BOSTON — Although Massachusetts is one of the top robotics hubs in the U.S., it still needs to cultivate talent. The MassRobotics 3rd Annual Robot Block Party here yesterday celebrated the vibrancy of the local robotics scene while also inspiring a new generation of prospective developers and engineers.
The free event was held at the Marine Industrial Park in Boston’s Seaport District, near where MassRobotics is headquartered and autonomous vehicle testing is taking place. More than 20 exhibitors represented the more than 150 robotics companies based in New England. Robotics companies in the region have raised more than $1 billion so far this year, according to MassRobotics.
Hundreds of attendees, including children, had opportunities to control a robot arm, see autonomous vehicles up close, catch balls tossed by a mobile robot, or observe demonstrations of aerial drones.
Some STEM for everyone at Robot Block Party
The Robot Block Party was the start of Massachusetts STEM Week 2019. It is intended to encourage children and adults, particularly women, people of color, people with disabilities, and low-income individuals, to consider careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
A humanoid Pepper robot from SoftBank Robotics and a two-armed Baxter from Rethink Robotics greeted people as they entered the main tent. ChartaCloud-Robotteca showed the Nao humanoid robot, which has been used for education and as a development platform.
Students came from several area schools, including Harvard University’s Wyss Institute, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, Northeastern University, Tufts University’s DevTech Research Group, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). They shared their research on everything from soft grippers and underwater robots to a robot-drone combination for remotely detecting and detonating mines. Multiple FIRST robotics teams also described their competitive efforts.
Representatives of leading technology companies, including The MITRE Corp. and Toyota Research Institute, engaged with the public at the Robot Block Party. Key component providers, such as Harmonic Drive LLC, Analog Devices Inc., and SMC Corp., also offered hands-on robotics demonstrations. Soft Robotics Inc. demonstrated its modular, compliant gripper technology, and RightHand Robotics Inc. used its robotic gripper for a candy-grabbing claw.
FLIR Systems Inc., which acquired Endeavor Robotics in February, showed its mobile robots for military, security, and rescue missions. Optimus Ride, Aptiv Autonomous Mobility, and Toyota parked their vehicles in the plaza.
Waypoint Robotics, which supplies autonomous mobile robots for manufacturers, displayed a mobile platform and a mobile manipulator at the Robot Block Party. A robotic tackle dummy from MVP Robotics, which supplies college and professional football teams, zipped around.
— Carolyn Kirk (@ExecDirKirk) October 20, 2019
Ava Robotics Inc., which spun out of iRobot and raised money this spring, demonstrated its telepresence robot. RSE, or WPI’s Robots in Service of the Environment, displayed its marine robot for capturing invasive lionfish.
Other organizational and government participants included the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) and the National Guard.
MassRobotics promotes local innovation
“We’re very pleased with the turnout,” said Tom Ryden, executive director of MassRobotics. “Unlike last year, we are separate from Boston’s HubWeek. We’re showcasing all kinds of robots for people of all ages.”
MassRobotics is an organization dedicated to helping robotics innovators and entrepreneurs in the community by providing services and resources, including its expanding facilities in Boston. The 2019 Robot Block Party was sponsored by a grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.
In addition, MassRobotics recently announced new strategic partners, such as sensor maker SICK Inc. and financial services firm Cowen Inc. Residents of MassRobotics facilities such as robotic furniture maker Ori have been successful in finding funding for growth. In addition, residents Ava Robotics and Southie Autonomy received grants for developing applications of 5G networking technology.