By Monica Mehta
Robots that can run, climb stairs, navigate warehouses, harvest plants, and take a hard fall without breaking. Those were some of the mechanical creatures on display at LaunchCMU, an annual event showcasing cutting-edge research and startups from Carnegie Mellon University.
The robotics-oriented event, hosted recently by Oracle on its main campus, brought together approximately 200 young entrepreneurs, members of the investment community, and business leaders. It is produced by Carnegie Mellon University’s Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, formerly known as the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This year—its fifth—the focus was on robotics in manufacturing.
CMU and Oracle share a lot of common values, according to Craig Stephen, senior vice president of research and development at Oracle Labs. Stephen is a CMU graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics.
"Many graduates of Carnegie Mellon University come to work at Oracle, and I think that's because we have a shared vision," says Stephen. “Both organizations value people who are both innovative and pragmatic, and who can fearlessly evaluate what they're doing and remain flexible in order to achieve success.”
Innovation is top of mind at Oracle, which announced the expansion of its Oracle Startup Cloud Accelerator program this year. The program provides mentoring, technology, working space, and other benefits for early-stage technology companies around the world, in countries including Brazil, India, Singapore, Israel, and England.
LaunchCMU featured 26 startups that showcased their robotics innovations at demonstration stations. Here is a sampling:
- Agility Robotics operates on the premise that “in the near future, robots will deliver groceries, help take care of us in our homes, and assist in disaster recovery,” says Chief Executive Officer and Cofounder Damion Shelton. The company builds two-legged robot technologies for academic, corporate, and military research and development. Cassie, the company’s newest bipedal next-generation robot, can stand in place, sit down, crouch, walk, and run using less energy than traditional two-legged robots. As opposed to robots on wheels, it can also navigate complex terrain such as rocky ground, dirt, and stairs, making it potentially very useful to humans.
- HEBI Robotics showcased its X-series platform, which is comprised of modular, Lego-like hardware components that contain sensors and a next-gen control software that enable companies to quickly build custom robots. The archetype was developed at the biorobotics lab at CMU. “Our vision is to enable the industrial user with automation systems that can be quickly customized over time,” says HEBI’s Chief Operating Officer Bob Raida. “This could be very helpful for manufacturers that have a high degree of variability in their needs—the kit can build a solution that solves immediate problems, but that can be reconfigured to solve future problems.”
- IAM Robotics has built "the world's first mobile, autonomous piece picking robot." Warehouse robots in wide use today generally work in tandem with humans or help with the sorting process, but IAM's artificially intelligent robot, Swift, can see and manipulate goods from warehouse shelves on its own—and at or above human speeds, to boot. "Collectively in the United States, we're paying $40 billion for people to do stock work, and it's rising every year," says Founder and Chief Executive Officer Tom Galluzzo. "It's an incredible amount of unproductive time that employers spend paying people just to move things around the warehouse." Combined with its proprietary 3D SKU scanner and software interface, Swiftlink, which integrates with warehouse management systems, IAM offers an end-to-end order fulfillment system for distribution centers.
- RoBotany is an indoor vertical farming company that creates efficiencies by using robots in the growing process. Vertical farming allows farmers to grow produce within a smaller square footage than traditional farming. The indoor farms can also operate all year and be located in cities. By adding robots to the environment, companies can save even more real estate because robots need less space to reach higher shelves and pick plants than humans do. “We are transforming modern agriculture with automated robotics and software analytics,” says Austin Webb, chief executive officer and cofounder. “Our unique, fully integrated solution redefines the vertical farming process.” Through its produce brand, Pure Sky Farms, the company provides local, organic produce to Whole Foods and other customers.
- Carnegie Robotics manufactures robotics components with a focus on tackling computer vision challenges. Sensors in its components deliver centimeter-level accuracy. When they are built into machines, such as cars or agricultural machinery, they can better sense nearby elements, including people, obstacles on a road, or seeding targets in a field. And with engineering and production “under the same roof,” says Chief Executive Officer and President Steve DiAntonio, the company is able to bring its designs to market more quickly and efficiently. Carnegie Robotics was founded by Dr. John Bares and several colleagues in May 2010 as a spinout of Carnegie Mellon University’s National Robotics Engineering Center.
Monica Mehta is a frequent contributor to Profit, Oracle's business and technologoy journal.