Robotics:  Is NVIDIA The Only Tech Firm That Truly Thinks Strategically?  

Around a decade ago virtually all the tech companies, seeing Apple’s success with the iPhone and Google’s response with Android, were convinced the future was in mobile phones and almost everyone was wrong. NVIDIA, however, pivoted early shifting massive resources to autonomous cars and ended up becoming one of the few firms that wasn’t badly damaged by a failed mobile strategy. They have since been followed into this area by others, but Autonomous cars are just the tip of the iceberg, this same technology can be used in autonomous aircraft and robots. While other firms also have drone efforts, NVIDIA was the first to see the connection between the drones and cars and bridge the efforts so that both benefitted from what the other did. However, with robotics, it seemed that tech firms in general didn’t even think that this was a category they were remotely interested in even though it is likely at some point each of us eventually get one. Once again NVIDIA stood up this week with partner to create the software needed for these robots which are also connected to their autonomous car and aircraft efforts and all should benefit from this inclusive strategy.

But it strikes me that NVIDIA is the only US tech firm that seems to be aggressively looking at where the tech market is going next and getting ahead of the curve as opposed to what others seem to be doing and following a peer’s lead into a new market.

Let’s talk about that this week.

NVIDIA and Udacity

Let’s start by discussing the trigger news release from NVIDIA and Udacity on a training and degree program for Robotics Software Engineer. Based around the NVIDIA Jetson TX2, the platform NVIDIA initially created for self-driving vehicles this course covers robotic system deployment, localization, SLAM, reinforcement learning for robotics, path planning, and navigation.

The course goal is to guild a home service robot that can autonomously navigate the home while performing household tasks. What is fascinating about this is that we really don’t have robots in market that do this yet. Generally, in a course like this, you build a basic tool of some sort that is well below what is available commercially. But, in this case, the course drives students to build products they could bring to market and that might be state of the art.

Bootstrapping A Market

But this is one of the ways you bootstrap a new market. You not only need the hardware you need the programing that’ll make it work and if you don’t have focused courses then you must bridge from one area of competence to the other and end up with less than ideal offerings.

It is this more common approach that tends to lengthen the time it takes to get to an adequate product. The first cars looked like carriages without horses, the first wireless phones looked just like wired phones, and early TVs looked a lot like radios with screens. But if you can get enough people focused specifically on a new segment you can more rapidly optimize for it.

By going about, it this way not only will NVIIDA, with Udacity’s help, move early to own the general robotics segment but they’ll assure they maximize this initial lead making very hard for competitors to catch them from behind.

Thinking Strategically

One of the biggest problems that has emerged in the US is the tendency, thanks to an overabundance of Hedge Fund executives on boards, to focus excessively on quarterly profits and not prepare for the future. This the process a lot of companies are attempting to fight because it is killing them. NVIDIA stands out as the most aggressively investing in a future that their peers don’t yet see. They did this first with Autonomous cars, then they saw the connection between the cars and autonomous drones first, and finally they have moved to robotics. It is interesting to note that it isn’t just the pivot that causes them to stand out, it is that they are improving the speed of the pivot over time. This is why I think NVIDIA is the poster child for thinking strategically now.