The Alpine nation is now “the Silicon Valley of robotics,” according to Chris Anderson, chief executive of 3D Robotics.
Zurich boasts Google’s largest campus outside California, employing nearly 2,500 engineers, including more than 250 artificial intelligence specialists, with the capacity to grow the total workforce there to 5,000.
The Swiss office of Disney meanwhile carried out the computer graphics working for the movie-maker’s Frozen super-hit. And the key personnel and technologies of Deepmind, the artificial intelligence firm acquired by Google for $500 million just four years after its formation, emanate from Lugano IDSIA Lab, a research institute ranked in the world’s top ten for AI.
Switzerland has emerged as a serious competitor to California for the technologies, people and funding that will power the world’s fourth socio-economic revolution.
Ranked for the past seven years as the world’s most innovative country by Cornell, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the INSEAD business school in Paris, the nation has also been selected by accountants KPMG as the world’s best-prepared country for long-term change — a measure highly relevant for robotics and automation pioneers who seek to shake up the societal status quo.
Technical institutes ETH Zurich and EPF Lausanne consistently rank as Europe’s finest. With only 8.5m people, Switzerland has the world’s highest proportion of peer-reviewed scientific publications in relation to its population.
Its infrastructure also includes a growing presence of firms specializing in blockchain technology, which as well as being used for financial technology, now features heavily in e-government, smart contracts, swarm robotics, collective artificial intelligence, and applications for retail.
Technologists love calling places after valleys and Switzerland have plenty of natural ones. To these have been added Crypto Valley, the area around the Swiss city of Zug, reflecting its growing its status as the most Blockchain-friendly place in the world.
The community includes open source blockchain-based computing platform Ethereum, a bitcoin wallet and vault Xapo, which moved its headquarters there from Silicon Valley, and the Monetas financial infrastructure platform, which relocated its head office from Vancouver to Zug.
The Swiss city of Lausanne has also recently been chosen as the European base of Rewired, a robotics-focused venture studio and fund that believes that improving sensory capabilities will unlock the next-generation of smart robotics and is investing in applied science and technologies that advance machine perception.
Rewired is committed to helping develop technologies that enable robots to cope with real-world environments, make good decisions in real time, and help humans do more with less. It plans to expand into East Asia and the U.S.
The venture is investing $100 million in applied science and technologies that advance machine perception on the thesis that improving machine perception will unlock the next generation of smart robotics.
It is focusing on the sensors, software, and systems that help autonomous machines to interact with unpredictable environments and collaborate with humans.
“Our strategy is to invest for the long term in core technologies that lay the foundation for smart robotics,” says Rewired venture partner Santiago Tenorio.
“Real-world environments are highly unpredictable, unlike controlled ones like warehouses and factories. The next generation of smart robots must be able to gather diverse data about their surroundings and holistically interpret it in order to model the world and productively interact with it,”
“The robotics-focused studio we’re building is a global hub for interdisciplinary innovation that will generate new forms of human-machine collaboration across an increasingly broad spectrum of activities.”
Tej Kohli, the Indian billionaire well-known for his pioneering work in solar energy and remedying corneal blindness, is also committed to investing in artificial intelligence and is backing Rewired through Cascade Global, a multi-family office.
He believes that advancements in robotics will not only power the next industrial revolution but also create a massive opportunity for doing good and will improve the quality of human life in unprecedented ways.
“I am deeply committed to helping shape these technologies towards outcomes that are clearly immensely valuable to society and I have full confidence that Rewired will achieve their lofty goals,” he says.
“What I like about Rewired is that it is driven by a more humanitarian notion of robotics and artificial intelligence.”
Rewired’s advisers include Thomas Estier, a Switzerland-based serial robotics entrepreneur who has worked on projects for the European Space Agency.
The venture says it was drawn to Switzerland by the nation’s highly multicultural nature, with foreigners making up more than 20% of the population and more than 60% having immigrant backgrounds.
It also credits the country’s taxation system, friendliness to research and development investment and sizeable pool of expert technologists.
Google agrees. “Because Google itself started out in a garage, we believe that big ideas often start small,” Patrick Warnking, the company’s director for Switzerland, said earlier this year.
Google is a founding member of ‘digitalswitzerland’, an association working to position Switzerland as an international digital hub.
“We believe that partnerships — in economics, research, and policy — are important factors in this success for Switzerland,” said Warnking,
“That’s why we’re delighted for the opportunity to be at the heart of Zurich during such exciting times through research agreements, continuing education initiatives for SMEs, and initiatives like digitalswitzerland to promote innovation at and for the site.
“We’re optimistic about the latest expansion and to continue working together with our partners to increase innovation in Switzerland and to shape the future.”