R&D Tax Credit Aspects of Massachusetts Robotics Cluster
The transformative power of robotics is
already impacting various industries. In the U.S., the
long-awaited robotics revolution has an unquestionable
epicenter: Massachusetts. The state is home to some 100
robotics companies, which employ more than 3,200 people.
According to the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council,
the Massachusetts robotics industry reported almost $2 billion
in sales and $52.4 million in private investments in 2011.
The present article
will discuss the comparative advantage of the Massachusetts
robotics cluster, its composition, and the wave of disruptive
innovation it has experienced. It will further assess the huge
business potential of the state's robotics companies and the
R&D tax credit opportunity available to assist them in the
full realization of such potential.
The Research &
Development Tax Credit
Enacted in 1981, the Federal Research and
Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit of up to 13
percent of eligible spending for new and improved products and
processes. Qualified research must meet the following four
Eligible costs include employee wages,
cost of supplies, cost of testing, contract research expenses,
and costs associated with developing a patent. On
January 2, 2013, President Obama signed the bill extending the
R&D Tax Credit for 2012 and 2013 tax years.
- New or improved products,
processes, or software
- Technological in nature
- Elimination of uncertainty
- Process of experimentation
Long-awaited technology advancements for
robots are now gaining momentum as recent developments in
electronics, hardware, and components (such as sensors, motion
controls, and vision systems) trigger an unprecedented wave of
robotic innovation. Robots once confined to the labs have
become indispensable to a wide range of operations. From
industry and agriculture to healthcare and defense, robots are
no longer a futuristic possibility but an ever-more common
A new generation of
smart automated products has proved the revolutionary and
disruptive power of robotics. Today, robots are not only able
to automate manufacturing and warehouse logistics, but they
assist in noninvasive surgeries and physical rehabilitation,
perform hazardous military missions, and engage in domestics
tasks such as vacuum cleaning. In other words, robots increase
productiveness and competitiveness while creating new
Industry giants have
shown unprecedented interest in the blooming field of
robotics. Google acquired eight robotics companies in 2013,
including American and Japanese companies that have pioneered
various technologies, such as software for advanced robots
arms, grasping abilities, and computer vision. Although the
Internet giant has been tight-lipped about the specific plans
for its growing robot collection, the scale of investment
leaves no questions as to its intention of building a new
class of autonomous systems.
Launched in 2011,
the National Robotics Initiative (NRI) seeks to accelerate the
development of robots that can work cooperatively with people,
extending or augmenting human capabilities. The program is
supported by different federal agencies, including the
National Science Foundation (NSF), the National Aeronautics
and Space Administration (NASA), the National Institutes of
Health (NIH), the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and
the Department of Defense (DOD), through the Defense
University Research Instrumentation Program.
By fostering the
development of the next generation of co-robots, the NRI aims
at advancing specific goals and applications, such as
increasing labor productivity in the manufacturing sector,
assisting with dangerous and expensive missions in space,
accelerating the discovery of new drugs, and improving food
safety by rapidly sensing microbial contamination.
revolution creates major opportunities both for robotics
companies and for related and supporting industries, which are
directed impacted by robotics applications.
Clustering is the phenomenon whereby firms
from the same industry concentrate geographically. The
interconnected businesses that compose a cluster enjoy a
series of benefits usually reserved for large companies, known
as economies of scale. Clusters combine a concentration of
expertise and skilled workers, easy access to suppliers, and
privileged channels of information, which ultimately decrease
costs per unit of output.
Street, and the Silicon Valley are typical examples of U.S.
clusters. However, recent years have seen the consolidation of
a new vibrant cluster as the state of Massachusetts
concentrates unmatched quantity of robotics companies. It is
now safe to say that the state has a unique intellectual
infrastructure, talent pool, entrepreneurial environment, and
history of successful innovation in the field of robotics.
position of "Robotics Capital of the World", the Massachusetts
Technology Leadership Council highlights five pillars of the
state's competitive advantage, namely, 1) critical mass of
world-class universities, 2) cutting-edge robotics research
and development, 3) highly skilled workforce, 4) innovative
companies producing and utilizing robotics applications, and
5) skilled supporting and related industries.
home to more than 100 robotics companies, 60% of which are
less than 10 years old. 35 robotics research and development
programs are currently underway in 10 different Massachusetts
academic institutions. Between 2008 and 2013, investments in
Massachusetts's robotics industry amounted to $209 million and
18 robotics start-ups were established in the state.
An analysis of the Massachusetts robotics industry between
2008 and 2011 leaves no doubt as to the cluster's thriving
Massachusetts Robotics Growth Indicators
SOURCE: Mass Technology Leadership Council,
The Massachusetts Robotics Revolution, 2013, page 7.
industry in Massachusetts experienced an average annual
revenue growth rate of 11% between 2008 and 2011. A survey of
companies showed great optimism, as 80% believed in continued
growth for the near future.
Massachusetts is home to some of the
country's leading research institutions whose efforts in the
field of robotics have fueled the industry's rapid growth. In
addition to major R&D breakthroughs, such institutions
also provide a world-class talent pool of highly skilled
professionals. The following table, originally published by
the Mass Technology Leadership Council, presents an overview
of focused robotics higher education programs as well as
R&D programs currently underway in Massachusetts'
- Hybrid & Networked
Systems: specializes in
networked mobile robotics.
- Intelligent Mechatronics Lab:
works with medical robotics,
structural dynamics, and mobile robot communications.
- Neuromorphics Lab:
develop bio-inspired computers and robots. Focus areas
include the application of neural technology to mobile
- Andersson Lab:
specializes in the autonomous control of robots. Ongoing
efforts focus on the development of sensors and
- BioRobotics Research Group:
activities include medical robots and instrument design,
development of imaging techniques for surgical guidance,
modeling of tool-tissue interaction, and
tele-operation/automation of instrument motion.
- Human Adaptation Lab:
develops robotic exoskeletons for human rehabilitation.
Brandeis' Dynamical &
Evolutionary Machine Organization (DEMO) Lab
has focused on automated modular design and the use of
generative encodings, the autonomous evolution of
dynamic gaits in legged robots, and the innovative
concept of embodied revolution of robots.
- Robotics Lab, Division of
Engineering and Applied Sciences:
specializes in micro-robotics, analog computation,
choreography of dynamical systems, control of quantum
systems, pattern generation, and robotic system
- Wyss Institute for
Biologically Inspired Engineering:
through the study of human biomechanics, the Institute
has developed robotic tools for rehabilitation and
surgical purposes as well as innovative medical devices.
- Computer Science and
Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL):
specializes in modular and self- reconfiguring robots,
distributed algorithms and systems of self-organizing
robots, networks of robots and sensors for
first-responders, mobile sensor networks, animals and
robots, cooperative underwater robotics, desktop
robotics, and forming, moving, and navigating sparse 2D
and 3D structures.
- Newman Lab for Biomechanics,
Mechanical Engineering Department:
works on the development of physical therapy devices.
- MIT Media Lab:
devoted to projects that promote convergence of
technology, multimedia, and design, the
interdisciplinary MIT Media lab has engaged in various
The Personal Robots group researches
the social engagement of robots aimed at providing
social and emotional support as well as assisting in
The Mechatronics Group
focuses on the merging of body and machine. Ongoing
projects include device architectures that resemble the
body's musculoskeletal design, actuator technologies
that behave like muscle, and control methodologies that
exploit principles of biological movement.
The MIT Sea Grant AUV Lab
works on the development and application
of autonomous underwater vehicles, known as unmanned
- Marine Science Center
Biomimetic Underwater Robot Program:
has the objective of enabling engineered devices with
the adaptive capabilities of marine animal models.
Through a biomimetic approach, it has focused on the
development of sensors, actuators, adaptive logic
systems, and electronic nervous systems.
- Biomedical Mechatronics Lab
(BMl), Department of Mechanical & Industrial
Engineering: specializes in
rehabilitation and medical applications of robots.
Studies the design, fabrication, control, and testing of
novel robotic systems.
Olin College of Engineering
Working in partnership with corporate sponsors,
Olin College's students develop multi-disciplinary
full-year robotics projects. Ongoing projects focus on
the creation of unmanned ground, surface, and autonomous
- Neuromechanics and Biomimetic
Devices Lab: Through the
incorporation of biomaterials, neuromechanical
controllers, and compliant microelectronics, the lab has
focused on the development of "biomimetic soft-bodied
- Human Robot Interaction Lab:
ongoing projects focus on affective control and
evolution interactions between affect and cognition;
cognitive robotics for human- robot interaction;
embodied situated natural language interactions; among
- Advanced Technologies Lab:
focus areas include mobile robot navigation, endoscopic
surgery, and educational robots.
- Robotics Lab:
studies human-robot interaction for assistive
technology, search, and rescue applications
- New England Robotics
Validation and Experimentation Testing Center:
services robotics research programs and companies from
Laboratory for Perceptual
Robotics: specializes in solving
sensory and motor problems. Current projects include
sensor networks, mobile
manipulators, and integrated bimanual humanoids.
UMass Dartmouth's engineering research program
includes the study of advanced controls for robotics.
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Creator of the nation's first fully integrated
Bachelor of Science degree program in Robotics
Engineering, WPI also offers MS and PhD programs in
robotics. Recent projects by WPI students include search
and rescue robots, a rehabilitative robotic glove, and
robots to improve communications skills of children with
Woods Hole Oceanographic
Ongoing efforts include the development of
autonomous underwater vehicles.
The Massachusetts robotics cluster is home
to a wide variety of robotics companies from different
segments (for a complete list of companies, see Appendix I).
The following illustration depicts the diversity of segments
represented in the state.
Massachusetts Robotics Cluster Diversity
SOURCE: Mass Technology Leadership Council,
The Massachusetts Robotics Revolution, 2013, page 7.
Located in a hub for
innovation, Massachusetts companies have pioneered numerous
commercially successful products, such as the first ground
robots to support U.S. troops and the first self-service
robots for hospitals. The following paragraphs will present an
overview of the cluster's companies and their ongoing
Named one of the
world's most innovative companies of 2014 by Fast Company
Magazine, Bedford-based iRobot is at the heart of the
Massachusetts robotics cluster. In 2008, the company generated
one third of the cluster's sales. Its origin, over two decades
ago, can be traced back to the MIT Artificial Intelligence
Lab, demonstrating the intimate link between academic research
and commercial production.
IRobot designs and
manufactures service robots for consumer, government, and
industrial markets. As for March 2014, the company has sold
more than 10 million home robots, most of them being the
award-winning Roomba self-operated vacuum cleaner. Launched in
2002, Roomba pioneered the world of practical robots. 12 years
later, iRobot's line of home robots includes the Scooba Floor
Scrubbing Robot, the Braava Floor Mopping Robot, the Mirra
Pool Cleaning Robot, and the Looj Gutter Cleaning Robot.
The company has also
played an important role in the fields of defense and
security, delivering more than 5,000 combat-proven robots
worldwide. IRobot PackBot has been used in multiple dangerous
situations, including search, reconnaissance, and
bomb-disposal missions. Other iRobot's military robots are the
Small Unmanned Ground Vehicle, developed for the U.S. Army
modernization program, the iRobot FirstLook, and the iRobot
IRobot also works on remote presence
solutions. Its latest products include the AVA 500 video
collaboration robot, which enables the autonomous telepresence
of remote workers, and the telemedicine robot RP-VITA, which
offers unlimited connection between patients and physicians.
Deeply committed to
innovation, iRobot invested $60 million in new technologies in
2013. The company's goal "is to drive innovation, serve as an
industry catalyst and change the world by fueling the era of
Founded 2008 by a
co-founder of iRobots, Rodney Brooks, Rethink Robotics is also
a pioneer of the robotics industry. The company's Baxter
Robot, an engaging low cost self-programmable robot, is
gaining tremendous attention as it redefines the way robots
can be used in manufacturing environments.
Different from other
industrial robots, Baxter is capable of sensing and adapting
to its tasks and environments. It exhibits a behavior-based
'common-sense' that allows it to work safely and intelligently
next to people. The robot's humanoid features - two 7-axis
arms, 360degree sonar and front camera, and interchangeable
end-effectors - further enhance its adaptability.
Thanks to its unique
low price point and to the easy programming and integration it
enables, Baxter is making robotic automation solution a
reality to companies that could never previously consider it.
Robots, however, are
not confined to manufacturing environments. Faced with the
growing challenge of labor scarcity, the agricultural industry
is increasingly turning towards robotics. Located in a hub for
farming robotics innovation, Massachusetts companies have
pioneered the world of automated harvesting solutions.
Billerica-based Harvest Automation has
developed the HV-100, a small robot designed to work alongside
humans in horticulture. Also known as Harvey, the robot
specializes in spacing and re-spacing plant beds as well as
collecting containers in smaller farming applications, like
nurseries and greenhouses. It is equipped with camera sensors,
can handle up to 22 lbs., and can perform 200 moves per hour,
in all weathers, day or night.
Robotics, a Cambridge-based software company specialized in
autonomous vehicle development, has partnered with KINZE
Manufacturing for the development of a fully autonomous
large-scale vehicle for row crop environments. The driverless
grain cart system can haul up to 30 tons of material. It is
capable of performing a complete workflow during the harvest
process, which means locating a moving harvester,
synchronizing with it, collecting its grain, and delivering
them to trucks for transportation. Such a solution
significantly increases productivity particularly of corn and
Recently acquired by
Google, Boston Dynamics is yet another example of innovation
in the Massachusetts cluster. The company has gained
international reputation for advancing mobile and off-road
robotics technology. Its animal kingdom-themed machines, such
as the BigDog and WildCat robots, are extremely agile, capable
of walking over rough terrains, climbing walls and trees, and
even running faster than human beings. Boston Dynamics was
founded in 1992 and has since worked mainly for Pentagon
clients, such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency
(DARPA), the U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps.
is also a blooming area for the Massachusetts robotics
cluster. Wilmington-based Symbotic (formerly CasePick Systems)
has been a pioneer of integrated supply network automation
solutions for warehouses and distribution centers. Using
innovative robotics and rack systems, the company's
MatrixSelect is designed to optimize fulfillment,
transportation, and logistics. Their autonomous mobile robots,
called MatrixBots, can travel freely throughout the storage
structure accessing any product, in any location and at any
time at a very high throughput rate, delivering product in
sequence to build stable, store-friendly pallets.
Home to one of the nation's most vibrant
clusters, Massachusetts is at the forefront of robotics
innovation. Congregating more than 100 companies and 10
research institutions, the state offers a highly favorable
environment for the development and commercialization of
cutting-edge automation solutions. Massachusetts robotics
companies should take advantage of federal R&D tax credits
to further enhance their role as catalysts of the ongoing