From Idea to World Changing Impact: Why technology takes time to evolve

From Idea to World-Changing Impact: Why technology takes time to evolve

Several stages of development are necessary for every new technology to reach perfection, and even then, it continues to evolve. My name is Vladimir Tsimberg, I’m the founder of Robohood Inc. We developed software that allows a robotic manipulator to paint real artwork with brushes and paints on any surface.

We discuss the quality of the artwork very often. In this article, I want to raise the question of why we cannot judge the capabilities of the technology at the beginning of its journey.

In 1926, the pioneer of radio, Lee de Forest, said, “While theoretically and technically television may be feasible, commercially, and financially, I consider it to be an impossibility…a development of which we need to waste little time dreaming.”

Looking back years later, we can see that even the most revolutionary technological advancements of today were initially met with skepticism and doubt. This happens both in times when there are many competitors in the market when there is a question about the wisdom of introducing another product similar to others, and during the blue ocean period.

Robohood is now sailing in the clear waters of an untapped market where robots that can paint can be used for more than just art. We expanded the application of our manipulators, confirming their usefulness in fields such as medicine, construction, fashion, and the event industry (add links to articles upon publication). For each sector, we continue to develop the technology while recognizing that there is still room to grow.

It would seem, why invent another device that can create portraits, landscapes, or abstractions when there are already many cheaper examples on the market, some even better in painting quality? In the history of art, the blue ocean has appeared several times. The most notable example is photography. Even its earliest analog, the daguerreotype.

The artist and scientist Louis Daguerre, who the daguerreotype is named after, collaborated with inventor Nicéphore Niépce to develop the technology to create a photographic image. A few years later, the French government placed it in the public domain. Daguerreotype was a complex, multistep process that resembled a mirror. Bromine, iodine, hot mercury, and gold chloride were used to create an image. For a portrait, a person had to sit still in front of the lens for about 30 minutes because of their low sensitivity to light.

Painting portraits the traditional way was still easier and cheaper. At the very beginning of its journey, the forerunner of photographic printing couldn’t compete with painting. The genre of portraiture was at its height, with a multitude of artists creating photorealistic color paintings. It was both a craft and a means of communicating images.

However, photography quickly became a sought-after medium, and its capabilities surpassed those of classical painting. Over the years, the technology was refined, and the exposure time was reduced from 30 minutes to a fraction of a second. Today, we don’t even think about freezing in front of a camera, but in the 19th century, this technology faced various limitations from both the photographer and the client. Film replaced metal plates and later by digital cameras. The technology has grown to where everyone carries a camera in their pocket, and the quality of cell phones is as good as professional equipment. Could Dagher have guessed where his research would lead? He gave them a start, and the rest was in the hands of those who believed in success.

What seems imperfect today may be revolutionary tomorrow. The history of science and technology is full of such examples. In the early days of radio, many scientists were interested in its development. Enthusiasts and inventors from all continents contributed to its progress, such as Alexander Popov, Nikola Tesla, Édouard Branly, and Oliver Lodge. However, one name rings louder than the rest — Guglielmo Marconi.

It took many years of various experiments to arrive at the form in which we see modern radio today. Society accepted not all of them because it wasn’t ready. In fact, many people found it hard to imagine that communication over long distances was possible. When Marconi presented his development of wireless communication to the Italian Ministry of Post and Telegraph in 1895 after successful trials, they replied, “To the madhouse!”.

Unlike other radio pioneers, Marconi realized immediately that there was a grand future for radio communication, and he had the chance to build a business of incredible proportions. To gather all the radio knowledge, he bought patents and used them to upgrade his equipment. This allowed him to get rid of competitors early on.

The American inventor Lee de Forest, quoted at the beginning of this article, also faced skepticism about his developments. He could be considered the first radio broadcaster: in 1910 he succeeded in transmitting part of the opera “Tosca.“ To improve the signal, he founded a company to develop and market an amplifier that could help achieve voice transmission across the ocean. However, his investors sued him, believing that such a thing was simply impossible and that de Forest himself was a fraud. He was later exonerated because his triode for amplifying radio signals actually worked, and soon long-distance communication became a reality.

The invention of the telephone, for example, was not universally popular. Sir William Preece, chief engineer of the British Post Office, was convinced that no one needed it, so it was a waste of time to develop it. At a parliamentary hearing reporting on U.S. achievements in science, he said, “The Americans may need telephones, but we don’t. We have plenty of postmen.“ He later admitted he was wrong. Mobile communications faced similar skepticism. The prospects may have seemed too dim, but Martin Cooper, the inventor of the cell phone, declared that it would never replace wireline service.

Human knowledge of the reality of things is limited. Experts in technological fields often make mistakes in their predictions. I am writing this article on a computer, but at the beginning, even the manufacturers themselves didn’t believe in the success of these devices. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home,“ said Ken Olsen, founder of the computer company Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), in 1977. IBM’s Thomas Watson stated that the computer market was very limited and that they might sell as few as five units. The company later claimed that the quote was taken out of context and that it was about price, but the phrase stuck with the company.

Doubts also surrounded the Internet. Bill Gates called it a novelty that would “eventually make way for something much better.“ At Apple, skepticism was far from absent. “If I were Jobs, I would sell Apple and give the money back to the shareholders,“ said Michael Dell, founder of DELL. For Airbnb founder Brian Chesky, investors responded to his offer to fund a travel startup by saying it wasn’t interesting and no one would look for a stranger in another city to spend the night. However, the service has now received $3.4 billion in investment, and over 150 million people have used the Airbnb platform in its history.

Looking back, we can only be glad that none of these predictions came true because the developers kept working on it, even amid doubt.

Critics often forget that technology development is a process that depends on many factors, including investment and the willingness of the market itself to embrace innovation. They are not always meant to be introduced into everyday life immediately. Innovations take time. Their effectiveness can only be manifested with the necessary support and understanding from society. Judging the state of technological development in the present means ignoring its potential in the future.

Robohood technology right now continues to grow. Its current state, compared to a year ago, is unparalleled, demonstrating the continuous progress we’ve made. Over time, new scientific discoveries will provide new development opportunities, and Robohood will take advantage of them. The investment will further accelerate this process. 

We can imagine, for example, how a traditional artist gradually learns to paint, improving their skills. At first, they may be simple geometric shapes, but over time, these shapes evolve into more complex forms. With each round of learning, they paint better and better. The same principle applies to the evolution of software for robots.

Robot painting is being compared to human painting precisely because there is nothing else to compare it to. At least not yet. This is just the beginning, and it may set a standard that everyone can build on. The more similar technologies emerge, the faster society will realize that robotic painting is a new artistic style that reflects familiar artistic trends. For now, however, it is an uncharted ocean. We will continue to experiment and consistently “train” the technology to achieve what may seem like benchmark performance. However, progress always continues without a definitive endpoint.

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