June 09, 2017      

BOSTON — At PTC LiveWorx here last month, Robo Business Media, the parent company of Robotics Business Review and Robotics Trends, hosted the conference’s first-ever track on robotics, artificial intelligence, and the Industrial Internet of Things. Participants from Massachusetts’ robot cluster discussed the state of automation, new technologies, and products that are coming soon.

One noteworthy session focused on the topic of Massachusetts as a leader in the robotics industry. Along with California’s Silicon Valley and Pittsburgh, Pa., the state is well-known as a contender for the title of the top U.S. robotics hub. Getting to hear Massachusetts’ case for why it should be Nol. 1 made for an entertaining and informative panel.

Business Takeaways:

  • Massachusetts continues to be a top state for robotics and AI R&D in the U.S. with its combination of leading universities and private robotics companies.
  • Government investment into the local robot cluster offers incentives for companies to remain in the state, as well as a way to attract new startups to the area.
  • Massachusetts remains focused on future of robotics as it adds more robotics and technology-related learning to classrooms of its public schools, which already rank among the best in the nation.

New England strong in robotics

The LiveWorx panelists were quick to identify the benefits of locating in Massachusetts. First is the availability of university graduates, many of whom stay to work around Boston.

Second is the advantage of being in a robot cluster, which makes it easier to find partners and clients, as well as space to locate startups.

And last is the state government, which has helped cultivate the industry through significant monetary investment over the years. After healthcare and biotechnology, robotics has become one of top industries in Massachusetts.

Schools are the foundation for commercial robotics success

“Lead, collaborate, and innovate” is the mantra of Katie Stebbins, assistant secretary of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship for the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Stebbins is also one of the state’s women to watch in science.

The robot cluster in Massachusetts benefits from graduates from MIT and other schools.

MIT is among the universities offering leading robotics programs in Massachusetts.

In fact, “Lead, collaborate, and innovate” could very well be the motto for Massachusetts as a whole. The state is home to institutions such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Harvard University, and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI). Robotics programs at each of these provide talent and spinoffs.

More than 150 robotics companies reside in Massachusetts, whose robot cluster employs more 4,700 people. CyPhy Works, iRobot, and Vecna are among the established robotics businesses. Startups such as Jibo and Boston Dynamics (which was just acquired by Japan’s SoftBank) also take advantage of local research and development.

State nurtures robot cluster

Despite Massachusetts’ already impressive position, the state government is actively investing in the local robotics industry, providing financial support for the robotics sector to continue growing.

Although Massachusetts may not be able to beat California in sheer amounts of available venture capital, Stebbins noted that the state still attracts millions in financial investment and is uniquely competitive.

“Our major export is talent,” said Stebbins. “We can approach healthcare and robotics in a way you can’t do anywhere else.”

Other industry leaders are quick to back up Stebbins’ words.

“There’s a richness of the cluster activity [in Massachusetts],” said Mark Smithers, chief technology officer of Boston Engineering. “We are the envy of the nation, when they really see what we have here.”

More on Robotics Clusters:

Investing in the future of robotics

Massachusetts is also looking to the future of robotics, specifically by bringing in technology into classrooms of schools statewide, which are among the best in the world.

Stebbins spoke at length about this ongoing trend, saying that she sees “a trend of more Maker spaces in classrooms; 3D printers are more common. There’s also a shift of more students going to vocational schools, but instead of going right into the workforce, they’re going to college”

This exposes students to potential career paths earlier on in their education, giving them time to investigate further or even go to a vocational school that offers a robotics, engineering, or computer science-focused curriculum.

Stebbins also works to ensure that students in the western part of Massachusetts are afforded the same access to technology and robotics as those near Boston.

“How do we make sure that our lowest-income, poorest students are at the forefront of tech?” she asked. “In Holyoke Public Schools [recently taken over by the state], in one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, they’re teaching cyber security in 7th and 8th grades.”

With targeted, practical changes like these, Massachusetts hopes to foster its continued dominance in the robotics industry. The state’s robot cluster is continuing to grow and evolve, a sign that it will be worth investing in for years to come.