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In Silicon Valley, a show for robot pros

Most robotics business conferences are in Boston or Pittsburgh, but RoboDevelopment brings the technology for creating commercial robots to San Jose.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--I'm down in the Valley on Thursday for the RoboDevelopment conference, and, having been to a few other robotics events, something seems very different.

In the past, I've been to RoboNexus, a show aimed at presenting kids and adults alike with the latest developments in robotics technology. And I've been to RoboGames, a display of pure robot-on-robot battle fury.

And there's no doubt that Robo Development is different. For one, it's smaller. For two, there's no pervasive grinding sound from the gnashing teeth of gears and claws and, well, saw blades that you might find at RoboGames. And there are no kids, like you find en masse at RoboNexus.

Dexter, a humanoid robot from Anybots, has a bipedal platform, autonomous dynamic balance, and walks, runs and jumps. Anybots says Dexter can go wherever people can go, including climbing stairs and ladders. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

So, what is RoboDevelopment?

"There isn't an event designed for robot technology professionals," said Dana Kara, the president of Robotics Trends, the media company putting on this confab. "For people building robots for sale, there's nothing out there."

Until now, that is.

RoboNexus and Robo Business, both shows run by Kara's company, cover a broad range of robotic technology. But he said that after surveying the robotics conference landscape, he concluded there was nothing geared toward giving the people building robotics infrastructure technology a place to gather and showcase their work.

So, that's what RoboDevelopment is. (For more pictures from the show, see "Photos: Robots for all occasions.")

"Robotics is much more difficult than IT," said Kara. "It requires software engineering, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, so it's much more difficult to build things for the real world."

So, for example, the keynote speeches here Thursday have such titles as: "Low Cost, High Impact Enabling Technologies for Mass Market Robotics"; "The Emerging Robotics Industry--Catalysts and Next Steps"; and "A Robotics Development Platform from Kindergarten to Rocket Science."

This is heady stuff, and the conference itself definitely feels that way.

After all, as Kara put it, this is an event where the providers of "enabling technologies like development environments, sensors, meters and actuators and power" come together to help the creators of robots aimed at the consumer market get on their way.

One other thing that Kara pointed out struck me, and that was the reasoning behind holding this event here.

In the past, he said, most serious robotics conferences have been held in Boston or Pittsburgh because of those cities' proximity to specific universities or military research in the field.

But now, by bringing RoboDevelopment to San Jose, Kara's company is hoping to bring the field of robotics development for commercial products to a place rife with venture capitalists looking for new entrepreneurial fields to invest in.

"This could be a huge market if they get their act together," said Kara.

Still, I didn't entirely understand what the show was about. But Kara had the answer.

"Any graduate student can build a robot that can vacuum your floor," he said. "But how do you do it for $200?...That's where these people are."