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I am not preaching technological defeatism.” –iRobot founder Rodney Brooks

Simple Solutions to Complex Problems

Forget the long-delayed promise of drone delivery. A fascinating report in the Washington Post tells how a pilot program by Starship Technologies(@StarshipRobots) is using boxy, cooler-esque robots to deliver meals from local restaurants in Washington, DC and Redwood, CA.

Starship’s six-wheeled bots, which navigate the sidewalks like pedestrians, are a marvel of simplified design. They travel at just four miles per hour, according to the Post, and a spec sheet we spotted describes a no-nonsense system that uses cameras, radar and GPS to navigate urban environments.

“The robot can operate through just about anything,” said Nick Handrick, head of operations for Starship’s D.C. office, told the Post. “If you had something in the way — a stick, a curb — it’s able to climb curbs.”

The company’s founders, who previously struck it rich at Skype, are hoping the robot will also be able to traverse legal obstacles. Autonomous drones like Amazon’s are subject to complex laws, but many states make the rules simpler for ground-based robots like the one Starship hacked together. The company says it’ll soon expand its pilot to Milton Keynes, England and the San Francisco Bay.

Rodney Brooks on Whether Your Hardware Startup Will Succeed

iRobot (@iRobot) founder Rodney Brooks (@rodneyabrooks) penned a terrific column for the latest issue of IEEE Spectrum about the rules of thumb he uses to predict new hardware projects’ capacity for commercial success.

The whole thing is worth a read, but Brooks’ key idea is that game-changing technologies are far simpler if peripheral design problems have already been worked out. The electric car, for instance, presents challenges — just look at Tesla’s (@Tesla) woes — but engineers already know how to make effective brakes, ergonomic auto interiors and windshield wipers. But entirely new ideas, like fusion power or a working hyperloop, require a whole new set of underlying technologies to be effective.

“I am not preaching technological defeatism,” he wrote. “I’m only suggesting that we properly gauge the difficulty of whatever we are told could be the next big thing.”

The Maker Pros of Rio de Janeiro and Tapei

Maker Faire Rio de Janeiro and Maker Faire Taipei both went off without a hitch this week — and each showed off the business acumen and social engagement of their regional maker pro communities.

In Rio, Make: correspondent Goli Mohammadi (@snowgoli) wrote about an impressive selection of participants who are working to improve lives with technology, from a smart bike helmet with built in turn signals called Smart-Capacete to Ávidos, a wearable system expectant mothers can use to collect data during pregnancy. Honorable mentions: Grupo NanoBiotech, which is working on new ways to recycle plastic for 3D printing, and Gala, a smart cane blind people can use to navigate their environments in new ways.

And in Taipei, Jennifer Blakeslee reports on a variety of cutting edge participants. There was MakerBar (@MakerBarTaipei), a workspace and community for social innovation, as well as Flux (@flux3dp), which is working on an impressive-looking line of multi-function fabrication devices. There was also Botfeeder (@BotFeederCanada), which sells 3D printing filaments, and JX Music Lab, which is working to democratize music production with open source MIDI devices — as well as many more.

Cutting Through the Smart Manufacturing Hype

The manufacturing sector is hot with buzz about “smart manufacturing” and “industry 4.0” — a loose confluence of technologies around rapid fabrication, big data and automation that, depending who you ask, are either poised to remake the space or fizzle out.

A no-nonsense new post by engineering community GrabCAD (@GrabCAD) cuts through the terminology and draws on expert input to evaluate the space with a special eye on hardware startups. The takeaway: yes, there are benefits — but they hinge on a nuanced understanding of the design and manufacturing process.

Elsewhere on the Maker Pro Web

Make: Senior Editor Caleb Kraft (@calebkraft ) is back with another installmentof Cool Crowdfunding. On deck this time: folding bike CARBO (@Ridecarbo), educational bot Moonbot, DIY phone kit Maker Phone (@mobilemakers), and more.

A cautionary tale: Wisconsin spent billions wooing Chinese manufacturer Foxconn, which authorities hoped would open a new factory in the state — but the governor ended up turning against it.

Make in LA (@MakeinLA) Managing Director Shaun Arora (@ShaunFromLAtook a look at investors’ professed aversion to hardware this week — and found that even hardware critics are often willing to invest in a maker pro company if its leaders can show that they have a plan to minimize risk.