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Heartland Robotics will unveil first product by January 2013 (if not before)

Posted by Scott Kirsner  May 7, 2012 02:44 PM

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One of the stealthiest Boston companies I've been obsessed with for a couple years now is Heartland Robotics.

Why?

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos was the company's first investor. Rodney Brooks, founder of Heartland and previously a co-founder of iRobot, left a tenured faculty position at MIT to dedicate more time to the company. The team includes a CEO with experience at Dell, and other employees from Bose, NASA, 3M, and Dean Kamen's DEKA Research.

And the company has a big vision: "Robots will change the way we work," Heartland's web site proclaims. "They will have intelligence and awareness. They will be teachable, safe and affordable. They will make us productive in ways we never imagined."

scotteckert.jpgBrooks has apparently told people that Heartland is working on the robotics industry's version of the iPhone — an affordable-enough device (their target price is about $5000) that will be intuitive to use, and that will spawn a community of app developers who write software for it. It'll be designed to perform a variety of packaging or light manufacturing tasks, sources have told me. The robot may also be capable of being "trained" to perform a certain repetitive task just by moving its arm and gripper. Heartland's product, according to those who've seen it demoed, could potentially put robots in lots of small and medium-sized business. (Here's my 2010 background report on what the company is up to.)

Now, it looks like Heartland is laying the groundwork for a launch, perhaps at the 2013 Automate trade show in Chicago, put on by the Association for Advancing Automation. Heartland CEO Scott Eckert (pictured at right) confirmed that the company will be an exhibitor at the show, but wouldn't say much else.

Heartland also recently hired Mitch Rosenberg to run marketing; he'd previously headed up marketing and product management at Kiva Systems, a maker of warehouse robots recently acquired by Amazon.

That makes it seem like the company could have something to announce fairly soon — perhaps even before next January.

Frank Tobe of The Robot Report shared an exhibitor map (below) of the upcoming Automate trade show. He also noted that "Meka Robotics, Willow Garage and SRI announced a new startup competitor to Heartland, Redwood Robotics. Their new website says that Redwood will be offering a new generation of robot arms which are simple to program, inexpensive, and safe to operate alongside people. Those three partners bring a lot of robotic talent to the table. 2013 is going to be a fascinating year for robotics." (Here's a recent Xconomy piece on Redwood.)

Automate-2013-exhibitor-map-400.jpg

And here's a video of Brooks talking about the future of manufacturing 'bots, shot in 2009 at Maker Faire:

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About Scott Kirsner

Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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