Advanced Systems at MIT’s Tough Tech Summit

Emina Awan
5 min readNov 15, 2020

October 27, 2020. It was a bit of a rainy day. Time at school was moving slow as a snail. I was in the middle of my manufacturing class when I remembered something important. I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. The MIT Tough Tech Summit is happening in an hour!”

The MIT Tough Tech Summit is the gathering of some of the world’s most brilliant minds to talk about issues and opportunities taking place today. Because of COVID-19 the event was held virtually, but that did not diminish the value of the session. Thanks to the directors at TKS, those who were interested got free tickets to this inspiring opportunity.

One of the tracks that caught my eye was the discussion with Alán Aspuru-Guzik and Laura Major on the trends of quantum computing and robotics, and how to create successful ideas from these subjects and turn them into projects for companies to work on. This talk was very inspiring for me because of my passion for robotics, so here are my top takeaways from this event!

What’s it like about having a robot in the workplace? What are the challenges with robots entering our everyday life?

Having robots in the workplace allows work to be done very efficiently. They can compute data faster than humans, do not need any form of pay, do not need rest, and free employers from doing dangerous, heavy, or repetitive tasks.

The problems of having robots in the workplace are that people aren’t very experienced in handling robots and feel uneasy about them because the average person doesn’t know how to program the robots so they fear for their jobs. In order to understand the robots’ capabilities, people would need to learn some programming, and play around with the robot for hands-on experience with the its programming and abilities. Another factor we must consider in order to achieve the robot’s full potential is ensuring robots behave and react to everyday situations in an unobtrusive manner. How do they help us and accommodate us in ways so that they don’t become a nuisance? For example: if you were to have a robot delivering a package on a sidewalk, it would be easier for the robot to have its own sidewalk so that the robot doesn’t crash into any pedestrians. That way the robot can be more efficient and not become a a potential danger to the rest of us..

How do you focus on solving the big technical problems while also scaling up, commercializing, working with companies?

As one scales their business, strategy also changes as the saying goes “What got us here won’t get us there.” There are always factors that will change the way you lead your team and change the way you spend your time, among other things. You want to make sure that you are building a strong team that evolves as the solution evolves. As the team grows, you have to think about different models that allow you to stay close to the technology areas that are most important and to allow your team to go off and effectively solve relevant challenges. In this manner everyone contributes to a common goal.

For capabilities, team needs to be strategic on which challenge they want to focus. Delegate tasks out to your team in a way that is the most efficient and while giving you the best results. Find areas that have unsolved problems, rather than working on areas that have been already improved, but can still be changed to be better. Always make sure to prioritize where you focus your time and energy and stick with it, rather than spreading yourself thin because you want to be involved with everything.

How do you navigate long-term technology road maps, the architectural decisions of complex systems, and value delivery to society and customers?

Before pitching to anyone, make sure the project is engaging and solves a relevant problem. You don’t want the project to be something that is over-hyped, but lacks in the actual application of the product. After securing funds, create a workflow so that you can show investors what you wish to be working on. Think short term as well; what do you want to do in the next year/ two years. Try to find a way to get an early win or solve an early pain point to get customers/investors engaged

What is the short summary of what people should think about if they want to get into entrepreneurship?

In order to gain experience and know what it feels like to run a company, you have to be the person that moves out of what your comfort zone is at all times and take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. Whether seeking internships in different industries, talking with other businesses and collaborating on a variety of projects, it’s important to get exposure. It’s fine to move from one project to the next, add experience and learning. You only live once, so try to take as many opportunities as possible. Find things that interest you and dig down on that passion. As you gain experience, find an idea that you think would give value to others and are passionate about and transform it into something society can use.

TL;DR 📝:

  • When working with a robot in the workplace, you must consider how other people will react and behave with robots. Have some sort of training course in place so that the employees can gain knowledge on using robots and leveraging robots at their full potential
  • To transform an idea into something practical and profitable, you must make sure that you are solving a problem/pain point with a big market opportunity. You should be able to build upon this project and make it more ambitious.
  • Be strategic in how you lead and evolve your team/company. Try to address weak spots in your team and do your best to improve continuously . Be mindful of how much time you are spending on projects.
  • When starting a project, create a workflow for both the short-term and the long-term goals so that you are organized and can meet all your deadlines; possibly get an early win to prove that your project should be invested in.
  • When going into entrepreneurship, try to explore as many opportunities as possible and get out of your comfort zone. You don’t know what you are going to like if you have never tried something in the first place.