Baker-Polito Administration Awards $4.4M Grant for New Boston University Robotics R&D Facility

BU’S new Robotics and Autonomous Systems Teaching and Innovation Center will feature autonomous vehicles, a soft robotics zone, and more.

The Massachusetts Technology Collaborative this week awarded Boston University more than $4 million for its new robotics facility.

The Baker-Polito Administration earlier this week announced it has awarded a $4.3 million grant to Boston University’s new Robotics and Autonomous Systems Teaching and Innovation Center, or RASTIC.

The award is from the Commonwealth’s Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant program, an effort managed by the Innovation Institute at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative (MassTech).

The project will drive the development of new innovations with private-sector partners in Massachusetts and increase student research opportunities in the robotics space, according to MassTech.

“Robotics and autonomous systems are rapidly emerging, complex technologies that are changing the nature of work, and the economy itself, creating challenges and opportunities for college graduates,” said BU President Robert A. Brown.

“To prepare our students for a changing world, Boston University has invested significantly in this area,” he added. “We are grateful for the commonwealth’s support for this new center and look forward to seeing the breakthroughs in robotics and autonomous systems resulting from this partnership.”

New center focuses on real-world applications

RASTIC said it will emphasize real-world prototyping projects to integrate new materials, functionality, and artificial intelligence into robotic devices, delivering tools that will allow students to design and launch their own research and development projects.

The grant will support a three-year, $8.78 million project managed by BU in collaboration with Boston-based MassRobotics and six industry partners, including AETLabs, Ava Robotics, Boston Scientific, GreenSight, Intel, and Ubiros.

“The new center will accelerate the integration of AI into robotic systems, moving away from scripted operation toward robots that can better perceive their environment, reason, and operate autonomously,” said Yannis Paschalidis, principal investigator of BU RASTIC, CISE director, and BU professor of engineering, computing, and data sciences.

“It will help us better train the robotics workforce of the future, and also enhance translational efforts that leverage cutting-edge robotics and autonomy research at BU to impact new commercial products,” Paschalidis added. 

The new center will be 2,000 sq ft, according to BU Today. Source: Boston University 

New center will be broken into four zones

Once launched, RASTIC will become a “neutral space” where companies can work directly with faculty and students, encouraging hands-on projects to design, prototype, and test new robotic devices. The facilities will include four distinct zones that will provide simulated and scaled settings to mimic the complex environments in which robotic devices and systems must operate.

The four zones consist of:

  • A scaled miniature city to design and test autonomous vehicle algorithms
  • A “soft robotics” zone, with equipment for rapid prototyping, such as 3D printers, thermoforming machines, ovens, vacuum chamber, and small fabrication equipment
  • A planning and control zone, which will allow experiments with robots from companies such as iRobot and Boston Dynamics for the application of small computing and control platforms
  • An AI zone, which will provide access to a Robot Operating System (ROS) infrastructure, which uses physics-based simulation, as well as experimentation with hardware to test and deploy robotic devices

Investment will help BU admit more graduate students in robotics

The Massachusetts infrastructure investment will expand and enhance BU’s existing R&D facilities while enriching the robotics courses offered at BU. It will allow for an increased enrollment in the university’s graduate-level robotics degree program by up to 80 more students per year, or five times the current capacity, MassTech said.

The capabilities of the new RASTIC facility align with Massachusetts’ robotics industry strengths in autonomous aerial vehicles, connected autonomous vehicles, medical robotics, and soft robotics. It will also support the R&D needs of growing companies in these areas, according to MassTech.

The facility will also be used as part of BU’s Technology Innovation Scholars Program. The program connects student mentors with K-12 students at 21 Boston-area schools, 15 of which are in low-income districts.

RASTIC will enable BU to provide additional mentors and invite K-12 students to the facility for summer enrichment programs.

“The Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Program has been a key piece of our strategy to build on our track record of successes and keep the commonwealth on the cutting edge of innovation,” said Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, chair of the MassTech Collaborative board of directors.

“In our recently filed FORWARD legislation, we’ve proposed an increase in funding for the Collaborative R&D program, so we can strengthen our support for investments like RASTIC, which will accelerate the enhancement of testing capability and the talent pipeline across our state,” he added.

“BU has been a strong partner in advancing our tech and innovation ecosystem, partnering with the private sector to drive new R&D opportunities,” said Pat Larkin, Director of the Innovation Institute at MassTech.

“Their collaboration with a leading organizations like MassRobotics, and the partnership with numerous private-sector partners, highlights its ability to move great ideas from concept, to the drawing board, into the real world,” Larkin said. 

MassTech gives more than $43M to R&D

To date, the Collaborative R&D Matching Grant program has awarded more than $43 million to projects across the state, leveraging more than $55 million in matching contributions from outside partners.

This includes 10 projects that have supported innovative industry-academic collaborations and investment in novel R&D infrastructure to bolster the Massachusetts tech and innovation economy statewide.

Emerging industries supported through the grant program include cloud computing, marine robotics, printed electronics, cybersecurity/data science, and nanomaterials/smart sensors.

These investments have led to the formation of 90 new industry partnerships and 54 intellectual property and licensing agreements in the past two years.

“Thanks to the partners involved with this project and the ongoing investments made by the leading companies in our state, Massachusetts continues to be a global leader in the research and development of robotics,” said Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker.

“This new investment will supercharge our talent pipeline, providing students and researchers with the cutting-edge tools to work collaboratively with these leading firms, helping advance ‘Made in Massachusetts’ robotics innovation,” he added. 

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