See What's on the Horizon in Robotics


Barry Braunstein

February 13, 2014

Acorn was pleased to host the Robotics Cluster Round Table for the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) at our Cambridge office on February 11. During the meeting, I spoke with several attendees about their work, including projects that are in their infancy—breakthrough developments that could change people's lives. Here are some highlights:

Ras Labs: Synthetic MuscleRas Labs is developing Synthetic Muscle, which controllably contracts and expands and is being used to prototype rotational actuation for the US Army. Potential applications range from helping people with disabilities to creating the Six Million Dollar Man, at a fraction of the cost.

Myomo: Solutions for Increasing Movement of Weak, Neurologically Impaired ArmsMyomo is building prosthetic technology to power bracing devices to restore an individual's mobility for people who suffer from debilitating muscle weakness due to a variety of conditions.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI): DARPA Robotics ChallengeI also had an opportunity to connect with Michael Gennert from Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Michael is the Director of Robotics Engineering, which is part of the Department of Computer Science. I'm a WPI grad (though well before Michael's tenure)—and it was interesting to hear about the changes and growth at my alma mater. One of the few Robotics Engineering programs in the U.S., WPI is participating in the DARPA Robotics Challenge. The goal of the challenge is to develop semi-autonomous ground robots that can do "complex tasks in dangerous, degraded, human-engineered environments". Competing with other institutions such as MIT, I'm proud to say that WPI did well, and is advancing to the next stage of the competition, working with Atlas, a robot from Boston Dynamics.

Participate in the FutureThe Robotics Cluster Round Table reminded me of how important these organizations are to the vitality of emerging markets and companies, and how we’re witnessing the birth of companies that may someday change the world. Thanks to the passion, dedication, and creativity of these entrepreneurs, faculty, and students, many people’s lives will be positively impacted.

I recall participating in a similar meeting a number of years ago—one where entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to pitch their company to a group of VC's. Many different products and ideas were presented—some seemed promising, some not. One presentation I remember vividly was from an entrepreneur who was seeking funding for his invention—a machine that would brew one cup of coffee at a time. Many of the VC's passed on the idea, but at least one seemed interested. I remember thinking about the pot of “mud”—coffee that had been brewed many hours ago and was sitting on the hotplate in the office where I worked—and hassle of cleaning the pot, finding a filter, and a bag of new grounds. And while I don't mean to say that having a fresh cup of coffee even compares with helping a disabled person walk or live a more normal, productive life (sorry Keurig/GMCR), it was the birth of something new that changed the way many people start their day. What a great opportunity to be a part of all this!

About the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) and its Robotics ClusterMassTLC is a technology association whose purpose is to "accelerate innovation by connecting people from across the technology landscape, providing access to industry-leading content and ideas and offering a platform for visibility for member companies and their interests". Within MassTLC, there are a number of communities, of which the Robotics Cluster is one. We meet every few months and discuss upcoming events related to robotics, as well as discuss ways that industry, government, and academia can work together to further robotics innovation and business here in MA. It's also a great forum for young companies to get visibility and get connected to industry, VC's, and other entities and individuals. 

About the author

Barry is responsible for Acorn’s sales and business development activities in the eastern United States.