Material Handling

Robots upstaged the humans at MassRobotics’ workspace opening

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.

Massachusetts Companies Start Chinese Robot Visit With High Hopes

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.”

Inside Advanced Manufacturing: This Is Vecna’s Robot-Filled Campus in Cambridge

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.’”

Since then, Vecna has personally invested in getting the latest and greatest machinery needed for prototyping, including a large-scale 3D printer that runs 24/7 and a laser cutter that wouldn’t fit in many Boston one-beds. There’s a separate building on-campus where they can handle a large volume of assembling. The space is configured based on the task at hand, making for a “flexible assembly line.”

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.

At Dana-Farber, a robot roams the halls to deliver meds

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.

“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.”

Tea Ceremony Positions Boston as Harbour for U.S.-China Robotics Cooperation

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.

Collaboration and Integration are Crucial for the Growth of the Robotics Industry

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.

 About Daniel TheobaldDaniel Theobald co-founded Vecna in 1998 with the mission to empower humanity through transformative technology.  Vecna is a leader in logistics automation and telepresence with thousands of robots deployed worldwide.   Daniel also co-founded Vecna Cares (2008) and Mass Robotics (2015) both 501(c)3 organizations with missions to improve the lives of people around the world through ethical application of technology to solve some of the world’s toughest problems. Vecna’s talented and dedicated employees not only make it a fun and profitable business, but they also have contributed over 100,000 hours of community service to date.  Daniel has a blast serving as the Chief Innovation Officer at Vecna and currently serves as the President of MassRobotics. He graduated from MIT where he worked as a researcher on the Mars Rover in the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

5 Disruptors You’ve Never Heard Of

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.

Mobile robots break traditions

Putting people first: Safety, efficiency, and the autonomous workplace

Originally published in InTech Magazine

By Daniel Theobald

A new wave of automation is building, and it will affect (almost) everything. Robotic technology was once limited to operating behind light curtains, cages, and doors. Now, mobile robots are breaking away from these traditional confines to appear in dynamic, peopled environments like offices, health-care facilities, classrooms, factory floors, agriculture, and distribution centers.


CTO Daniel Theobald weighs in on collaborative robots

In May’s issue of Automation World, Vecna CTO Daniel Theobald weighs in on robots working collaboratively in peopled environments.

Robots that operate independently, blockaded behind light curtains and other barriers, will soon give way to collaborative robots that work interactively with humans. Design teams are already employing sensors and software to help robots work closely with people to handle heavy payloads while working in close proximity with people.


Engadget showcases machines ready for hard work

Team Vecna attended RoboUniverse with the QC Bot logistics robot this week. The QC Bot (for Quality Care) is one of its series of assistive robotic platforms for busy medical locations. It provides secure, autonomous delivery of medicines (like chemotherapy doses) from the pharmacy directly to nurses stations through a healthcare facility.

See the slideshow here.

Vecna offers testing facility to MassRobotics

Vecna Technologies CTO Daniel Theobald gave Robotics Business Review a private tour of his company’s facilities, which allow for rapid iterative testing.

He also gave a glimpse at a full-service co-working space that startups could lease through MassRobotics.

In addition, Theobald noted that the industry should “dial down the hype” and focus on maintaining security and solving actual business problems.

Read the full article here.

Vecna CTO talks about nurturing roboticists

Daniel Theobald, co-founder and CTO of Vecna Technologies Inc., discusses the shortage in qualified engineers with Robotics Business Review.

Vecna has been making robots for five years and serves the healthcare, search and rescue, and materials handling markets.

The emphasis on STEM education in schools is good, but not sufficient, says Theobald. Educating talented people on worthwhile careers in robotics is key, he says.

Read the full article here. 

Diane, the robot star of Beauvais Hospital

This is the kind of employee all bosses dream of. Always available, almost infallible, never tired and even-tempered. Her name Diane. Every day, this robot travels, without flinching, several kilometers through the maze of corridors of the hospital of Beauvais. Her mission: to carry packets of chemotherapy fluid from the pharmacy to the day hospital or to the hematology-oncology ward.

A first in Europe.


CTO Daniel Theobald discusses the Safety to Autonomy Curve in CIO Review

Robots are cropping up in every industry, from consumer goods to manufacturing to hospitality, and everywhere in between. It’s no secret that robots will change the way we live and work, but the adoption of automated solutions in the United States has been slow going. According to a recent study by PWC, 41% of manufacturing companies surveyed said they do not currently use robotics technology and they don’t intend to in the next three years.


CTO Daniel Theobald featured on Dutch Documentary

Dutch Public Television features Vecna CoFounder and CTO, Daniel Theobald, in a short documentary on the future impact of automation in the service industry. Theobald joins Andrew McAfee in discussing the New Robotic Economy. He also introduces QC Bot, and describes the need for robots in alleviating highly trained clinical staff of routine tasks like manual transport of materials and medications in a hospital environment.

Watch the video here.

Robots Are Everywhere

Robots have come a long way in just a few years. They have advanced far beyond the mammoth welding bots in automotive. Those robots didn’t play well with humans. Now we’re seeing robots that are designed to interact safely and productively alongside people. We’re also seeing stronger robots with greater flexibility, more sophisticated software, and improved vision capabilities.


QC Bot Securely Transporting Endoscopes at CHU de Nantes

Vecna’s QC Bot on-demand delivery robot was recently featured by the French publication Sciences et Avenir. The article titled Betty, a Robot that Walks the Corridors of the University Hospital of Nantes, explains how CHU is currently using QC Bot to securely transport sterilized endoscopes to various hospital departments. CHU plans to add a second QC Bot to their team in the 2nd quarter of 2014.

Sciences et Avenir is a monthly magazine established in 1947 that covers popular sciences.

Read the full article here.