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BOSTON — During its annual partner celebration last night, MassRobotics introduced the 10 robotics startups chosen to participate in its inaugural equity-free accelerator. Each startup was awarded a $100,000, non-dilutive grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, or MassTech, as part of a $5 million state initiative.
The three-month accelerator will teach the startups about customer discovery, value proposition discovery, manufacturing for excellence, fundraising tactics, team management, and more. The startups will have access to MassRobotics and its expansive network.
“Technical founders can often jump to product-building mode before intimately understanding their end user and customer. During this program, our startups will each complete at least 25 customer discovery interviews, in an effort to hone in on their customer pain and needs,” said Marita McGinn, director of the MassRobotics Accelerator. “Our goal is to help these brilliant technical founders to bolster their business acumen through this curriculum.”
Tye Brady, chief technologist at Amazon Robotics, helped kick off the introduction of the 10 robotics startups. Brady is a co-founder of MassRobotics and chair of its board of directors.
“Boston is the hub of the robotics universe,” said Brady. “Robotics can change society in some many positive ways. It’s like computers in the 1980s. We should all be excited about the industry’s future.”
MassRobotics told The Robot Report more than 140 robotics startups from about 25 countries applied for the accelerator. A committee composed of roboticists, entrepreneurs, and academics selected the top 10.
The MassRobotics Accelerator will culminate at the Robotics Summit & Expo in Boston on May 1 and 2. The startups will all be on the expo floor and be discussing their journeys in a session on May 1 at 4:15 p.m. ET.
Brady will also be keynoting the Robotics Summit, which is produced by The Robot Report and parent company WTWH Media. Brady will discuss how Amazon has worked internally and with partners to develop and deploy technologies including mobile robots, automated storage, AI, and humanoid robots. Amazon will discuss its criteria for success and how it is striving to continually innovate.
Below is more information about the 10 robotics startups in the MassRobotics Accelerator. Each of them gave brief pitches
Meet the 10 startups in the MassRobotics Accelerator
Conventional assembly of clothing is repetitive and labor-intensive. Founded in 2022, Apparel Robotics is working to change how clothing is manufactured. Demitri Balabanov, chief technology officer and CEO of Apparel Robotics, said the startup is developing both hardware and software to handle deformable objects and create autonomous clothing manufacturing techniques.
Apparel Robotics is developing its own grippers, which uses lift similar to an aircraft wing to pick up porus and soft objects. It is also developing machine learning and computer vision tools for accurate perception, pick-and-place operations, and manipulation tasks of fabric-like materials.
brd BOT is building a robotic vending machine for fresh fried foods. The machine reduces labor costs from 30% to 3.75% by eliminating all human labor from the ordering and cooking process, said the company.
Customers can get round-the-clock service, and they can expect better service and quality, according to brd BOT. Its first prototype debuted at the Open Sauce maker fair, and has a pilot at the University of California, Berkeley, with plans for 7-Eleven.
Gopher Motion is still operating largely in stealth mode, so it didn’t reveal much other than its developing an autonomous mobile robot for last-mile delivery of goods that weigh less than 5 lb. (2.2 kg). The robot integrates ODOA/local mapping sensors, GPS, cellular communications, and compute capabilities tailored for speeds up to 20 MPH.
Could Gopher be developing an autonomous bicycle? During his presentation to those at MassRobotics, Max Makeev, Gopher Motion’s co-founder and CEO, referenced bike couriers several times.
He claimed that the hybrid approach of operating on the streets and sidewalks gives it a few advantages over other types of delivery services. In addition, the company’s logo includes a bike.
Makeev and co-founder and CTO Mark Schnittman met while working at iRobot. They re-connected in 2014 to co-found Owl Labs, which makes 360° video conferencing devices. Owl Labs now serves nearly 200,000 customers, and its product was honored as one of Time’s Best Inventions of 2020.
Hominid X has developed a wearable assistive device called Fiber that is designed for people with hand mobility issues. The lightweight device guides the user’s hand into a secure and natural grasp around objects. The company said Fiber can help with a wide variety of tasks, such as eating, writing, talking on the phone, drinking, and even playing sports.
Fiber is made from durable, skin-safe materials and is designed to be worn all day long. It is also adjustable to fit a variety of hand sizes. Hominid X said its device can help people with a variety of hand conditions, including stroke, cerebral palsy, arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease.
Hominid X was co-founded by Soniya Patel and Thane Hunt co-founded Hominid X. Fiber, the company’s first product, is strategically priced at $99 to bypass the need for insurance and to be affordable for most who need it, they said.
“Approximately 200 million people worldwide need grasping assistance,” Hunt said. “We’re working on a model with force-torque sensors and reactive actuation. The non-powered version has already been available for 18 months.”
The co-founders both have experience in 3D printing, which they said has kept the price of Fiber low. Patel previously worked in the additive divisions at Stryker and Desktop Metal, while Hunt served as a senior systems engineer at both Desktop Metal and Formlabs.
Hunt told The Robot Report about Fiber user Megan Beth. Beth is a youth stroke survivor who runs a TikTok channel about cooking and various lifestyle topics.
In some of her videos, Beth has discussed how Fiber allowed her to open cans, hold cups, and stir frosting. “I haven’t been able to eat something and walk at the same time for so long,” she told followers.
@m3ganb3th Thank goodness for my Fiber. 🤌 #poststrokerecovery #lefthemiparesis #lefthemiplegia #handdisability #hominidx #TheFiberHand ♬ Makeba – Jain
Founded in mid-2022, Mapless AI is developing technology that enables remote control of existing fleet vehicles from up to thousands of miles away. The startup is targeting applications such as car delivery, chauffeur-on-demand, and EV charging to partner fleets for its tele-driving technology.
Mapless is currently testing its vehicles at the Pittsburgh International Airport. The cars are being remotely driven from downtown Pittsburgh and Boston to test curbside pick-up/drop-off of rental vehicles at the airport. Instead of airline passengers having to go to the rental car service at the airport, the cars can come directly to their gates.
As part of the testing program, a person can summon a Mapless car with an app, said Philipp Robbel, co-founder and CEO of Mapless AI. Then a remote operator tele-drives the vehicle to the passenger’s location via commercial cellular networks.
The person gets in and drives manually from there, Robbel explained. The remote operator can take over again and drive the vehicle to a temporary location and wait for the next passenger.
The company raised seed funding in 2022 and has also tested its system at other airports and the Detroit Auto Show. Robbel previously worked on autonomous driving for Bosch Rexroth and nuTonomy.
“Rental car companies have long wanted to compete with Lyft and Uber,” he told The Robot Report. “Rental car companies want the experience to be as smooth as an Uber. And we’re helping to make that happen.”
Jacob Rodriguez worked on MIT aerospace projects before becoming co-founder and CEO of Oligo. The company’s modular HERMES and APOLLO systems are universal electromechanical interfaces to “make space development more accessible,” he said.
Rodriguez said Oligo’s technology could significantly accelerate development of payloads by enabling them to integrate in a vehicle-agnostic way. The reconfigurable systems could also democratize robotics for orbital and lunar use, to “do real science, real fast,” he added.
Wildfires are a global problem, but identifying where to conduct controlled burns can help prevent them. Robotics 88 is building an autonomous aerial drone to conduct subcanopy surveys of fuel loads for prescribed burn planning. The company said this will help land managers reduce wildfire risk for their communities.
The company has developed proprietary, generalized decision-making algorithms to enable the drone to explore cluttered forests. “You really need data from the forest floor to predict and plan for wildfires,” said Erin Linebarger, co-founder and CEO of Robotics 88.
Robotics 88 has completed a few initial projects:
- NOAA SBIR Phase 1: produced wildfire risk models from autonomous subcanopy UAS surveys
- STAC RI: funding to provide internship for rapid prototyping of its fire modeling UAS
- NSF STTR Phase 1: autonomous drone to map and explore a forest in 3D in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University
With 50 trillion tons of microplastics in the environment and 600 gigations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, standardizing waste collection is becoming increasingly urgent, according to rStream. The company is developing a robotic system for waste collection at high-traffic locations.
rStream said it has designed its system to capture the material that is lost upstream of processing facilities during collection, streamline waste processing operations, and aggregate environmental compliance data. rStream said its system is currently being piloted at UMass Amherst.
SIMPL Automation is logistics automation startup developing an automated storage and retrieval system (ASRS) called “SIMPL Cube.” The company said it is trying to take an easier approach to integrating an ASRS by using a warehouse’s existing infrastructure. It said SIMPL Cube features a modular design to accommodate various storage needs, from cases, to totes, and trays.
The accelerator recipient just opened its 18,000-sq.-ft. headquarters and research and development facility in Waltham, Mass., and its first customer is a Fortune 500 company in Massachusetts.
Divya Thakur founded Yard Robotics in 2021. He spent five years working on autonomous vehicles at Cruise in San Francisco before moving to Huntsville, Ala. A lot of things changed with the move to Alabama, including the need to now mow his lawn.
“Once I mowed the lawn the first time, I said, ‘Never again,'” Thakur joked to the crowd.
So he built an autonomous, electric lawn mower and started mowing lawns in his new neighborhood. Thakur said Yard Robotics has since developed a fleet of robots and is actively mowing 200-plus lawns. The company doesn’t sell lawn mowers, rather it sells a lawn mowing service.
The autonomous mowers can fit three across in a truck bed, and a robotic service makes more sense than do-it-yourself consumer robots or trying to sell to commercial providers, Thakur said.
“I’m now a lawn guy,” he said.
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Editor’s note: Eugene Demaitre contributed to this article.