By Morgan O’Brien – BostInno Events Coordinator
Tech Madness is our friendly competition to see who the community thinks will be the most valuable tech company in five years. We seed 64 local businesses/startups and put them head-to-head with you, our readers, voting to determine who will move on to the next matchup.
And since we’re one month out from the reveal party, we wanted to answer one big question you’re probably asking: “How does BostInno assemble the bracket?” Today, we’re going to tell you exactly that.
First, we take a look at the whole field. For the past month-and-a-half, we’ve asked you to nominate the companies you think need to be on the bracket. From those nominations, we created our 2017 Tech Madness Finalist list of 150 below. The 64 Tech Madness bracket companies will pull from this list along with a few possible internal picks based on our reporting leading up to the event.
While putting together the bracket, we’re looking for a group that embodies the complete range of Boston Tech, in both industry and stage. So, no, the bracket will not just be a list of the 64 local companies that have raised the most money, hired the most people or generated the most revenue. The bracket will also have a handful of companies that we think could get there in five, 10, 15 years.
Over the next month, we’ll be seeding the 64. Seeding, like last year, is based almost entirely on funding and market cap, although variables such as headcount and growth will be factored in a bit, too.
Seeding is not an editorial statement on how we feel about a company. The bracket only works if companies are seeded 1 through 16 and venture capital is the most accessible, universal metric to use for categorization. It’s also important to note that, outside of the physical placement on the bracket, seeding doesn’t matter.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb. 22, 2017 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Vecna Technologies, parent company of VGo Communications, has selected Dwight Moore as VGo’s new Chief Executive Officer. The appointment of Moore to this position follows a strategic decision to make the VGo product line a subsidiary company under the Vecna umbrella and focus its mission on immersive and affordable telepresence.
“Dwight’s experience in growing organizations, his passion for delivering value to consumers worldwide, and his accessible leadership style make him an extraordinary fit for our team,” said Vecna co-founder and president Deborah Theobald. “We’re looking forward to Dwight’s contributions to the growing VGo brand providing exceptional value to home consumers, students and educators, as well as healthcare and business professionals.”
“I am delighted to join VGo,” said Moore. “Vecna as a whole, and specifically the VGo team, have a rare combination of an incredibly loyal customer base, an unparalleled product, talented people, and a commitment to leaving a lasting, positive impact on the world. As we move forward in bringing new features to current users and a broader market, our mission remains focused on improving the quality of interpersonal communication.”
Moore has spent his career building enterprise value for public and private companies in a number of industries, including the telecommunications and consumer electronics sectors in both domestic and international settings. He also brings extensive experience in operational management in innovative environments. In the past, Moore has served as Chief Operating Officer and Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at NTS (National Technical Solutions) as well as leadership positions for NCR and Lockheed Martin. Most recently, Moore served as President of Echelon Partners, a private equity company focused on growing small business.
VGo is a robotic telepresence solution that allows a person to have a presence in a distant location, including the freedom to see, hear, talk, and move around as if he were physically there. VGo is a flexible tool that can be applied to organizational challenges in healthcare, education and business. VGo’s mission is to improve the quality of interpersonal connection for professionals and individuals. VGo became part of Vecna’s family of automation solutions in 2015 and proudly develops and manufactures its products in Massachusetts.
Learn more at www.vecna.com/vgo-telepresence/
Vecna was established in 1999 to empower humanity through transformative technology. Vecna’s portfolio of solutions includes automation solutions for healthcare, business, education, and material handling. Learn more at Vecna.com.
By Kelly J. O’Brien, Boston Business Journal
MassRobotics, a nonprofit dedicated to fostering young robotics companies in Massachusetts, on Friday showed off what makes its new facility unique: when it came time to cut the ribbon, Boston’s mayor got some robotic help — from Baxter, a robot sporting a Patriots knit hat.
The newly launched office and lab space for robotics is in a city-owned building at 12 Channel St. in the South Boston Innovation District, based on other popular co-working ideas in the region: Think Cambridge Innovation Center or Somerville’s Greentown Labs, but for robotics. The 15,000-square-foot office includes 7,000 square feet of open workshop space and another 2,000 square feet dedicated to a high-tech machine shop for prototyping and related work.
On Friday, the open workspace was lined with representatives of the wider Massachusetts robotics cluster showing off their products, from drones to unmanned maritime vehicles to an autonomous “mole” for sweeping under the couch.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh was also on hand to tour the workspace. In a speech to attendees, Walsh emphasized the importance of the Massachusetts robotics industry in keeping top talent in the state and helping to build a skilled workforce for a next-generation economy. “The projects and the ideas housed in this workspace represent the future jobs and innovation for the city of Boston,” Walsh said. “But not just the city of Boston or the commonwealth of Massachusetts, all over the world.”
Thomas Ryden, the executive director of MassRobotics, said the organization is looking to raise $5 million in order to develop another 25,000 square feet of space available in the building.
According to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the state’s economic development agency focused on the innovation economy, the Massachusetts robotics industry consisted of 122 companies with 4,700 employees in 2015. Those companies generated more than $1.6 billion in revenue in 2015.
The first wave of companies hosted by MassRobotics include American Robotics, Digital Alloys, Hurdler Motors, Air Force Research Lab HMSS and Square Robots.
MassRobotics sponsors include such local companies as Amazon Robotics, iRobot (Nasdaq: IRBT), Draper and Vecna, as well as the Mass Technology Leadership Council, a consortium of tech companies.
By Scott Kirsner, Boston Globe
Entrepreneurs and engineers designing new kinds of robots will soon have a home in Boston — fittingly, in an industrial corner of the neighborhood often called the Innovation District.
MassRobotics, a nonprofit formed in 2014 to support the state’s robotics industry, plans to open a new shared startup space on Channel Street in South Boston this month, with the official opening set for Feb. 9.
The MassRobotics space, at about 15,000 square feet, will be able to house roughly 30 companies, said executive director Tom Ryden, a former sales and marketing executive at Bedford-based iRobot Corp. “We think we’ll have it mostly full by the time we open,” Ryden said, noting that the list of companies interested in moving in has at times surpassed 40.
Most companies, he added, will have fewer than 15 employees, and will have access to office space, laboratory benches, and communal equipment like computer-controlled lathes, 3-D printers, and laser cutters. The equipment will enable companies to produce their own parts and prototypes on-site, Ryden says.
Among the tenants planning to move in to the space are a startup making drones for farmers, American Robotics, and a firm that makes investments in robotics startups, according to Ryden.
Daniel Theobald, chief executive of Vecna, a robot developer in Cambridge, said that MassRobotics will help “increase collaboration between industry, investors, and engineers, ensuring that we are solving the right problems with robotics.” Theobald was one of the initial catalysts behind the organization, and serves on the MassRobotics board.
IRobot CEO Colin Angle said that the robotics industry “is still in its infancy,” and that a shared workspace for fledgling businesses can help ensure that Massachusetts “exploits its current leadership and natural strengths” in the robotics field.
Two big questions for MassRobotics, said industry analyst Dan Kara, is how much demand there will be from startups seeking office space, and whether it will attract businesses from outside Boston. “To some extent, this is uncharted waters,” he said. But Kara added that robotics startups often need access to expensive prototyping and testing equipment. On that dimension, MassRobotics “could help companies overcome one of the major hurdles to becoming a sustainable entity.” Kara is the robotics practice director at ABI Research, a market research firm.
Though the building MassRobotics will occupy is owned by the City of Boston, Ryden said that the money for the space came from corporate sponsors, rather than the city or the state. There’s room for an eventual expansion to another floor, Ryden said, but that would require additional funding. “We already know that we’re going to outgrow this initial space.”
The MassRobotics building is in the same neighborhood where nuTonomy, a Cambridge startup, obtained permission to begin testing driverless cars this month.
The time between setting an appointment and arriving in the exam room is the most important for influencing immediate and downstream revenue capture, patient readiness and satisfaction.
Vecna’s patient self-service solution is a digital platform that automates routine registration and billing tasks through one cohesive workflow for patients and staff.
Our customers have:
- cut patient waittimes by 12 minutes,
- reduced bad debt by 52%,
- increased patient satisfaction scores by 5%,
- increased staff efficiency by 15%, and
- increased payments collected at the point of service by 30%.
Stop by booth 5279 during exhibit hall hours to learn how digitizing your front office can impact your back office operations downstream.
Vecna has also attained DIACAP Accreditation and ATO issued by the Department of Defense’s Defense Health Agency. DoD customers can now purchase and securely use Vecna’s patient check-in system on the DoD network.
And test drive a VGo telepresence robot in our booth and at Verizon’s booth 761. VGo helps give clinical experts instant access to the patient unit, to the rehab facility, or to the home, improving the connection with face-to-face interaction, from anywhere.
|Monday, February 20||10:00 am-6:00 pm|
|Tuesday, February 21||9:30 am-6:00 pm|
|Wednesday, February 22||9:30 am-4:00 pm|
By Eugene Demaitre, Robotics Business Review
This week, a group of 10 robotics companies from Massachusetts is visiting five cities in China. Increasing international Chinese robot business ties seems like a no-brainer, but several attendees at an event last week addressed concerns about competitiveness, capital, and market access.
Last Thursday, InTeahouse hosted a U.S.-China Robotics Summit Reception at the Massachusetts State House in downtown Boston. Investors, business leaders, and government representatives politely sized up one another as they continued to seek profitable partnerships.
InTeahouse, which organized the trip, is a global network of innovators and entrepreneurs. The summit included a formal tea ceremony conducted by a woman from China.
Sister state opportunities
Speakers at the reception included Nam Pham, assistant secretary of business development and international trade at the Massachusetts Office of International Trade & Investment. He cited the fact that Massachusetts has a “sister state” relationship with Guangdong Province in China.
“Part of our future is robotics,” Pham said. “Massachusetts has more robotics companies than any other state in the U.S., and we can learn from each other.”
“I personally have a limited knowledge of robotics,” acknowledged Xing Jijun, science and technology counselor at the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York. “But I know that it’s a big market, with lots of companies.”
“Sales in China have risen from 37,000 units per year to more than 66,000 units per year,” Jijun said. “China wants to be the No. 1 world market by 2020, with a robot density of 150 [units per 100,000 employees, up from 36 in 2014]. That’s very ambitious.”
He also noted that China’s former policy of one child per family has resulted in an aging population, which presents an opportunity for service robotics.
“Healthcare will be a very challenging focus, and service robotics is a solution,” Jijun said. “The Chinese robot market is very attractive for entrepreneurs and business people.”
For decades, China and the West have both benefited from their contact, accelerating industrialization, he added. It’s not just foreign investment, but also bilateral movement of ideas and business, Jijun said.
The Massachusetts delegation will visit the cities of Beijing, Foshan, Guangzhou, Shaoxing, and Shenzhen.
Yankee ingenuity and Chinese robot markets
In return for access to the Chinese robot market, money, and manufacturers, robotics companies in New England (including more than 150 in Massachusetts alone) offer innovative talent coming out of institutions such as MIT.
The trade delegation to China includes established companies such as iRobot and Vecna, as well as startups, said Tom Ryden, executive director of MassRobotics.
MassRobotics is a nonprofit organization dedicated to encouraging innovation and collaboration in the commonwealth, and it has been working on creating a shared space for testing and startups.
Ryden noted that China has a large user base, but the percentage of robotics adopters is still relatively low but growing in manufacturing, elder care, and agriculture.
“This is a huge first step in our mutual relationship,” he said of the trip.
Silicon Valley is less risk-averse than other regions when it comes to investment, but it already has its own venture capital funds and technology startups, noted one attendee. By contrast, Guangdong and Massachusetts can offer each other capabilities that they lack.
The companies traveling to China are Artaic, Ascend Robotics, GreenSight Agronomics, Insightfil, iRobot, Locus Robotics, Movia Robotics, NextDroid Robotics, R-Storm Technology, Soft Robotics, and Vecna Technologies.
Looking forward and overcoming job fears
“We build on the achievements of those who came before us,” said Daniel Theobald, chief innovation officer at Vecna Technologies. “We must come together for ‘pre-competitive’ collaboration and to allow innovation to solve humanity’s problems.”
Vecna is looking for the best partners to rapidly become an international robotics supplier, Theobald told Robotics Business Review. The Cambridge, Mass.-based company is looking for investors to help scale up production, sales, marketing, and distribution of mobile robots that are now ready for the healthcare, consumer, supply chain, and military markets, he said.
“Timing is everything,” Theobald said. “We’ve been cautious. … but now there’s a convergence of technology and a general awareness of the public toward robotics. The world economic situation has also improved over the decade.”
“There used to be a strong sense that robots would take our jobs, especially in U.S. popular culture compared with that in Japan or China,” he said. “Now, thanks to dependence on mobile technology, a new generation has less hostility.”
Theobald quoted science fiction author Isaac Asimov: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account, not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”
In addition, Theobald urged his fellow roboticists to work together on standards and sharing ideas and best practices because the accelerating “rate of technological change is so fast, that it’s difficult for society to adapt.”
“The pace of change is not just decades — it’s years,” he said. International cooperation is more important than political or economic rivalries, according to Theobald and other speakers.
“Scientists, engineers, business men and women must take responsibility,” Theobald said. “What we do impacts humanity.”
He mentioned the Luddites, textile workers who revolted during the Industrial Revolution in England 200 years ago. Automation will displace some jobs, Theobald said, “but robotics can be the great equalizer.”
By Olivia Vanni, staff writer, BostInno
Right across the street from Alewife Station in Cambridge sits a campus sprinkled with autonomous vehicles, like a converted 1967 VW Bus and a tricycle. 35 Cambridge Park Drive is home to Vecna Technologies, a company where watching robots wander about on their own is business as usual.
Vecna, a robot logistics company, started as a government contractor. Over time, it has taken the innovations it has developed for the public sector and translated them to make commercial products. Its robots range from the “BEAR” (or Battlefield Extraction-Assist Robot) to the QCBot, which you may have recently seen is being used by Dana-Farber to deliver medication to patients, to VGo, the telepresence robot technology Vecna acquired last year.
What you may not know is that every product that Vecna offers is made on its Cambridge campus.
“Building things is what it’s been about from the start,” Daniel Theobald, co-founder and chief innovation officer at Vecna, said. “Robotics has been our focus since the beginning.”
So it would only make sense for Vecna to take on all of the prototyping and assembly operations itself, rather than outsourcing them. Theobald says making everything onsite allows the company to accelerate the engineering and manufacturing processes. He told us, “In today’s economy, agility and speed are key to getting to market. The old way, going back and forth, will put you behind.”
“Manufacturing here is flexible and fast,” Anton Richardson, a mechanical engineer at Vecna, said. “Engineers can walk over to the shop and they can all sit down to figure something out instantly instead of sending emails back-and-forth for weeks.”
“It was a different transition for us,” Bob Stocks, Vecna’s Prototype Machine Shop Manager, told us. “We converted to verbal instruction and the turnaround time has become faster.”
The manufacturing facility on campus has grown over the years, as the company gradually acquired different equipment as needed. At first, Vecna had outsourced all of its shop work. Theobald said he was becoming increasingly frustrated by issues, such as a snag with turnaround time.
When Theobald met Stocks, who previously owned a machine shop dedicated to R&D up in Wilmington, Mass., they decided to merge their two businesses. Theobald told us, “I said, ‘You know what, we really need to bring this equipment in-house. We can’t spend a week waiting every time we need brackets.”
Stocks added, “He turned to me and said, ‘I’ll take everything.’”
There are times when Vecna is almost exclusively doing prototyping and focusing on innovating. Other times, the company dedicates much of its resources to assembling products.
Vecna doesn’t just manufacture its own products. Its shop services members of the community. For instance, it’s currently working with Massachusetts General Hospital on a portable MRI machine.
“We’re trying to be partners in the innovation process,” Theobald said. “That’s key. We have excess capacity and we can share with the community. We can provide value in collaboration.”
Vecna currently has about 160 employees, with numerous PhDs working in the engineering group. Their backgrounds include advanced degrees from schools like MIT and Carnegie Mellon. And some team members even have Mars rover development under their belts.
That said, having an impressive resume and a PhD doesn’t make you a shoo-in hire at this advanced manufacturing company. In addition to those ever-coveted STEM skills, Vecna looks for candidates with soft skills, which Theobald says are crucial as well.
“We have seen amazing resumes incapable of being part of the team here,” he said. “They’re accomplished, but communication skills are necessary to do product turnarounds like we do.
Representatives from 10 Massachusetts robotics companies will travel to China at the end of October to meet with potential investors and companies there in an effort to connect American innovation with Chinese capital and partnership opportunities.
The trip, which is scheduled for Oct. 22-30, was organized by InTeahouse, a Chinese-style teahouse in Cambridge’s Central Square that helps to create bridges between technology innovators in the U.S. and potential investors and business partners in China.
While much of the Chinese investment in U.S. tech startups goes to Silicon Valley, this trip will be an opportunity to attract more interest to Massachusetts robotics companies, according to Val Livada, a senior adviser to InTeahouse and MIT lecturer who has worked as a consultant in areas such as innovation and strategic planning.
“There is a very interesting opportunity that I think is evolving here in connecting the technical community in the Boston area, the Northeastern part of the country, with sources of capital and partnerships in China,” he said. “There seems to be a good amount of interest there, and the question is how we can match interests on both sides that makes sense for everybody and I think it’s intriguing and this might be the first step.”
The participating robotics companies include a mix of startups and established companies, each seeking a relationship with potential Chinese investors and partners, as well as with manufacturers looking to expand their automation capabilities, according to Livada.
“Some companies are looking for equity investments to raise money for the company as a whole,” Livada said. “Others are looking for business partnerships that could be supporting particular projects, or could be co-marketing or co-selling in the China market. I know a couple companies are interested in how to establish a position in the Chinese market. It could be manufacturing agreements. It could be the whole gamut, and we won’t know until we sit down with the individual investors on the Chinese side.”
ON A MISSION
The companies participating will be Artaic, Ascend, GreenSight, Insightfil, iRobot, Locus Robotics, Next Droid, R-Storm Technology, Soft Robotics and Vecna Technologies. All are members of MassRobotics, a nonprofit working to connect local robotics companies to one another and the community.
Tom Ryden, executive director of MassRobotics, said he hopes to accommodate each company’s needs on the trip. He said larger and more established companies are generally looking to expand their current business, while smaller companies and startups are generally more interested in investments.
“China is very active in investing in robotics companies,” Ryden said. “They recognize that robotics is really the future. They can no longer be the low-cost manufacturer – that’s not sustainable for the long run – so they’re looking at technology that will help them automate some of their manufacturing capabilities.”
China has been looking for solutions to a labor shortage and the government has been encouraging growth in automation. Last year, China launched an initiative called “Made in China 2025” to upgrade Chinese industry by improving quality of products and efficiency in ten primary sectors, including robotics.
China has been the biggest market for industrial robots since 2013, but its so-called “robot density” — the ratio of robots to humans employed in manufacturing — trails the international average, according to the International Federation of Robotics.
Carl Vause, CEO of Soft Robotics Inc., said he hopes the trip will help bring his company’s automation technology to new customers in China and throughout the world. Soft Robotics is a 3-year-old industrial robotics company based in Cambridge that deals mainly with manufacturing, food and bakery automation.
“An opportunity to work with Chinese manufacturers or Chinese firms that are looking to automate manufacturing wherever they operate that we can help them with would be a primary goal,” said Vause, who is representing his company on the trip. “And then any other potential partners or collaboration opportunities would be a success for us.”
A HUB OF ROBOTICS
Boston is a robotics hub, which Ryden said has led to the formation of “unique and active” robotics cluster in the area. “They’re very open in sharing so they want to see all companies grow,” he said. “They realize it’s a ‘rising tide floats all boats’ type of thought.”
Ryden said one of the driving factors behind the rise of the commonwealth’s robotics cluster is the number of universities doing robotics research in the area.
“Not not only do we have some of the early companies like iRobot that really started this kind of revolution, but there are so many universities that have robotics programs or are doing robotics research in the Greater Boston area,” he said. “That makes for a great idea generator, so it just kind of snowballed and built a great community.”
Livada and Ryden are leading the delegation, which plans to stop in five cities: Beijing, Shaoxing, Shenzhen, Guangzhou and Foshan. The latter three cities are part of Guangdong Province, with which the commonwealth of Massachusetts has shared a formal sister-state relationship with since 1983.
One representative from each company will join Livada, Ryden and an InTeahouse logistics coordinator on the trip. Local Chinese governments and potential investors will cover the costs of the trip, according to InTeahouse.
By David Harris, Boston Business Journal
The 122 robotics companies in Massachusetts employed over 4,700 workers and generated over $1.6 billion in revenue in 2015 alone, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.
The report from the tech-focused economic development agency also identified 33 new robotics startups that were created in Massachusetts over the past five years, an increase of 31 percent.
The new research report, commissioned by MassTech and authored by ABI Research, provides Massachusetts economic development and technology leaders with a roadmap that can help the state grow the robotics sector statewide.
The report also outlines four specific strategies to sustain and grow the robotics cluster statewide, including talent development, technology implementation, brand building and cluster expansion.
Some robotics companies in Massachusetts include drone maker CyPhy Works, Boston’s Rethink Robotics and Vecna Technologies. Amazon Robotics, formerly Kiva Systems, is also headquartered in North Reading.
By Priyanka Dayal McCluskey, Boston Globe
It’s an unusual sight in the halls of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute: Alongside doctors, nurses, and patients, a robot about the size of a washing machine quietly glides through the hospital, a bright light marking its presence.
Dana-Farber executives have high hopes for “Lucy,” one of the newest technologies in use at Boston’s best-known cancer center. Lucy is being developed to deliver prescription drugs directly to patients while they sit in infusion rooms receiving chemotherapy — a treatment that can take many hours. If the system works, it will save patients the time and trouble of having to stand in line to pick up their prescriptions at a pharmacy after an already long and draining day of treatment.
“We want Lucy to be able to improve the patient’s experience while they’re here all day,” said Sylvia Bartel, vice president of pharmacy at Dana-Farber. “Their last stop is usually coming to the outpatient pharmacy and picking up a prescription. They finish their chemotherapy, they have to wait in a line, so we felt like there had to be a way for us to efficiently deliver the [medications] using technology.”
Dana-Farber began testing the technology in 2013, after getting a phone call from executives at Vecna Technologies, the Cambridge-based company that developed the robot and was looking to expand its health care business. The Boston cancer center is one of just a few hospitals in the world using the machine.
Lucy is equipped with a touchscreen, a scanner, and compartments for stocking drugs. There is no attempt to give it human features, other than a voice only used occasionally. For now, the robot doesn’t interact with patients, only with hospital staff. It moves drugs around the Longwood area hospital, making about a dozen trips a day, using Wi-Fi-connected software to open doors and use service elevators.
Lucy isn’t glitch-free. It has ended up on the wrong floor before. On one recent afternoon, its movements were halting. Another day, it was out of service because of a connectivity problem.
Even so, Carlos Verrier, business operations manager in Dana-Farber’s pharmacy, said Lucy has helped make the pharmacy more productive. The hospital pharmacy is a busy place, processing some 400 scrips a day.
“It’s really allowing the staff to do more of what they’re trained to do… and not having to take them away to do a delivery,” Verrier said. “They spend more time on clinical aspects of their job than on delivering medication.”
Deborah Theobald, Vecna’s chief executive, said there’s a lot of potential for using such robots to move sensitive items around a hospital. Robots can move potent, expensive drugs around a building more safely and securely than humans, she said. Their every move can be easily tracked.
Vecna’s QC Bot costs roughly $150,000. Theobald acknowledged that hospital executives may need some persuading before they’re ready to give it a try.
“There’s an education process to get them over the hump and see the [return on investment],” she said. “People really appreciate robots once you get over the education hurdle. People don’t want to go back.”
Anne Tonachel, a former patient and current volunteer at Dana-Farber, has seen Lucy moving around the halls and quickly become a fan.
Tonachel is an ovarian cancer survivor who vividly remembers the pain of receiving chemotherapy treatment for many hours at a time. The treatments left her feeling too sick to pick up prescriptions from the pharmacy. Tonachel said she would have loved to skip that step by having a robot deliver prescriptions directly to her.
“No one would mind having Lucy show up at their bed or chair side,” she said. “In fact, her arrival might add a bit of interest to the day and bring a few smiles.”
By Olivia Jeffers, Compassionate Technology
Boston has a long relationship with trade and tea. Hopefully ushering a new era of collaborative investment, Xin Liu brings tea to the Massachusetts State House with inTeahouse and MassRobotics’ first U.S.-China Robotics Summit on Thursday, October 13.
Surrounded by U.S. state flags, inTeahouse coordinated a beautiful and calming tea ceremony, uniting the intentions of MassRobotics and the People’s Republic of China to increase investment and cooperation in robotics.
InTeahouse recently founded by Xin Liu, with their flagship office in Cambridge, MA, has the goal of fostering U.S.-China tech investments and collaboration. They are opening 9 more offices in Europe, the U.S., and Asia, with the goal of creating a global network.
China lags behind in industrial automation
There’s a large gap and need for robotics in China, and surprisingly, “China lags behind in [the] industrial space in automation” says Christian Ma, COO of inTeahouse.
Xing Jijun, Counselor of Science and Technology with the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York, says that service robots are a large priority given China’s aging population as a result of the one child policy, creating many 421 families, with 1 grandchild supporting 4 grandparents in old age.
Not only in service robotics, China has an initiative to become one of the top 10 in industrial use of robotics by 2020.
Coming out of the “Made in China” era of heavy industrial and manufacturing growth, China is now grasping onto emerging technologies and making moves towards creating the future, not just manufacturing it.
And what about artificial intelligence?
“What drives robotics is AI, it’s all artificial intelligence,” says Ma, it’s about “using intelligence to drive mechanics, intelligently, and create a system out of it.”
Given the power and unknowability of artificial intelligence, heavy investments in robotics and AI naturally brings up fears for the future.
In the United States, artificial intelligence quickly turns into thoughts of Skynet and job loss. In China however, a high value on efficiency and pragmatism in the culture might create an emotionally accepting market for in-home robotic devices.
Brain Robotics Capital, an early stage investment fund based out of Kendall Square, focusing on U.S.-China investments in artificial intelligence and robotics, including Jibo, an emotional robot for the family home. Jibo, a Boston-based company, has eyes on the Chinese market for their cute and almost cuddly robot.
In terms of robotics, the role of consumer and producer between the U.S. and China may flip, with the Chinese and Asian consumer markets driving robotics and AI.
Why collaborate with China?
“We must be willing to work together in ways [that we were] uncomfortable with in the past,” says Tom Ryden, Executive Director of MassRobotics.
Dan Theobald, Chief Innovation Officer of Vecna Technologies, believes that by engaging in a precompetitive collaboration with China, that robotics “if done correctly, [..] can be a great equalizer” for many problems facing humanity today.
Facilitating these collaborations, inTeahouse offers quarterly Sector Summits for American companies to visit Chinese tech centers such as Zhongguancun of Beijing and Shenzhen of Guangdong Province.
BOSTON, Oct. 13, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — InTeahouse, a global network that powers the international innovation economy, is launching its first U.S.-China Robotics Summit. The Summit serves to deepen the relationship established between the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Guangdong Province of China under the Joint Statement signed on May 12th, 2016. As a bridge for U.S.-China technology innovation, InTeahouse is working with MassRobotics to send executives from 11 regional robotics companies to major innovation cities across China. The Summit will create a deeper collaboration of technologies, talents and capitals between the U.S. and China.
The Summit will be led by Tom Ryden, executive director of MassRobotics, and Val Livada, senior advisor to InTeahouse. Companies participating include iRobot, R-STORM, Artaic, Vecna Technologies, Soft Robotics, Ascend Robotics, GreensightAG, Locus Robotics, NextDroid, Insightfil, and Movia Robotics.
“This new Robotics Summit will bring together the top global robotics technology companies, providing new business and investment opportunities between domestic and overseas markets,” said Xin Liu, founder of InTeahouse. “By cultivating this global network, we hope to foster valuable ties between the U.S. and China markets, specifically related to technology, talent and capital.”
“As a pioneer in the consumer robotics market, we’re excited to be a part of the first ever U.S. – China Robotics Summit,” said Chris Jones, vice president of technology at iRobot. “China represents an important growth opportunity for iRobot. This Summit will help us develop new opportunities for cooperation and collaboration with robotics enterprises in both the U.S. and China.”
“The ultimate goal of the U.S. – China Robotics Summit is to establish a long-term cooperation mechanism between both U.S. and Chinese startup cultures, entrepreneurs and investors,” said Thomas Ryden, executive director of Mass Robotics.
The Robotics Summit trip will take place from October 22 to 30 and will include stops in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Foshan, Shaoxing and Beijing. There will be a pre-trip reception at The Massachusetts State House on October 13 at 11:00 a.m.
Founded in 2015 by entrepreneur Xin Liu, InTeahouse is a global network that powers the international innovation economy by connecting ideas, capital and tea. InTeahouse’s mission is to create environments that drive successful connections throughout the world’s economy by building bridges between investors and innovators that bring new technologies to life. InTeahouse is built on the cultural foundation of the Chinese Teahouse to blend personal well-being with successful business ventures. For more, please visit www.inteahouse.com.
ABOUT MASS ROBOTICS
MassRobotics exists to educate, inspire, and bring robotics initiatives, investments, and companies to life. We are an independent, non-profit center serving as the innovation hub for robotics. We bring together groundbreaking startups and existing technology organizations to nurture the next generation of talent, build community, and promote innovation and economic growth. By working with diverse local talent and providing a robotics innovation center with shared workspace and prototype labs, we are helping to bring about the next global evolution of robotics. For more information please see www.massrobotics.org
By Debbie Theobald, CEO, for The Doctor Weighs In
The traditional role of banks in RCM (revenue cycle management)
Banks have traditionally played a critical role in serving the healthcare industry. They are payment aggregators, digital and paper lockboxes, data normalizers, systems of record, and more. They are the unsung heroes of healthcare—the trusted, sturdy gears that make an incredibly complex revenue cycle turn.
But they’re also an old institution. No one is looking to them for creative solutions to new problems. Yet, they have the experience and the means to make waves. They also know the rules—so they know how to break the rules…and where and when. They aren’t built with the agile phalanx of technical resources required to burrow into the complex networks of legacy systems that comprise providers’ most-used IT tools.
Yet, providers have a thirst for this kind of creativity. Patients are frustrated, hospital debt is soaring to record levels, and reimbursement rates are decreasing. So, health systems are looking for a more consumer-oriented model. To meet that need, we will see banks performing a duet with innovative technology companies to produce solutions that work for payers, providers, and patients: Think Tony Bennett, partnering with fresh voices like Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga for a new twist on the old classic to satisfy a modern audience.
Playing matchmaker: Opposites attract
Banks know their stake in the game. After all, they provide healthcare with financial backing. If hospitals are not financially healthy, banks suffer as well. Yet, banks do not necessarily have the ability or desire to reach patients directly.
At the same time, a record number of technology vendors are amping up their healthcare game. For 7 years, innovators have been rushing to connect all healthcare stakeholders, sparked by the HITECH Act of 2009, followed quickly by Meaningful Use in 2012. This proliferation, however, requires risk and it means that some innovations will succeed while others will fail. Competition is fierce, funding is limited, integration is hard, and government regulation introduces a quagmire that challenges even the most nimble and brilliant tech stars.
Yet, payers, providers, and patients need a system they can trust, that links the silos through the administrative arc of the patient experience: patient access, revenue cycle, and onsite experience.
These challenges give way to the marriage of healthcare’s odd couple. Innovative tech companies can rely on the strengths of banking’s time-tested institutional experience and infrastructure for moving money through complex systems and navigating regulatory environments. Meanwhile, banks can expand their reach to improve the patient experience through nimble, risk-taking, forward-thinking technology vendors.
Connecting systems and people to make change
Banks and IT vendors will partner to create the tools for a consumer-driven healthcare system. Here are 8 ways that innovative, consumer-driven features will enhance billing and collections for healthcare.
1. Connected IT Ecosystem. Web services are critical in pulling backend data from a variety of hospital source systems into one single interface. Patients can access their administrative tasks from any device, including onsite kiosks. Staff can easily manage patient scheduling, flow, and billing at the point of service from a robust web-accessible dashboard. No more repetitive manual data entry—on either side of the registration desk!
2. Access to actionable information on any device. Increasing transparency and convenience online and at the point of service with a modern, digital twist increases patient satisfaction scores by 5%. It also improves the bottom line. Because patient demographic information tends to be wrong over 30% of the time, the simple act of ensuring patient information on file is correct can reduce bad debt by over 4%. In addition, eliminating paperwork improves patient satisfaction and staff morale by offloading the most tedious part of their job. In fact, one national multi-facility healthcare system has increased staff efficiency by 15%.
3. Online appointment request. This is the age of OpenTable and Apple Genius Bar reservations. Patients want to find appointment times that suit their schedules without having to spend time on hold and tediously comparing calendars. Now they can click a button and receive a confirmation that their preferred time is available. As an added bonus, each appointment booked online saves healthcare systems $7.00 per interaction.
4. Insurance verification. Healthcare systems can get ahead of the billing cycle by asking patients to review and update their information before they even arrive on site. Verifying that the right insurance is on file increases billing clean claim rate by 22%. By the time they arrive for their appointment, patients have a clear understanding of whether the service is covered in whole, in part, or not at all—in addition to what the co-pay is and the amount of the deductible. This transparency will shift healthcare billing to a more consumer friendly experience.
5. Eligibility. Eligibility gives patients and staff the necessary benefits coverage information for an upcoming service. By presenting patients with this information before service, they can talk to their providers about their options and make better decisions about their course of treatment. Determining eligibility can also help healthcare organizations reduce claims denials and put the proper safeguards in place to ensure patients have the support structure they need. For example, a healthcare organization might provide financial assistance or payment plans for patients who cannot afford service. After all, caring for a patient’s financial health is part caring for a patient’s overall wellbeing.
6. Payment estimates. Estimates are commonplace in the service sector and almost completely lacking in healthcare. However, banks and innovative healthcare IT vendors will partner to pull forward patient responsibility. Patients will be grateful for the opportunity to pay their share up front since they won’t have to think about settling up after service. This creates an enormous opportunity to get ahead of accounts receivables and to advance the consumerism trend.
7. Payment options. Most patients are eager to have online access to lab results, account information, costs of common procedures. They also want a consolidated bill and a system that makes it easy for them to pay (i.e., a wide range of payment options that includes secondary insurance, credit cards, HSA, and/or a payment plan). With payment options at patients’ fingertips, paying bills will be that much easier. In fact, by presenting patients with outstanding bills at the point of service, this increases the chances of collecting payment by 62%. For the consumer, this approach removes the transaction cost of having to think about finding the credit card or writing the check and moves more quickly off a patient’s to-do list. For healthcare systems, these simple enhancements shorten collections cycle over 90 days by 18%.
8. Onsite queuing. Not only does staff have a consolidated view of patient information, billing, flags, and alerts, but they also have the ability to prioritize patients in their waiting room from the same dashboard. Staff can sort by wait times—or appointment type—to ensure that no patient is left sitting too long. Giving staff the tools to monitor patient flow onsite reduces wait times from 10 to 2 minutes.
Staying on the top through Innovation
Tony Bennett first appeared on stage in 1946—70 years ago. Now, at 90 years old, Bennett’s collaboration with Lady Gaga earned a Grammy and sold over 1 million copies worldwide. A legend in his own right, Bennett says he isn’t done learning. He’s looking at future collaborations, perhaps with Beyoncé. His willingness to step out of his comfort zone and innovate with other artists who can offer a fresh perspective is what gives Bennett his edge even in the modern era.
Banks first revolutionized healthcare over 25 years ago by introducing services that shuttled money and information accurately and on time. It’s time for them to step back into the spotlight. Like Bennett, banks are a classic. They have the power to leverage both their experience in consumer sector and expertise as the backend glue in healthcare to simplify administrative tasks for staff and consumers alike.
To enact real change, banks will look to partner with the innovative risk-taking vendors to connect with the users. Banks and IT vendors are the power couple that will develop powerful new solutions for healthcare’s newest challenges.
Reducing friction in the revenue cycle and improving the consumer experience? Well, that’s music to our ears.
Congratulations to Chris Larsen and Guangyu Sun for being published in the Nucleic Acids Research journal. Their article “Influenza Research Database: An integrated bioinformatics resource for influenza virus research” can be found here.
The article has great information about the work we are doing at the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)-sponsored Bioinformatics Resource Center.
The Influenza Research Database (IRD) is a U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)-sponsored Bioinformatics Resource Center dedicated to providing bioinformatics support for in- fluenza virus research. IRD facilitates the research and development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics against influenza virus by providing a comprehensive collection of influenza-related data integrated from various sources, a growing suite of analysis and visualization tools for data mining and hypothesis generation, personal workbench spaces for data storage and sharing, and active user community support. Here, we describe the recent improvements in IRD including the use of cloud and high performance computing resources, analysis and visualization of user-provided sequence data with associated metadata, predictions of novel variant proteins, annotations of phenotype-associated sequence markers and their predicted phenotypic effects, hemagglutinin (HA) clade classifications, an automated tool for HA subtype numbering conversion, linkouts to disease event data and the addition of host factor and antiviral drug components. All data and tools are freely available without restriction from the IRD website at https://www.fludb.org
By Daniel Theobald, Chief Innovation Officer, for Robotics Tomorrow
Why is integration among systems so important? How does this affect the value that a robot can bring to an industry?
In many ways, robotics is now where computers were several decades ago. There is no denying that computers and the internet have drastically changed the world—computers are now used in ways that weren’t ever imaginable, and have helped people around the world to achieve levels of education, employment, and freedom that were previously out of reach. Robotics will follow the same path. We are right at that tipping point, and if done right, robotics can be a boon to the entire human race.
But the only way to get over that threshold is to allow robots to seamlessly integrate with other systems– hardware to hardware, hardware to software, and software to software. In order for the robotics industry to propel itself forward, it needs to be able to build on what others have already done. This is a lesson learned from the computing industry; it was not until low-cost computers could run software written by a variety of companies that computers started to see real adoption in business. It was when they could easily connect to the rest of the world through the internet, allowing for easy email and web-browsing, that the computer industry really took off in a mass-consumer way. Most recently, this is what apps have done for mobile. By building on each other’s successes, we can rapidly advance the industry and therefore grow a bigger pie for the entire community. Computers have streamlined this process, as the feature that made them valuable is the ability to share information.
As an example, consider a QCBot delivering medication from the pharmacy to a nursing station in a hospital. Without integration when a delivery needs to be made, a person would have to find a robot, manually load the medication into the robot, tell the robot where to go, and send it on its way. At the other end, someone would need to realize that the robot was making a delivery, and then manually unload it. On the other hand, when fully integrated at the software level, the robot will automatically know from the hospital information system when deliveries need to be made. When integrated at the hardware level, the robot will be able to automatically pick up and drop off the deliveries without distracting a human from more important tasks like caring for a patient. When robots are truly integrated they will often become invisible, quietly doing their jobs without interrupting people.
Another simple example is a robot’s ability to use elevators. Right now there is no standard for robot elevator use. Each company builds a custom solution. That might be fine if no one ever planned on deploying robots from more than one company in a building. Obviously that won’t be practical as there will be a wide variety of robots on the market, each with a different set of capabilities, and there won’t be a one size fits all solution. Interoperability is the only viable solution.
Because we are still early in terms of market adoption for a lot of these types of robots, there aren’t a lot of interoperability standards yet. This gives us an opportunity to be proactive as an industry and define standards that will help make mass adoption of robots possible. Helping to define those standards is part of the mission of Mass Robotics and partner organizations like The Robotics Industries Association. This type of activity can have a big impact on making meaningful integration practical for the companies building or implementing robotics solutions.
You believe that, in order to propel the robotics industry forward, robotics companies need to collaborate. Why is that? What, if anything, do you think is holding the industry back?
Following up from above, the advancement of robotics will happen more quickly and provide more value with collaboration in the community around the adoption of reasonable interoperability standards. One reason this is hard is because it is easy to put it off, or expect that someone else is going to do it. Other things that will help propel the industry forward are increasing investment and adoption of automation by large companies, avoiding reinventing the wheel, focusing on the solution rather than the robot, and for the long-term, addressing a stronger focus on education.
Large companies are starting to seriously explore investing in their operations by adopting robotics. Robotic technology today is ready to be used to solve practical problems at large scale, and those companies that figure out where to effectively leverage robotics early on will have a huge advantage over their competitors as the pace of change and the need to adapt quickly in the global economy continues to increase. Robotic technology isn’t perfect, but the time has come to get it out of the lab and doing what it’s meant to do—work. Problems and imperfections often don’t surface until technological solutions are out in the real world. As long as we keep robots in the laboratory, we’re not going to make progress—we’re going to be focusing on the wrong problems until we make that leap.
Another thing that has been holding the industry back is too much wheel reinvention. A startup that wants to market gizmos on the web would be crazy to start out by trying to build their own computer from scratch to host the website. The computer isn’t the value add, it is their unique application. In the robotics industry, there are numerous off-the-shelf robotics systems out there that people could use to build their unique applications on, but for some reason, there is a strong tendency to want to build new robot hardware from the ground up.
Which leads to the point about focus. While it may not sound right, much of the robotics industry focuses way too much on robots (hardware), and way too little on the customer and the problem the robot will solve (software). Customers need their problems solved quickly, robustly, and cost-effectively. If a robot is a good fit, that’s great, but the focus must be on solving the problem, not how cool robots are. Also, it is important for people to realize that successful robotic systems are going to be mostly software. Robotics is 90% software—it’s what makes the robots useful.
One major thing that is lacking in our economy is access to enough engineering talent. We need to revamp the education system to encourage kids to start thinking creatively rather than memorizing facts, and to start engaging more actively in STEM disciplines. We can make science, technology, engineering, and mathematics significantly more interesting by showing kids real world applications and getting them to build and code much, much earlier. In fact, it’s been shown that project-based learning is significantly more effective than facts-based learning or exam-focused education; it’s a method of learning that actually sticks.
Which industries do you see as the most promising opportunities for the growth of robotics in the next few years?
There are exciting new startups popping up every day; for example, there are a number focusing on mass customization, where robots make it possible for customers to get a product tailored specifically for their needs but at mass-manufactured prices. Farming robots are a hot topic right now and is something that I am personally very interested in. I also think personal autonomous transportation and delivery is going to be big. Like it was with computers, all segments of our society will be dramatically affected by the growth in the robotics industry.
One of the areas that robotics can make a direct impact in is assistive technology, where the technology fundamentally changes lives for the better. For example, students like Christopher Leon who were not physically able to go to school can now do so using a VGo telepresence robot. Chris has excelled academically, opening up a wide range of possibilities that just weren’t available to him before. In fact, he is planning to go to college next year. I get pretty excited when robots allow people to accomplish things that were previously difficult or even impossible.
There has been a lot of selling of robotics companies lately – and also a rising interest from multiple sectors in buying or investing in automation solution providers. How do you explain this movement?
I think the general population and corporations around the world are starting to see that robotics is the future of our economy and that if they don’t start to play in that space, they will likely be left behind. The technology is ready for adoption and now is the right time to invest, but, just like the Dot Com era, it can be hard to sort out the real value from the hype. I hope we can manage to remember the Dot Com boom and bust and apply those lessons learned as robotics starts to generate similar levels interest and investment.
How do you answer the concern that robotics will put humans out of work and cause economic issues in the future?
It’s no secret that robots will change the way we do things, and in the process change the career opportunities available. This is the way technology has worked for hundreds of years. Someone figured out a better way to weave cloth, and most of the people that formerly weaved cloth went on to different jobs. Because of this automation, cloth and hence clothing is more affordable and available now than at any other time in human history. Not too long ago, if I were poor, I would only have one set of clothes, and if I lived in Africa, I might not have any, but now there is an abundance of clothing on the planet. So the tradeoff is often temporary employment disruption and change on one hand, and better access to goods and services for all people on the other hand.
The specific challenge here is that the change is happening faster than ever before, making it difficult for people to adapt and learn new skills fast enough. With more widespread use of automation, companies and society as a whole are facing a huge “change management” issue. We need to have a plan for how that shift is going to happen. It will take the combined efforts of industry, academia, and government to ensure that people aren’t left behind in the process.
Ideally, robots will allow humans to overcome their limitations in supplying basic needs. With everyone having access to basic needs – food, shelter, water – we can connect and contribute in more meaningful ways. This means allowing us to focus more on the creative, high-value jobs as well as caregiving – like nursing, caring for the elderly, and childcare. But, it’s incumbent upon industry, academia, and government to define this vision and to work together to help ensure that everyone wins in this transition.
Vecna has been developing robotics for logistics for some time. Tell us about your most recent innovations for the logistics and material handling industry. How do they differ from what is currently being used?
Practically everything we eat, drink, drive, wear and own came to us through a complex supply chain where human labor is employed to pick things up and put them down again in a different location. That’s where our family of robots comes in. They’re equipped to autonomously retrieve pallets, boxes, and even individual parts robustly while requiring little if any infrastructure changes. Most autonomous material-handling equipment on the market today tend to be infrastructure heavy, and lacks the flexibility to adapt rapidly to changing needs.
We also provide services to integrate the robotic systems with an enterprise’s IT systems in ways that provide superior efficiency of the systems and convenience for the users. Additionally, our robots are specifically designed to work collaboratively and safely with humans. In our system, we think of a system of “agents,” each with specific abilities. The agents can be a combination of a variety of robots and humans. The multi-agent coordination and planning features of our system can identify the best agent for a task and deploy that agent, whether it’s a human or a robot. This is one of the ways that we improve productivity – by using humans for what they’re good at (creative problem solving), and by using robots for what they’re good at (repetitive, dirty, and dangerous jobs). Using this approach, manufacturers and material handlers can prevent death, injury, damage, and delays, and also save billions of dollars annually.
We’ve invested heavily over the years in building a robust world-class autonomous navigation system; now we’re applying that technology to broader areas. For example, the same technology can be applied to people movers and personal transportation platforms, all robustly-integrated to allow operations to be more flexible, robust, and efficient than ever before.
By Tanya M. Anandan, Contributing Editor, Robotics Industries Association
When the time between Click to Buy and the doorstep, or dock, is measured in hours. And customers always want it faster and cheaper. There’s no time to spare. If you don’t deliver, your competitors will.
The supply chain never sleeps. Neither do robots.
Vecna has been nominated as one of BostInno’s Coolest Companies! We are among 150 innovative companies with amazing culture and products in the Boston area. 10 companies will be chosen as winners, including two picked by BostInno readers.
We love Vecna for many reasons! Our innovative and enthusiastic team is transforming healthcare and working on robots that will change the world. Our team members are encouraged to spend 10% of the work week on community service projects. We enjoy fresh veggies in our office farm share, and we’re dog-friendly! Our team gets together for barbecues, we celebrate everyone’s birthday with monthly birthday cake and ice cream, and get through that midweek slump with Bagel Wednesdays!
Vote for us here by Friday, August 5th!
By Leia Ruseva, Excerpt from Beantown Innovation
A sneak peek into the future would be incomplete without an army of robots. No, not the evil Terminator-like destroyers, but the ones that promise to propel humanity forward. Deriving its name from the Czech ‘vecny’ (meaning ‘eternal’), Vecna provides solutions for enterprise, healthcare, education and government, focusing its core research on enabling machines to independently navigate through unstructured environments, recognize human movements, faces and gestures, as well as specific objects. Their coolest projects include a telepresence robot for managing remote teams and VGo, a solution that helps kids transition back to the classroom after short- and long-term absences.
By Steve Minter, Industry Week
For a robotics visionary, Debbie Theobald is remarkably grounded. Though the CEO and Co-founder of Vecna Technologies sees the robotics industry at an inflection point where “a lot of great things are coming together,” she says the more widespread adoption of robots will stem from technologists answering a classic business question: “What problem does it solve?”
Vecna initially was focused on the problem of how to use information technology to improve the healthcare industry. Theobald and her husband Daniel, an MIT mechanical engineer, saw the immense promise of the internet and started Vecna in 1999 with health IT as their focus.
But the two entrepreneurs knew they wanted to do work in the automation field. Debbie Theobald got her introduction to robotics through her research at MIT in the aerospace field and Daniel had also done work on space robotics. Soon, they were using revenue from the IT part of the business to begin investing in robotics R&D. Work on military applications led to commercial robotics development. From the lofty reaches of space, she quips, Vecna’s work has “progressed toward terrestrial robotics.”