It’s one of the most current questions in robotics: ‘How do you make human-machine interaction as intuitive and effective as possible?’ At RoboHouse we are building a place where you can explore this question in fresh and unpredictable ways. So we are more than pleased to welcome SAS, a world leader in advanced analytics, to our community. Amid the celebrations Joost van de Loo sat down with Jaimy Siebel, managing director of RoboValley, and three SAS employees with different backgrounds – Arthur de Crook, Claire Hinnen and Rein Mertens – to talk about their hopes and expectations for the partnership.

Why now? Why SAS?
“Many initiatives in robotics – also within RoboValley – are mainly concerned with optimising for a specific task,” says Jaimy Siebel. “Natural collaboration between people and robots tends to get less attention, but it could really improve wellbeing in the workplace. We call this symbiotic robotics. SAS may help robot developers, because data analytics can give you a handle on what actually happens during collaboration.”

“Natural collaboration between people and robots tends to get less attention, but it could really improve wellbeing in the workplace.”

Jaimy Siebel, managing director RoboValley

Who is SAS?
SAS is a global market leader in analytics. Privately owned. Last year the firm invested over 1 billion dollars in artificial Intelligence. It has been a profitable business for more than 40 years under the charismatic leadership of co-founder and CEO Jim Goodnight. Claire Hinnen, marketing communication executive at SAS, says: “What Jim Goodnight keeps coming back to, is to have a work environment that keeps people coming back every morning. Satisfied employees are the best guarantee for commitment, creativity, innovation and happy customers.” During the coronavirus crisis SAS started an Incident Command System, to pool resources, knowlegde and initiatives. One of the initiatives was a COVID dashboard to visualise key metrics and trends related to the COVID-19 pandemic. In June, SAS also announced a cloud solutions partnership with Microsoft.

Bert Boers, regional VP South West Europe at SAS (centre right) and Jaimy Siebel, managing director at RoboValley (centre left) celebrate with the team after officially signing the partnership agreement between RoboValley and SAS on Friday 12 September 2020.

Opening up to new collaborations
For smaller, more entrepreneurial collaborations, SAS has initiated the D[N]A Lab, an open innovation platform for companies, start-ups and scale-ups with a positive impact on society. It supports projects in the domains of what they call ‘Healthy Life, Healthy Planet’ that includes agri-food and nutrition, sports and healthcare, and all climate change related fields like mobility, energy, waste, and water; in order to helping innovations become ‘enterprise-worthy’ and ‘scalable-ready’. In the Netherlands, D[N]A Lab is lead by Arthur de Crook, who from 2015 to 2018 also worked at RoboValley as managing director. Arthur says: “Everything we do is focussed on making SAS more accessible for entrepreneurs.”

“Everything we do is focussed on making SAS more accessible for entrepreneurs.”Arthur de Crook, director SAS D[N]A Lab

SAS and Project MARCH
SAS has already teamed up with Project MARCH, the non-profit student team that this summer re-located to RoboHouse. The goal is to use data-analysis for creating feedback loops from the robot, in this case an exoskeleton, to the human pilot. This should enable the pilot to move more naturally and intuitively. Arthur says: “Evaluations now mostly happen after the fact, not in real time. But what if the team could predict when certain issues in the exoskeleton might arise? Such as excessive heat in the joints. Real time data analysis could be used to inform the pilot, and allow her to take preventive actions.”

What would SAS like to achieve?
Suppose we would fast-forward to 2023, what things would SAS like to have realised by then within RoboValley? Rein Mertens, head of customer advisory SAS Platform says: “Here’s my personal wish list. An innovative production line for a beer brewer, optimised for people-machine collaboration. A robotic water management system for a regional water authority. A string of clients that has ventured into robotics with SAS, after visiting RoboHouse and deciding to take the plunge.”

Weekly presence in RoboHouse
Proximity is one of the key components of a healthy community. Simply being within eyesight of other people – at a COVID safe distance – can forge informal connections that lead to discoveries and new ideas. Every week, SAS data scientists will therefore set-up shop in RoboHouse to support new and ongoing initiatives. “We feel honored to become part of RoboValley, such an inspiring and authoritative place in the world of robotics”, says Arthur de Crook.

“We feel honoured to become part of RoboValley, such an inspiring and authoritative place in the world of robotics.”Arthur de Crook, director SAS D[N]A Lab

Adding an extra dimension
According to Jaimy Siebel, the SAS partnership adds an extra dimension to the community: “Much energy has been spent on the basic application: making sure that robots can solve a particular problem. This generates a lot of data. Now teams in RoboValley get the opportunity to analyse that data and also make the robot easier to use. Which is one small step towards symbiotic robotics.”

How can you connect with SAS?
To find out more about SAS, their D[N]A Lab page would be a good place to start. If you want to speak with a real, living and breathing SAS person, Arthur de Crook is your man. His telephone number is +31 6 120 114 45 (printed here with his permission). Send him a message on Whatsapp, or give him a ring during business hours.