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MassTech collaborative launches new $5 million initiative to boost statewide robotics sector

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech) has launched a new initiative to boost the robotics sector across the state, an effort funded through $5 million in investment.

A newly created department, established within the Innovation Institute at MassTech, will help catalyze a comprehensive statewide cluster development effort for robotics that will focus on expansion of research and development (R&D), testing, commercialization, and workforce development throughout the state.

The department will be led by the new director of the department of robotics, Peter Haas, who comes to MassTech from the private sector, where he was the CEO of Avendly, the restaurant robotics company.

Prior to his startup work, Haas served as the research director for computer vision AI software at IDC and the Associate Director of Brown University’s Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative.

As a leader in the robotics space, he has spoken at The Economist’s World Ahead Gala and DHL Robotics Days, plus was on the qualifying teams for both the AI and robotic Avatar X-PRIZE competitions.

Economic development secretary Yvonne Hao says: “This new robotics department will help Massachusetts craft an innovative wave of robotics technologies that will solidify our global leadership in this field.

“We are committed to equipping our students and workforce with the proper tools to envision future advancements as they create autonomous products that will play a pivotal role in shaping the industry’s future. Peter Haas has the knowledge and expertise needed to ensure that we stay ahead of the competition.”

Carolyn Kirk, executive director of the MassTech Collaborative, says: “Robotics extends beyond Boston and Cambridge; it is a statewide industry in Massachusetts, with cohorts of robotics companies clustered in Central Massachusetts and North of Boston, as well as the marine-focused autonomy startups clustered across Cape Cod and the South Coast.

“Peter’s multifaceted expertise in robotics, both as a technologist, university leader, and startup executive, make this a major addition to our MassTech team. His career experience will make him a natural partner for our existing stakeholders across the Massachusetts robotics ecosystem.

“He is the right person to help us design and launch game-changing programs that support research, workforce, and ecosystem development and will help us maintain our global leadership in robotics and autonomy.”

The new Robotics Department will design programs to address three key focus areas:

  • Ecosystem Development: Programs to strengthen connections between robotics ecosystem stakeholders, in order to grow and further shape the state’s profile as a global leader in robotics;
  • Technology Commercialization: Aim to provide startup support services, access to resources, and expert mentorship to early-stage robotics companies; and
  • Workforce Development: Efforts to address industry’s need for middle-skill workers trained to work with robotic systems and expand access to careers in robotics, particularly for populations that have faced underrepresentation in the tech and innovation economy.

Peter Haas, the new director of the robotics department at MassTech, says: “The Robotics cluster in Massachusetts is leading the way among robotics clusters across the nation. It is a powerhouse in warehouse and logistics robotics, and has a density of unique academic programs that is unparalleled, leading the United States in per capita robotics patents.

“It also has a diversity of sectors represented that is exceptional among the robotics clusters, from undersea to humanoid and consumer to defense. If you want to design or build robots, few places can match the talent pool the exists in the Bay State.

“This funding gives MassTech the opportunity to build on an amazing foundation to make Massachusetts a renowned global destination for robotics innovation.”

The first program funded under the new initiative is the new accelerator program launched in early November 2023 by Boston-based MassRobotics, the “world’s leading global independent robotics innovation hub”.

The inaugural MassRobotics Accelerator powered by MassTech will support 10 robotics companies by providing “programming, individual mentorship, and immersion in the world-class robotics network” that exists across Massachusetts, including the robotics and autonomy startups housed at MassRobotics’ headquarters in Boston’s Seaport.

The first accelerator cohort, which will be announced in early 2024, will participate in a 13-week program that will provide direct mentorship, access to technology and business resources in the region, and an investment of $100,000 in non-dilutive funding to boost their innovations.

Thomas Ryden, executive director MassRobotics, says: “The funding for a robotics department within Mass Tech Collaborative will be impactful to the growing robotics industry here within the Commonwealth.

“The department will be in a unique position to highlight the wide range of efforts and resources Massachusetts has to make it the premier place to start and grow robotics and automation companies.”

Peter Howard, CEO of RealTime Robotics, headquartered in Boston, says “I’m really excited to hear about MassRobotics’ new non-dilutive accelerator program funded by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.

“Both MassRobotics and the Collaborative have incredibly experienced and insightful robotics entrepreneurs, capable of both choosing great technologies, and nurturing great teams. Realtime Robotics had the good fortune to land at MassRobotics shortly after both they and we formed.

“They were fantastic partners in helping us build our business and make the right connections. They have grown into a regional, national, and now internationally renowned robotics incubator. The Collaborative’s funding is being put in great hands that will ensure great things come to life with it.”

The newly launched robotics initiative builds upon MassTech’s support and investment in the state’s robotics sector over the last decade-plus, including over $28 million in awards advance the robotics sector in Massachusetts.

Previous investments include a multi-year commitment to MassRobotics’ Jumpstart Fellowship program, which provides training opportunities for diverse high school girls to gain a foothold in the robotics industry, as well as larger investments in robotics testbeds statewide.

The Innovation Institute at MassTech has made several major investments in robotics infrastructure and talent development through its Collaborative Research & Development Matching Grant Program and Technology and Innovation Ecosystem grant programs, including:

  • a $2 million grant to Worcester Polytechnic Institute for New Autonomous Systems Lab, a testing ground for innovative autonomous technologies that are advancing future capabilities in the automotive, transportation, healthcare, robotics, and automation and manufacturing sectors;
  • a $4.4 million investment in Boston University’s Robotics and Autonomous Systems Teaching and Innovation Center (RASTIC), a three-year, $8.78 million project managed by BU in collaboration with MassRobotics and six industry partners;
  • a grant of $2 million to support the creation of BlueTech OCEAN (Open Collaborative Experimentation and Acceleration Network) at MITRE in Bedford, a two-year project that supported the recent launch of a world-class test tank for marine robotics and a data sharing collaboration; and
  • over $3 million in support for a research center led by Harvard and BU focused on assistive robotics and wearable technologies, to spur the development of rehabilitation, diagnostic, and assistive devices that are more lightweight, affordable, and connected, tools designed to help people with neuro-motor impairments.

MassTech’s new robotics department will strategically deploy funding with the aim of boosting the robotics ecosystem’s impact on the state’s tech and innovation economy, as well with industries with strong regional importance, including advanced manufacturing, healthcare, climate tech, and defense.

The capacities developed through this initiative are intended to boost the state’s competitive advantage and spur job growth, to help address increasing competition from regions globally.

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