Business & Tech

There’s a new home for robots and their makers in Boston

Colin Angle, iRobot’s CEO, says the new shared workspace for fledgling businesses can help ensure that Massachusetts “exploits its current leadership and natural strengths” in the robotics field.

Charles Krupa/Associated Press/File 2016

Colin Angle, iRobot’s CEO, says the new shared workspace for fledgling businesses can help ensure that Massachusetts “exploits its current leadership and natural strengths” in the robotics field.

Entrepreneurs and engineers designing new kinds of robots will soon have a home in Boston — fittingly, in an industrial corner of the neighborhood often called the Innovation District.

MassRobotics, a nonprofit formed in 2014 to support the state’s robotics industry, plans to open a new shared startup space on Channel Street in South Boston this month, with the official opening set for Feb. 9.

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The MassRobotics space, at about 15,000 square feet, will be able to house roughly 30 companies, said executive director Tom Ryden, a former sales and marketing executive at Bedford-based iRobot Corp. “We think we’ll have it mostly full by the time we open,” Ryden said, noting that the list of companies interested in moving in has at times surpassed 40.

Most companies, he added, will have fewer than 15 employees, and will have access to office space, laboratory benches, and communal equipment like computer-controlled lathes, 3-D printers, and laser cutters. The equipment will enable companies to produce their own parts and prototypes on-site, Ryden says.

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Among the tenants planning to move in to the space are a startup making drones for farmers, American Robotics, and a firm that makes investments in robotics startups, according to Ryden.

Daniel Theobald, chief executive of Vecna, a robot developer in Cambridge, said that MassRobotics will help “increase collaboration between industry, investors, and engineers, ensuring that we are solving the right problems with robotics.” Theobald was one of the initial catalysts behind the organization, and serves on the MassRobotics board.

IRobot CEO Colin Angle said that the robotics industry “is still in its infancy,” and that a shared workspace for fledgling businesses can help ensure that Massachusetts “exploits its current leadership and natural strengths” in the robotics field.

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Two big questions for MassRobotics, said industry analyst Dan Kara, is how much demand there will be from startups seeking office space, and whether it will attract businesses from outside Boston. “To some extent, this is uncharted waters,” he said. But Kara added that robotics startups often need access to expensive prototyping and testing equipment. On that dimension, MassRobotics “could help companies overcome one of the major hurdles to becoming a sustainable entity.” Kara is the robotics practice director at ABI Research, a market research firm.

Though the building MassRobotics will occupy is owned by the City of Boston, Ryden said that the money for the space came from corporate sponsors, rather than the city or the state. There’s room for an eventual expansion to another floor, Ryden said, but that would require additional funding. “We already know that we’re going to outgrow this initial space.”

The MassRobotics building is in the same neighborhood where nuTonomy, a Cambridge startup, obtained permission to begin testing driverless cars this month.

Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him on Twitter @ScottKirsner.
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