Not really but the headline was too tempting to pass up.
A fledgling company is shifting from Philadelphia to Bucks County, and has been awarded a $2 million Dept. of Defense grant. Humanistic Robotics wants to produce remote controlled minesweepers that can detonate any landmines found.
Landmines are, to put it mildly, a problem. If you were unaware of this, review the websites at The International Campaign to Ban Landmines and Unicef’s page on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, but be forewarned that some of the photos are graphic. Landmines, leftover from previous wars, can also be an issue for American troops serving overseas. Countries don’t clear or remove their landmines when a war or conflict is over. They are left for others to find, usually when they explode.
Current de-mining devices are heavy and expensive, essentially very heavy machines roll over a suspected minefield and explode any mines found. Poorer countries couldn’t afford them even if the infrastructure (bridges, roads) could support their weight; in many cases it cannot. At present, in poorer areas, mine removal consists of a person with a metal detector and a screwdriver. He or she scans an area with the metal detector and uses the screwdriver to remove whatever is detected, including mines. It is not very effective or efficient. (Description taken from Brook; see source list below.)
Enter Samuel Reeves and Josh Koplin, the founders of Humanistic Robotics. They have developed a (relatively) lightweight, robotic device, that does essentially what the heavier machines do, only at considerably less expense. It looks like a series of rollers driven by a remote controlled lawnmower, minus the lawnmower handle. You can see a drawing of the device on a patent site; the Inquirer article referenced below has a photograph of an actual device.
Reeves is a Wharton grad; he and Koplin (an industrial designer from Massachusetts), developed the idea while Reeves was still in college. The idea won first place in the 2005 PennVention contest, a competition supported by the Weiss Tech House:
The Weiss Tech House is a student-run hub of technological innovation at the University of Pennsylvania that encourages and supports students in the creation, development and commercialization of innovative technologies. Students with a range of technological interest and skill can learn about technology, collaborate with peers, and take advantage of our in-house Innovation Fund, PennVention inventors’ competition, educational workshops, speaker series, and business mentoring programs.
This is the kind of homegrown company that would be a real asset to the region. It combines new technology (robotics), with a manufacturing aspect, which solves a real, existing, international problem. Reeves, originally from Ft. Worth, and Koplin, have kept their company here and some of Reeves’ Wharton professors are on the corporate board. Originally located in Philadelphia the company is shifting across borders into Bucks County. As noted in a press release today from a Congressman Patrick Murphy:
Today, Pennsylvania Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-8th District) welcomed a company with a life-saving mission and brand new jobs to Bristol, Bucks County. Rep. Murphy fought for and secured $2 million for this project over the last two years. Thanks to the federal funding secured by Murphy, Humanistic Robotics moved their operation from Philadelphia to Bristol and will be creating more than a dozen jobs at their new facility. Humanistic Robotics is working on developing a versatile and cost-effective landmine clearing device that is easy to transport, safer to use than current devices and could save the lives of soldiers and civilians across the world. Current mine-clearing techniques are slow, labor-intensive, dangerous, expensive and difficult to transport to remote areas where mines exist. Humanistic Robotics Specialized Compact Automated Mechanical Clearance Platform is a new method that is smaller, lighter, more affordable and more effective. It will reduce the risk of debilitating injuries and clear access to blocked agriculture and infrastructure opportunities in over 60 countries. Today’s event featured prototypes and demonstrations of their products
Reeves and Koplin sound like interesting people. Reeves set up a plant watering / pet sitting business when he was five and as a sophomore in high school regularly read the Wall Street Journal. They are the kind of people we want to stay in the region, to build not only this company but the others they are surely going to start. For more information on them see the sources listed below:
Photo / intellectual property info http://www.wipo.int/pctdb/en/wo.jsp?wo=2007027217
Undated interview with Reeves on Wharton website
The Trap: Selling Out to Stay Afloat in Winner-Take-All America, by Daniel Brook. Macmillan, 2007. some pages available in Google book search. The section pertains more to Josh Koplin than Samuel Reeves.
Fall 2004 Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs Newsletter, “Inspired by Tragedy”
Kramer, Melody Joy, “Minesweeper,” thirtyfourthstreet magazine, Sept. 15, 2005
Hepp, Christopher K, “Bucks-born minesweeper gets $2M DOD grant," Inquirer2/17/09