Carnegie Mellon University today announced the launch of a new firm, Carnegie Robotics LLC, which will develop, manufacture and service robotic components and systems in partnership with the university’s highly successful National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC).
Carnegie Robotics will create products based upon technology licensed from the NREC, an arm of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute that performs applied research and prototype development for industrial and government organizations. John Bares, director of the NREC since 1997, has taken a leave of absence from the university to lead the startup company. Anthony Stentz, who has served as associate director since 1997, will take over leadership of the NREC.
“NREC is a tremendous success story; it has experienced robust growth for more than a decade,” said Mark S. Kamlet, Carnegie Mellon executive vice president and provost. “By turning NREC’s innovations into commercial products, Carnegie Robotics will further strengthen NREC while expanding the robotics industry in western Pennsylvania.”
Bares said Carnegie Robotics will initially concentrate on producing extremely reliable components that other manufacturers can use to automate machines used in such fields as mining, agriculture, petroleum production and defense. But as the company develops its own production expertise, plans call for manufacturing and servicing entire robotic systems. Both the company and NREC might also benefit from jointly marketing their services, he added.
“NREC has become the ‘go to’ organization for performing applied research and prototype development for field robots,” Stentz said. “But now when we deliver a prototype, NREC customers increasingly want to know who can convert the prototype to a manufacturable product, as well as support and service the product over its lifetime. By addressing this production need, NREC will occupy a more competitive position and realize continued growth.”
The company has leased space within the NREC facility, a renovated foundry in the Lawrenceville neighborhood of Pittsburgh about three miles from the Carnegie Mellon campus.
“Carnegie is a storied industrial name, particularly here in western Pennsylvania,” said Matt Mason, director of the Robotics Institute. “I know John and his team will work hard to build a company that lives up to the Carnegie name and that will help this region retain more of the talented roboticists and engineers who are trained here.”
The NREC opened in 1996 as an operating unit within the Robotics Institute. The brainchild of William “Red” Whittaker, the Fredkin University Professor of Robotics and director of the Field Robotics Center, the NREC has focused on developing commercial applications of mobile robots for such companies as John Deere, Shell Oil, Caterpillar and Consol Energy.
The NREC has developed a number of unmanned ground vehicles and autonomous systems for the Defense Department, ranging from a virtual 3D video system for enhanced teleoperation of vehicles to advanced large robotic vehicles, such as Crusher and the Autonomous Platform Demonstrator. NREC researchers are developing robots for sorting strawberry plants and, in a U.S. Department of Agriculture project, applying robotic technology to the operation of orange groves. A commercially sustainable branch of the NREC develops research-based K-12 educational content used by millions of students in formal and informal educational settings across the world. The NREC continues to push into new markets and recently began work on SensaBot, an inspection robot for offshore petroleum production facilities.
Sponsored research at the NREC increased from $16.9 million in fiscal year 2005 to $24.8 million in fiscal year 2010; during the same five-year period, industry-sponsored research increased from $853,000 to $8.7 million. The center, which now employs 120 people, is in the process of expanding its Lawrenceville facility.
“As NREC director it was clear to me that for many mobile robot applications, the technology is now matured enough to sustain a robust products business,” Bares said. “We believe NREC, Carnegie Robotics and western Pennsylvania are uniquely positioned to capitalize on this opportunity.”