Government and industry tech leaders celebrate RASTIC grand opening

RASTICWith a robotic-assisted ribbon cutting, and remarks from a who’s-who of New England’s technology leaders, Boston University on March 4 formally opened the Robotics & Autonomous Systems Teaching and Innovation Center (RASTIC), a state-of-the-art facility where students can design, build, and test a range of robotic solutions to real-world problems. RASTIC, BU’s flagship center for robotics, partners with industry to ensure students can expand and hone their hands-on, applied robotics skills beyond the classroom and be ready to make an immediate impact in the workplace.

Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao, appearing before a standing-room-only crowd in the 200-capacity Photonics Colloquium Room, remotely operated a robotic vehicle that cut the ceremonial ribbon at the entrance to RASTIC. The scene, taking place across the street at 730 Commonwealth Avenue, was shown to the crowd via live video feed.

Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao visits BU’s Robotics & Autonomous Systems Teaching and Innovation Center (RASTIC). Photo by Jackie Ricciardi for Boston University Photography.
Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao tours BU’s Robotics & Autonomous Systems Teaching and Innovation Center (RASTIC) on its opening day. Photo by Jackie Ricciardi for BU Photography

“It’s amazing that in two weeks you have this incredibly passionate set of students who are so engaged in solving big, ambitious problems, integrating all these robotics and tinkering with them in the lab,” said Hao. The space was opened on February 14.
“Looking at the data,” said Hao, “Massachusetts is already one of the prominent leaders in robotics in the world,” with more than 400 robotics companies. But as the industry grows worldwide, the Bay State must work to stay competitive, Hao said. “This is a time for us to ensure that we lead for future generations.”

If you are a company, whether an established leader or a pioneering startup, come join our growing experience- and talent-sharing community: ask Kenn Sebesta or Vivek Pandit how you can become a RASTIC member today.

Hao’s office has issued an economic development plan under the heading Team Massachusetts, “because we do have the best team,” she said. “And you can see that exemplified in RASTIC. When you combine our academia, incredible companies, startups, nonprofits, state government, and city government, great things happen.”

“The opening of RASTIC is the culmination of a tremendous amount of work, and it would not be possible without some exceptionally talented and dedicated people collaborating toward a shared goal,” said Kenneth Lutchen, BU’s provost ad interim and former dean of the BU College of Engineering. “That goal is to advance the BU-corporate partnership approach to producing a future workforce immediately able to ensure that Massachusetts is a leader in the robotics and autonomous systems industry.”

That workforce will be produced “not in isolation in academia,” Lutchen said, “but in partnership with industry, so that graduates are ready to make an impact right away.”

Students and faculty in RASTIC lab
LEAP students George Knight and Mitch Kain demonstrate their semi-autonomous hovercraft at RASTIC. Photo by Isabella Bachman

“I’m incredibly energized by having seen students show off their projects with incredible breadth, enthusiasm, and rigor,” said Elise Morgan, ENG dean ad interim. “Engineering discoveries transform lives. They revolutionize medical treatments, the speed and flexibility of transportation and communication, and the possibility of a sustainable world for generations to come. Here at BU, we view these feats of engineering with not just a sense of pride in our profession, but also a sense of duty to do even more.”

To meet our societal and workforce needs in the robotics arena, Morgan said, ENG has created a master’s degree program in robotics and autonomous systems, and is planning a robotics concentration for undergraduate students. “Critically, these programs are college-wide, meaning they bring together students and faculty from all our departments and divisions,” she said. “We know that our students become better engineers when they are challenged with new ways of thinking, when they’re exposed to different viewpoints, and when they’re given the ability to integrate concepts across disciplines.”

“Massachusetts is literally the hub of the robotics universe,” said Tye Brady (ENG’90), chief technologist for Amazon Robotics, which is headquartered in North Reading, Mass. “Innovation spaces like RASTIC help hone those skills in ways that make an immediate impact.” Brady, a member of the ENG Dean’s Leadership Advisory Board, helped design the aforementioned master’s degree program and has been a supporter of RASTIC since it was conceived.

Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao at RASTIC event
Massachusetts Secretary of Economic Development Yvonne Hao sharing congratulatory remarks at the RASTIC ribbon cutting ceremony. Photo by Mike Spencer.

Also speaking was Spencer Farland, engineering director for ASML, a leading supplier in the semiconductor industry, with a large R&D and manufacturing facility in Wilton, Connecticut. “We employ some of the best and brightest from the Boston area,” said Farland. “It’s truly marvelous to see RASTIC coming together, and to see the students working collaboratively, the same way we handle our engineering work on a daily basis at ASML. This is truly an opportunity for students to play a key part in this industry, to develop a deeper understanding of robotics, mechatronics, sensors, actuators, and other tech systems. And by doing so, they can make a true impact on the world.”

Other speakers included Kenn Sebesta, founding director of RASTIC, and Carolyn Kirk, executive director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a public agency that supports business formation and growth in the state’s technology sector. MassTech co-funded the $9 million startup capital investment that got RASTIC off the ground.

Student work shown at RASTIC. Photo by Isabella Bachman

Distinguished Professor of Engineering Yannis Paschalidis (ECE, BME, SE), who was also instrumental in bringing RASTIC into being, emceed the event. Paschalidis is director of the Rafik B. Hariri Institute for Computing and Computational Science & Engineering.

Following the ceremony, visitors toured RASTIC, where they met students, who discussed and demonstrated their projects, ranging from autonomous vehicles to soft-robotic surgical tools. For example, Andrew Morrissey, a mechanical engineering undergraduate, showed his team’s senior design project, a robotic goose chaser, an autonomous flying drone trained to detect and deter Canada geese from congregating and soiling public spaces.

Undergraduate biomedical engineering student Mark Lucas has begun developing a wearable device that would alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s disease. “For two years, I’ve had this idea for helping people with Parkinson’s,” Lucas said. “Now in two weeks, I’ve started printing parts. Without RASTIC, this wouldn’t be happening.”

If you are a prospective undergraduate or graduate student with a passion to work in the exciting, new robotics and autonomous systems sector, get more information here.