Start-up incubators and accelerators have long played an important role in facilitating technological innovation in the automation space. Although it can be challenging for small companies to break into an already-saturated field such as industrial technology, incubators can provide them with facilities to work in, resources such as equipment and expertise, and opportunities to acquire funding. Moreover, incubators often grant them access to a network of potential partner companies who can assist in their development, technology licensing or, in some cases, even acquiring their businesses entirely.
One such organization is MassRobotics in Boston, which refers to itself as a “start-up escalator,” according to Fady Saad, co-founder and vice president of strategic partnerships.
“We call ourselves a startup instigator to differentiate ourselves because rather than focusing on moving companies from ideation to prototyping, we focus on moving them from prototyping to production,” Saad says. “We basically host companies who are at the prototyping stage, and help them to scale all the way to a finished product for real-world applications.”MassRobotics’ location is strategic, with Boston being in the vicinity of 35 robotics research and development programs across 18 universities as well as numerous sites approved for indoor and outdoor testing of ground- and air-based robotics. In addition to providing resident companies with access to local resources and facilities, MassRobotics boasts a partner network of companies including Amazon Robotics, FedEx, GM, and—its most recent addition—Procter & Gamble.
While Saad couldn’t comment on any of the specific resident companies Procter and Gamble was interested in collaboration with, he did note that MassRobotics is particularly focused on autonomous mobile robot (AMR) technologies, citing Waypoint Robotics as an example. Waypoint produces heavy-duty AMRs built for high-payloads, which the company claims are more intuitive and easier to deploy than other similar products currently on the market. In addition, Waypoint’s AMRs feature sophisticated onboard intelligence that allows them to operate without requiring commands from a centralized transportation controller. As a result, Waypoint says its AMRs are immune to certain bandwidth and latency issues AMRs often face.
MassRobotics interest in AMRs is not surprising, as Automation World’s 2021 robotic adoption survey found that, in the wake of COVID-19, AMRs represented one of the fastest growing robotics segments due to their ability to reduce labor requirements, cut costs, and increase throughput in both manufacturing and logistics.
“COVID-19 and all of the consequences of the pandemic underscored many inefficiencies in our supply chains and manufacturing systems, and we saw the public narrative moving from robots taking jobs to robots saving lives and rebooting the economy,” Saad says. “Manufacturers, unions, and policy-makers need to all put their heads together to figure out how they can really leverage the vast amount of innovation that is happening because many of the biggest issues holding back robotics innovation are no longer technological, but related to societal, cultural, and business barriers.”