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Tom Ryden, Executive Director of MassRobotics – Interview Series

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MassRobotics is an independent, non-profit organization serving as the innovation hub for robotics and connected devices. Through their programming and events, they help bring together innovative startups and existing technology organizations to nurture the next generation of talent, and promote economic growth and innovation.

Tom is an experienced senior executive who has devoted his career to creating viable businesses based on technology, covering domains ranging from factory to battlefield to healthcare. He has overseen the development and introduction of leading mobile robotics products. He is active in the robotics community, helping lead trade associations and advising numerous start-ups.

What was it that initially attracted you to robotics?

A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to work on a project to make a rapidly deployable, man-portable explosive ordnance disposal robot.  As I learned about the challenges that our military bomb disposal technicians faced as they went down range to disarm roadside bombs, I knew that robots could help.  The ability to work on a product with such impact, developing a robot that could inspect and neutralize an improvised explosive device while keeping technicians at a safe distance away, got me hooked on this field.

 

You’re currently the Executive Director of MassRobotics which offers startups a workspace to build, test, fail, collaborate, and build robots. What initially attracted you to this position?

MassRobotics is an independent non-profit that was founded by leaders in the industry to help build the robotics ecosystem and create a place where young robotics companies could find the space and tools needed to help them grow.  A few years back I had started a robotics company, VGo Communications, and through that experience I learned how difficult it can be to start and grow a business. These tightly integrated hardware/software solutions take a long time to develop and need plenty of different resources. I thought the concept of MassRobotics could be valuable to a lot of companies, and we built it with the right resources for robotics start-ups in mind.

 

MassRobotics offers best-in-class infrastructure and prototyping facilities. Can you describe some of the 3-D printing tools and other technologies that are offered?

We aim to offer a wide set of tools to help companies build their prototypes.  We offer CAD and other software tools from vendors like Autodesk, SolidWorks, MathWorks, AWS and Google. We have an electronics lab with DVMs, scopes, soldering stations and more. We have lab with a variety of different 3D printers, laser cutters, and other machine tools.  We also have a number of common robotics platforms, from collaborative arms to AMRs and even humanoids that companies can borrow and develop on.

 

What are some of the robotic companies that are currently headquartered at MassRobotics?

We have more than 40 companies that have space at MassRobotics. They are developing solutions in many areas such as consumer robotics, medical robotics, logistic robotics, agricultural robotics and factory automation. We have companies that work in each of the three domains: air, land and sea. We’ve even “graduated” several resident companies into their own spaces so they can grow independently and contribute to the robotics economy – these alumni help to inspire current resident start-ups.

 

Have you ever been taken by surprise by some of the projects that are being worked on?

All the time. I am constantly amazed at the ideas that people have for robotics-enabled projects.  One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is speaking with the entrepreneurs about their vision and how their robots will change the world.

 

Are there any specific projects at MassRobotics which have you excited for the future?

There are a number that I am excited about.  One of our companies, Southie Autonomy, is working on “no code” programming for factory automation.  Their solution allows a factory line worker to basically point and tell the robot what new task to do. Without the needed expense of a programmer or the downtime to reprogram a system, many more manufacturers can now deploy robots. Ori Living is another great company.  Ori is designing and producing robotic furniture. Imagine a living room converting over to a bedroom and back with the touch of a button. With the technology, a small apartment feels much more spacious and you can save money by getting a smaller place.

 

Start-ups also often need entrepreneurial support; can you discuss how MassRobotics assists entrepreneurs?

The co-working space we provide is important, but I think the other things we do to support the entrepreneurs are more valuable.  We help the start-ups find funding through introducing them to angels and VCs who invest in robotics.  We make connections with potential partners and customers.  We work with the start-ups on their transition to product and educate them on the different supplies, contract manufactures, and other support companies in the space.  We also help those that are growing find the talent they need to succeed. We’ve built a community that helps robotics start-ups thrive.

 

MassRobotics has been collaborating with Mitsubishi Electric for over a year to help support MELCO’s vision for the Factory of the Future. Could you share some details regarding this collaboration, and the opportunities that it offers robotic companies?

We worked with Mitsubishi Electric to create the Mitsubishi Start-Up Engagement Program.  Mitsubishi wanted to expand their innovation in a couple of key areas in the company and as a large organization they had difficulty connecting and working with small companies.  Through this program, we had a chance to introduce many of our start-ups to more than nine different divisions within the company.

 

For companies that are interested in MassRobotics services, what are the requirements for them to join? Is there a minimum company size? Is there an approval procedure?

We take companies of any size or stage as long as they are doing work related to the robotics, IoT and connected devices space.  Companies that want to be a part of MassRobotics have to fill out a simple application which is reviewed by our staff to ensure that they are the right fit for our community as well as confirm our ability to provide value to the company.

 

Is there anything else that you would like to share about MassRobotics?

I am proud of the close-knit community we have built.  We have seen our companies helping each other, sharing knowledge and joining forces on grant proposals or projects.  We also have partnerships with a number of the local universities, which often team up with our start-ups to do exciting research at our facility.  In addition to networking and education events we hold for our start-ups, we also offer STEM events for local schools, hopefully getting students excited about technical careers through exposing them to the robotics industry.

Finally, we’ve just expanded into an additional 25,000 s.f. of modern space, custom-built to support our residents and partners. The space will allow us to house over 70 start-ups.  It is It a testament to the strength and growth of our industry, and a needed resource for the global robotics community.

This is an amazing undertaking, for readers who wish to learn more please visit MassRobotics.

 

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Antoine Tardif is a Futurist who is passionate about the future of AI and robotics. He is the CEO of BlockVentures.com, and has invested in over 50 AI & blockchain projects. He is the Co-Founder of Securities.io a news website focusing on digital securities, and is a founding partner of unite.AI. He is also a member of the Forbes Technology Council.