Data from a 2013 report from the Mass Technology Leadership Council (MassTLC) validate Brooks' observation: Across Massachusetts, more than 3,200 people are employed in the robotics industry. More than $200 million has been invested in Massachusetts robotics companies since 2008, and annual sales of robotics manufactured in state have topped nearly $2 billion.
Joint Base Cape Cod in Buzzards Bay hosts one of six national Federal Aviation Administration test sites for unmanned aerial systems. One of three national test sites for ground-based robots is located at the New England Robotics Validation and Experimentation Center on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
And Massachusetts is home to robotics companies that have earned the admiration of West Coast technology giants: Boston Dynamics, which makes the quadruped BigDog, was acquired by Google in 2013; Kiva Systems was acquired by Amazon in 2012, and Kiva's mobile robots are now helping service orders inside Amazon Fulfillment Centers.
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"Some of the other clusters around the country were doing a better job of telling their story," said Tom Hopcroft, president and CEO of MassTLC. "We have an incredibly diverse and active robotics ecosystem here. We're in 11 different types of robotics—agriculture, health care, marine, defense and more. … There's a lot of stuff that comes together to make it a leading hub."
Massachusetts rightfully claims the necessary components to be a national robotics hub. It has a robust university system that pumps out young tech talent and includes, among others, MIT and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute, which launched the first undergraduate program in robotics in the U.S. in 2007. Investment funding has increased. Spin-out start-ups, either from universities—iRobot started inside the walls of MIT—or larger companies have taken root. Boston Dynamics, Dropbox and iRobot all started within the walls of MIT. And many founders who initially found success in Massachusetts have stuck around to form new companies.