By Erich Schwartzel
Carnegie Mellon University plans to turn its research prototypes into marketplace products with the creation of Carnegie Robotics LLC, a spinoff of the university's National Robotics Engineering Center in Lawrenceville.
Carnegie Robotics is the latest example of a university initiative turning professors into entrepreneurs and nonprofit university research into for-profit products.
John Bares, who oversaw growth at the robotics engineering center from 20 to 120 employees in the past 13 years, will head the four-employee startup.
Anthony Stentz, the robotics engineering center's associate director since 1997, will take over as director.
Dr. Bares said on Monday that the new venture was a departure from the isolation of the research lab - this effort requires a crash course in entrepreneurial skills such as marketing and customer care.
The new venture is "exercising in a different direction" for him, although some of it may feel like deja vu from the early days of building the robotics engineering center.
He said the robotics engineering center and Carnegie Robotics partnership could offer a "part one, part two" package to prospective clients: the National Robotics Engineering Center researches and builds a prototype, which Carnegie Robotics turns into a saleable product.
Carnegie Robotics will also pursue independent contracts with outside clients, said Dr. Bares, and assemble robots at the Lawrenceville site.
Dr. Stentz sees the partnership working better with commercial contracts than with governmental work, which is usually completed without an eye on the marketplace.
"Typically [the National Robotics Engineering Center] will go as far as develop a prototype," he said. "But the question immediately rises: 'Who's going to make it?' "
One such National Robotics Engineering Center project that could work well with the new firm, he said, is a robotics system that sorts young strawberry plants based on quality.
Dr. Bares is now working to expand his payroll from four workers. "The company is a brand-new legal entity," he said. "It attracts a different brand of person."
Carnegie Robotics plans to move out of the Lawrenceville facility in about two years, he said.
In fiscal 2010, the robotics engineering center saw $24.8 million in sponsored research, with $8.7 million coming from commercial industry work.
Erich Schwartzel: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1455.