Thursday, November 1, 2012

September MassTLC Robotics Cluster Meeting Recap


MassTLC – Robotics Cluster Meeting
September 18, 2012, 8:30 -10:30am
Vecna Technologies, Cambridge, MA

Attendees:
Ted Acworth, Artaic; David Askey, Energid; Martin Beuhler, Vecna; Kim Blair, Cooper Perkins; Valerie Buchalet, Invest in France; Ben Flaumenhaft, Harvest Automation; Michael Gennert, WPI; Kathleen Hagan, Hagan and Co.;  Kristen Johnson, Symbotic; Joe Jones, Harvest Automation; Kevin Leary, Power Hydrant; Jim Mail, ABB; Michael McGurk, Finnegan; Elizabeth Newstadt, MassTLC; Betsy Ross, MassTLC; Barbara Rudolph, Rudolph Communications; Tom Ryden, vGo Communications; Rob Smith, iRobot; Bob Steingart, Steingart & Associates; Debbi Theobald, Vecna; Didier Vanden Abeele, CEA LIST; Cheryl Walsh, FIRST; Maggie Weeks, Symbotic; Jill Wittels, Sostenuto Strategic Advisors; Yanliang Zhang, Mathworks; Bill Zimmer, Server Technology

Welcome and Introductions – Mike McGurk of Finnegan spoke to the group as the new sponsor of the MassTLC Robotics Cluster.

Recent Cluster Highlights
·        Rethink Robotics unveils Baxter
·        iRobot acquires Evolution Robotics
·        Aquabotix featured in Mass High Tech
·        UMass Amherst researchers develop robots to aid stroke victims
·        iRobot announced the launch of the iRobot Looj 330 and the iRobot Roomba 600
·        Medrobotics receives $8M
·        Maine start-up, Howe & Howe Technologies, has developed a robotic fire fighter
·        Quiet Logistics expands to West Coast
·        Energid to provide software for a robotic satellite servicing spacecraft
·        iRobot unveiled healthcare robot, the RP-VITA
·        Rethink Robotics, formerly Heartland Robotics, received $30M in funding
·        MIT, Bluefin Robotics and Harvest Automation recently featured in the Economist


Robotics Event Updates
·        RoboBusiness, October 22nd to 24th, Pittsburg, PA, http://www.robobusiness.com/
·        French Robotics Delegation in Boston – November 12th-16th
Executives from top French robotics companies and Research facilities will be visiting Boston and attending our next Robotics Cluster meeting on November 13th. Northeastern will host a panel discussion entitled, “Robotics and Entrepreneurship” on November 14th which will include MassTLC cluster companies as well as some of the French companies.
·        MassTLC unConference November 16th , http://www.masstlc.org/?page=unConference
·        TePRA, April 2013, http://www.ieeerobot-tepra.org/
·        2013 National Robotics Week – MassTLC branded event in April, more to come in November

Robotics Initiatives
·        Robotics Virtual Organization, http://robotics-vo.us/ , is a web based community/network which is currently sponsored by the National Science Foundation. There is some good information there on funding and events.
·        National Robotics Initiative Update – The next round of proposals are due in December 2012/ January 2013. Of the proposals submitted last year, only 2% were funded. The latest solicitation can be found at,  http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/2012/nsf12607/nsf12607.pdf
·        Nancy Saucier of UMass Lowell gave an update on their New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation (NERVE) Center, http://nerve.uml.edu/. The NERVE Center is opening in Lowell, MA in February 2013. Nancy is actively looking for input into test course and use cases for the NERVE Center. Please contact Nancy at Nancy_Saucier@uml.edu.
·        The DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC) is scheduled to launch in October 2012 and run for approximately 27 months with three planned competitions, one virtual followed by two live. The challenge will focus on humanoid robots used for disaster response. Events are planned for June 2013, December 2013 and December 2014.  http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/iros-2012-darpa-robotics-challenge-update

Panel Discussion: Accelerating your Robotics Start-up with Alternative Funding
Ted Acworth, Mass Challenge Finalist and Founder of Artaic
Nick Pappas, Vice President, MassVentures
Mark Smithers, CTO, Boston Engineering
Moderated by: Steve Kelly, President and COO, Myomo

Our panel discussion was focused on alternative funding, how best to find it, utilize it and avoid pitfalls for your growing business.

Mark Smithers and Ted Acworth discussed SBIR grants first. Mark Smithers recommended that you use the SBIR grants to build on a company’s core technologies. He suggested applying for grants that contain similar research to what a company might already be doing or have done. This will keep the technology focused and moving forward. Mark also suggested partnering with a university as a way to get started with research grants.

The START program was launched in 2012 by MassVentures and sees itself as an accelerator for companies who have received SBIR II grants. START funding is given to companies specifically for the commercialization of their technology. Nick Pappas of MassVentures emphasized the simplicity of applying for the START program, http://mass-ventures.com/start-program/. Ted Acworth was also able to talk about his experience with the program. In addition to funds towards commercialization, the program offers, coaching, business planning and introductions to potential investors.
  
Ted Acworth brought up Debt financing as another means of financing a company. Debt financing from a bank or an institution like MassDevelopment, http://www.massdevelopment.com/, can help in ramping up manufacturing or gaining a line of credit to cover inventory. Mark Smithers discussed Customer financing and how a company is able to keep a core technology while developing a specific application for a company.

Some other forms of grants and funding available are MassMEP workforce training grants and the MassChallenge competition. The discussion wrapped up with our moderator, Steve Kelly, talking briefly about crowd funding through sites like Kickstarter and Rockethub.

Vecna PresentationDeb Theobald, CEO, Vecna Technologies

Vecna is a privately held robotics company which has benefited from multiple SBIR’s over the years. Vecna was started 1999 and now boasts close to 200 employees. Vecna’s QCbot acts as a courier and delivery agent drawing information from the hospitals IT system. Currently, hospitals sped one third of their budget on logistics. The QCbot will help hospitals save money on logistics and allow nurses to spend time with patients instead of moving dangerous materials.

Thanks to a contract with the department of Veterans Affairs, Vecna is currently ramping up production of their quiosks and moving their manufacturing operations to Woburn, MA.

At Vecna, employees are encourages to spend up to 10% of their working time on community service projects. The engineering team is developing and improving low-cost and easy-to-use technologies that connect patients with care and medication. These solutions are making an impact on families and medical clinics around the world. These units are able to do patient intake and visit information with rugged touch screen tablets, cell phones, solar panels, and biometric devices.

Next Meeting
November 13, 2012 – Bluefin Robotics

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