Vecna’s “Nerds” Ready BEAR Robot for First Field Test at Georgia Army Base
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steps on two legs and jump without falling. Work on the current treaded mobility system began in 2007 after the company spent several years developing the robot on a Segway platform. Allen explains that the two-wheeled Segway base could move the robot over open fields, but it was unable to climb over trees, navigate ditches, or go up stairs. In its current state, the tracked system can move over objects 3.5 feet high.
MIT-trained engineer Daniel Theobald, who co-founded Vecna in 1998, invented the BEAR and began developing the robot more than five years ago. The project has been funded with between $3 million and $4 million in federal grants, Allen says. Vecna now has some 110 employees located primarily at offices in Cambridge and Greenbelt, MD. Theobald, president and chief technology officer of Vecna, and CEO Debra Theobald are husband and wife.
Robotics is a growing business at Vecna, which is also developing systems to detect biological and chemical threats, as well as software and hardware to automate hospital check-ins, among other technologies. Over the past year, Vecna has more than doubled the size of its robotics team to 13 people. Most notably, the firm last year hired robotics designer Chi Won, a former employee at Burlington, MA-based iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT) and one of the inventors of that company’s well-known Roomba vacuum robot and its PacBot robot for military and industrial uses, according to Vecna. The beefed up robotics group is also developing a companion robot for the BEAR called Porter (named after the T station in Cambridge)—Allen compared the BEAR and Porter combination to bipedal Star Wars robot C-3PO and his sidekick R2-D2. But unlike R2-D2, which had three wheels, Porter moves around on four wheels and may be used to carry large military radios and munitions, he says.