2023 Recap:

A letter from our Executive Director, Tom Ryden

As we look back on the year 2023, it’s clear that robots have continued to make impressive advancements across a wide range of fields.  From healthcare to manufacturing to construction, robots are being utilized in ways that were once thought impossible.  2023 will be remembered as the year when generative AI began to transform robotics. Large language models like ChatGPT will only speed up the development of new robots.  Leveraging LLM’s knowledge to control different robot form factors for a variety of tasks, ChatGPT can generate code for robotics scenarios, allowing users without robot programming skills to easily retask robots for complex robot deployments.  Generative AI helps in creating realistic 3D object models and virtual environments, which will speed up testing of robotic systems and will help power interactions between robots and humans. 

Training of robots requires vast amounts of data and labs around the world are now collaborating to share data with profound impact.  The explosive growth of AI has led to governments getting involved in the regulation and we are pleased to help share how robotics startups may be impacted.  Earlier this year MassRobotics and four of our startups met with nine members of the UK Parliament for discussion about the future of artificial intelligence and the concerns they had regarding its use.

2023 has been a busy year for MassRobotics and our resident startups.  The year saw a sustained downturn, with venture capital firms struggling to raise funds, founders running out of runway, and down rounds spiking.  Yet we continued to add new residents, ending the year with just over 80 startups that we support in our Robotics Innovation Center.   Our startups had some great successes.  A few examples are Maglev Aero coming out of stealth at the Paris Air Show after raising north of $10M and announcing a partnership with GE Additive,  the ARM Institute funding Apparel Robotics to examine manipulating fabric with robots for pick-and-place operations, Samantha Johnson, CEO of Tatum Robotics, making the Forbes 30 Under 30 list and Glidance winning Pitchfire at RoboBusiness.

We are having more global impact, drawing startup residents from around the world, and looking for ways to broaden the impact of robotics applications.  This past year we were pleased to host Australia’s Minister for Industry and Science  and sign an MOU with the Korean Minister of Trade, Industry and Energy to encourage collaboration in the development of robotics between academia and businesses.

From our Signature Series events to our public-facing RoboBoston, we continue to engage with the larger community. This year we held our 6th annual  RoboBoston. The two-day event saw hundreds of students attend our STEM day, over 1,000 job seeking candidates interact with potential employers at our career fair, and thousands having fun at our Robot Block Party, which was kicked off with the first-ever robot parade and ribbon cutting.

Our Autonomous Vehicles, Drones, Autonomous Mobile Robots and Healthcare Robotics working groups were active.  Driven by industry challenges and partnership support, they continued to dive deep into technology verticals to help share a wide variety of stakeholders’  interests and concerns. Our Robotics Healthcare Working Group’s steering committee kicked off its 3rd catalyst Program, our AMR Working Group was instrumental in helping with the transition of our Release 1.0 AMR interoperability standard to an ISO standard and our AV Working Group is starting work in developing standards around socially aware autonomous mobility.  Just recently we announced our new latest Working Group around sustainability and clean tech.

In other exciting news we announced the MassRobotics Accelerator, powered by Mass Tech Collaborative. The first of its kind accelerator with a $100K equity-free grant program opened for applications in October.  We scouted the world over for the best robotics startups to participate in a thirteen-week mentorship and education program to be held at MassRobotics and the applications poured in.  We are going through the difficult process of selecting our first cohort for the 13 week program that starts in February 2024.

We held our first Form and Function Robotics Challenge, where university teams or individuals associated with universities created a robotics or automation project that delivers a compelling form factor specific to its tasks while accomplishing a useful function.  Teams from around the globe participated in the finals held at The Robotics Summit & Expo, showcasing everything from a robotic assisted leg brace from the University of Southern Denmark to team MAXimally’s extendable robotic arm from Seoul National University South Korea.  A panel of judges selected the Tufts University Nano Lab team to win first place with their ingestible robotic pill.  Attendees at the conference had the opportunity to vote for their favorite project and the “Audience Choice” was awarded to Smart Gripper Tethered Unmanned Ground Vehicle System from Indiana University Bloomington.  We just opened applications for next year’s challenge.

Our STEM program team delivered on its promise of continued growth.   We had over 1,000 students visit us this year.  We ran two summer academies – our popular annual Drone Academy, sponsored by Amazon Robotics, and our newly created BlueTech Robotics Academy, in partnership with MITRE.   We announced the expansion of our successful Jump Start Fellowship Program and next year we’ll be offering high school girls hands-on classes and internships in Boston and Lowell, MA.  We were proud to highlight our accomplishments with the publication of our inaugural  STEM Impact report

We celebrated the achievement of two outstanding female roboticists at our Women in Robotics GalaThe pouring rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of the over 150 attendees at the Museum of Science’s Washburn Pavilion overlooking the Charles River in Boston.  It was a celebration of not just the accomplishments of two extraordinary women, Dr. Nancy Amato (Head of the Computer Science Department and Abel Bliss Professor of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Dr. Alyssa Pierson (Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Boston University), but it gave us a chance to highlight the strides being made by women and others in the world of robotics.

It is amazing the breadth and depth that we have accomplished in 2023.  I am not sure how our small, but growing, dedicated team does it all. I am looking forward to seeing all the things we achieve in 2024.