so frequently? There are a lot of factors that may make this happening. The most common are the following:

  • One of the parties is not interested in having clear requirements because they think this gives them the capacity to change things during the project or avoid specific compromises, as there is no written document.
  • The contracting party is not able to clearly define what they want or what they could expect.
  • There is no clear communication between parties, so each party has its own set of expectations taken for granted that may not match the expectations of the other party.
  • There is no adequate knowledge or compromise to do adequate requirements.

The reality is that having poor or no requirements are very bad practice for both parties. Both will end up losing money, time, credibility, or opportunities.

If you are developing a product or service for the market is the same story. Good requirements will help to make a good product or service, not losing track of what you are offering to the market.

Source: http://www.projectcartoon.com/
Requirements Engineering is one of the processes of Systems Engineering, that is focused on defining, documenting and maintaining requirements. In the Waterfall Model, requirements engineering is presented as the first phase of the development process while Agile Methodologies, like Scrum, assume that requirements engineering continues through the lifetime of a system.

Basically, a requirement is a singular documented physical and functional need that a particular design, product or process must be able to perform. The systems engineer needs to carefully elicit requirements from users and stakeholders to ensure the product will meet their needs.

Fortunately, Requirements Engineering is a well standardized process by the International Organization for Standardization, under the standard ISO/IEC/IEEE 29148 Systems and software engineering - Life cycle processes - Requirements engineering.

It is crucial to ensure the requirements are correctly defined and here I will mention some key characteristics of good requirements from INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) [1]

  • Necessary: State only what is determined to be necessary for achieving the client’s mission within regulatory constraints. These statements are derived through analytical means to the depth necessary for design, procurement, implementation and verification.
  • Clear: Convey what must be achieved in a manner that can be understood by those who are expected to implement the requirement, without having to ask the author what was meant.
  • Achievable: Confirm with the implementer that the requirement can be affordably achieved either by previously developed means, or within a reasonable period of development.
  • Traceable: Ensure derived requirements can be traced to a user need or a higher-level specification, and to a supporting analytical basis. Derived requirements need to also trace to the implementing item.
  • Verifiable: Requirements must be stated in a manner that compliance can be objectively confirmed. Typical methods of confirmation include analysis, inspection, demonstration and test.
  • Complete: A set of requirements needs to be complete, such that if all are met then the resulting system will successfully achieve the client’s need for the system. In addition, the needs of other stakeholders will be addressed to the agreed extent, and the regulations will be met.
  • Implementation Free: State what is required and how well it needs to be done without bias for how it will be done. The design team should be allowed to choose the best means of accomplishing the requirements. This helps to provide stable requirements and to control cost.

Requirements Engineering is not an easy task, but crucial. Is the origin of a lot of work and investments. It could be key for successful results or a terrible disaster. Let us pay the adequate attention to this process.

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Reference:
[1] Managing Requirements for Design. INCOSE Infrastructure Working Group
[3] Wikipedia

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Infinium Robotics. Flying robots

Infinium Robotics is the company where I work as Chief Technology Officer in Singapore. We do interesting things in this company mainly in aerial robotics, that I would like to share with you as far as I can, not unveiling our intellectual property.


Infinium Robotics is well known in Singapore as the first company able to use autonomous drones to serve food & beverages in restaurants, in a GNSS-denied environment (indoors). The solution is called Infinium-Serve. For that solution, Infinium Robotics not only uses its own developed drone platform and autopilot with adaptive controllers but also a very specific onboard computer vision system, that allows the drone to fly properly indoors in a safe way.

But this is not the only thing this company does. The expertise in sensors, control, trajectory planning and swarm robotics, allowed it to be one of the very first companies able to produce drone shows in the world, called Infinium-Waders, were multiple drones fly describing nice colorful moving figures up in the air, either indoors or outdoors. It is key in this case the automated coordinated trajectory planning, to prevent collisions between the drones while moving.

And the last, but not least is the automated solution for warehouses, called Infinium-Scan, where a complex system allows flying sensors move through a warehouse to do cycle-count stock-taking, also called physical inventory. The system is able to move autonomously in a GNSS-denied environment using different solutions, mainly based on computer vision, and LIDAR technology. The system could identify the goods available in the different racking levels through the aisles, to update de WMS (Warehouse Management System) inventory database. This automated system could reduce operating costs easily as well as increase the database reliability.

It is interesting to watch the following interview with CNBC about the company and our solutions.

If you could not see the video, access this LINK

If you are interested in knowing more about automation in warehousing industry, you could read my previous post HERE

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hardware Technology Opportunities & Challenges

Some weeks ago I participated in a panel discussion at the IEEE HardTech Summit Singapore, about Hardware Technology Opportunities & Challenges for entrepreneurs, both from the technical side and from the financing side.

The panel was moderated by Mohan Belani, Co-Founder & CEO at e27 and the other panelist with me were Kelving Ong, CEO at Focustech Ventures and Alexa Zotova, Principal at Ruvento Ventures.



Although I was there as CTO of Infinium Robotics Singapore, my past experience as founder of my own company in Spain, Quark Robotics, gave me the opportunity to deeply enjoy the moment with the other panelists, more from the investors' side.

Here are some key ideas from the panel, that I would like to share:

  • There are great opportunities for Hardtech companies in the markets of Smart Cities, IOT, Robotics & Automation, Drones solutions, and Industry 4.0 (Read my posts about IOT and Robotics in Smart Cities and Drones Market in figures for more detail)
  • In the case of Singapore, the Government created the National Robotics Programme (NRP), a funding programme of more than $450 million to support SMEs over the next three years. A great opportunity indeed.
  • In the case of small startups, there are some rules of thumb that should be considered when trying to get investors: (a) Getting a first financing from family & friends is always something that external investors will consider as an important commitment.  (b) You could not go to find investors with just an idea. you need to have a prototype, a proof of concept to make them feel confident on you. (c) Obviously a Business Plan, but with considering three scenarios: Optimistic, pessimistic and conservative, and also a Plan-B in case things goes wrong. (d) your product/service should be scalable, (e) You should demonstrate that you are focused on the market. Having agreements with future potential customers to help define and validate the product/service is a valuable point.
  • Where to find mentors for an entrepreneur: There are several sources (a) other entrepreneurs, preferably with at least 2 years of experience, either if they succeeded or not, (b) investors (c) potential customers, (d) Business Development professionals, who could share their knowledge of the market.
  • There are several challenges that hardware startups usually miss out or don’t look at early on: (a) Sometimes they are very optimistic and very technical focused (not market) (b) R&D takes time and money that commonly are not properly considered. (c) the Integration part is the key technical issue in any tech startup. Sometimes, this point is not even considered.
  • A jump from a prototype to a final product (industrialization phase) is a serious step. The prototype could fail, the product not. There are also regulations and certifications (Like CE, FCC,...), usability aspects and even the design of the box, manuals, support,... that sometimes are nor adequately considered, mainly due to lack of knowledge or experience in this critical phase.
You may find more interesting points in my previous post: What is the key to get the successful product?


Friday, January 27, 2017

Robots to the museum

Robotics is something I love since I was 10 years old. I worked in a lot of robots during my life. Some of them just for fun, and some of them for professional purpose, but I consider all of them as part of my life. Therefore it was really nice for me to agree with The Robot Museum of Madrid (Spain/Europe) to show some of my robots there as part of their permanent exhibition. 


Some of them, as shown in the picture above are:

  • SAM, a humanoid robot the size of a man, that could interact with people, talk in different languages and use computer vision to follow objects. Built in 2010.
  • Melanie-III, a walking hexapod robot able to walk on rough terrain and carry a payload 4 times its own weight (4Kg), like insects do. This robot won the Hispabot National price in 2004 and was used for research and development, being object of a publication in Springer 2005
  • Retrobot, A dancing robot I built just for fun along with my nephew Manuel. The goal of the project was to build a robot from spare parts of the 80's and 90's that could reproduce music from those years, and dance while shaking a maraca with its left arm, while extending its right arm to ask you for some money. Built in 2011.

Also, the museum will expose some other robots from my collection, including old robot arms and even figures of robots from SciFi movies.

It is nice to see that those robots will be available to the public in such a beautiful place.

The Robot Museum. Madrid

Friday, December 23, 2016

AREX & SIRE. 2016 Robotics Exhibitions in Asia

I had the opportunity to visit SIRE (Singapore International Robot Expo) and AREX (Asian Robotics Exhibition) this past month of November 2016.

Many companies from different countries were there, exhibiting their products for various markets: Industrial, Military, Healthcare, Entertainment, Education, Security and F&B (Food and Beverages) mainly.

From what I see, South Korea, Japan, India, China, and Singapore are taking the lead in the Asian robotics markets, but some big "western" companies, like ABB or Universal Robots are also doing big business here in Asia.

One of the reasons of having a good growth in robotics development and adoption in Asia is due to the specific Government's grants for this purpose:

  • Singapore: As I mentioned in my previous post, Singapore have its Industrial Transformation Programme (ITP) [1]
  • South Korea will spend a total of 500 billion won (US$428 million) in the coming three years to foster the rapidly growing drone industry [2]
  • Japan announced their well known Japan's Robot Strategy in 2015 [3]
  • China made robotics a focal point of its recent “Made in China 2025” Plan, and has set national goals of producing 100,000 industrial robots a year and having 150 robots in operation for every 10,000 employees by 2020 [4]

Here you could see a small video I recorded as a summary of the companies and products exhibited in this past AREX 2016


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Sources:

[1] Industrial Transformation Programme (ITP)
[2] S. Korea to invest 500 bln won to foster drone industry in next 3 yrs
[4] Japan's Robot Strategy
[4] Robots at center of China’s strategy to leapfrog rivals

Friday, December 2, 2016

Robotics & Automation are welcome to Singapore

Singapore is the country where I live. It is a small country in size (less than 6 million citizens) but big in initiatives to promote the Technology, Innovation, and Productivity.



Singapore has very special good conditions that make it really interesting for Robotics & Automation:


Government priority

This sector is so important to the Government, that this year the Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat unveiled a comprehensive package under the new Industry Transformation Programme (ITP) to stimulate growth for industries and firms [1]. It includes:

  • Automation Support Package, to support companies to automate, drive productivity and scale up: S$400 million[2] grants over 3 years.
  • National Robotics Programme: S$450 million grants over 3 years for the development and adoption of robots. These robots will be used in sectors such as healthcare, construction, manufacturing and logistics.
  • Up to S$4 billion under the Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 Plan will be directed to industry-research collaboration. The Government will provide a top-up of S$1.5 billion to the National Research Fund during this year 2016 to support these initiatives.
  • An existing Double Tax Deduction for Internationalization scheme has been extended up to 2020. IE Singapore is expected to support 35,000 to 40,000 companies to expand to markets overseas .
  • The Government created a new portal to help companies find the suitable grant for their needs (https://www.businessgrants.gov.sg). Very helpful considering the amount of schemes and agencies managing grants (IE Singapore, SPRING, STB, Design Singapore,...)


Educational Institutions

Singapore has a very good reputation in terms of education. There are several technical universities (NTU, NUS, SUTD,...) really well prepared not only for education but also for R&D, acting as incubators and being able to work with companies for the success of product developments.


Language and Culture

Singapore is a country with a mix of ethnic groups (74.1% Chinese, 13.4% Malay, 9.2% Indian, 3.3% others) and four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese and Tamil, being English the common business language. A country open to the western cultures, being ranked as one of the less corrupted countries in the world [3], secure and reliable. Singapore is a perfect hub between Asia and the rest of the world.


Communications

Singapore is a major international transport hub in Asia, serving some of the busiest sea and air trade routes. Currently the world's second-busiest port in terms of total shipping tonnage, it also trans-ships a fifth of the world's shipping containers. There are also eight airports in the country.

These privileged conditions make the Country really suitable not only to market in Asia, but also to the entire World. The diversity of the official languages and cultures eases the relationship with China, India, Vietnam or Malaysia for manufacturing purpose at low prices, while the headquarters, design and trading could keep in the country, with the help of a Government with a good understanding of the priority of innovation in our actual world.

Reference:
[1] Industry Transformation Programme
[2] Singaporean Dollar (S$) exchange rate
[3] Corruption perception index

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Haptic systems - Happy users

A few days ago I had the pleasure to meet some people from the National University of Singapore (NUS) Advanced Robotics Centre, who explained me some features of their researches on Haptic Systems.




A Haptic System recreates the sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, or motions to the user. It is useful when you control a device (in this case a robotics arm), while you also receive feedback from the robot on the effort done or the tactile sensation.

Haptic systems have a long story, but their applications grow constantly. Technology users "need" to physically feel. The difference in the experience of using, for example a racing video-game with or without a force feedback (haptic) steering wheel is enormous. Not only you feel better the experience, but you control much better the car.

But is not only about games,is about almost anything that you need to control: A doctor operating a robot in a surgery, a scientist using a teleoperated arm to manipulate delicate materials, can be used to enhance the users’ immersive feeling when performing training in virtual reality environments, or tactile interaction with holograms, controlling remotely operated vehicles...

Basically, the use of haptic feedback can improve performance and sense of presence. Definitely, we will see more and more haptic applications in the near future, that will enhance our user experience and will make our life more productive, easier and happier.