AMBOTS, a Northwest Arkansas autonomous manufacturing technology startup, was recently awarded a $1 million Small Business Innovation Research Phase II Award from the National Science Foundation. AMBOTS stands for Autonomous Mobile roBOTS and Advanced Manufacturing roBOTS. The grant will enable AMBOTS to invest in its workforce, both in salaries and additional personnel, and to continue developing and testing its swarm 3-D printing and assembling platform.
AMBOT’s technology utilizes a “swarm” of autonomous robots that can work together to print and assemble a range of products on demand — anything from a table to an airplane, so long as it has a digital design to follow.
As part of the SBIR grant, University of Arkansas associate professor of mechanical engineering, Wenchao Zhou, will receive a subaward of $92,468. He is a cofounder of AMBOTS, its Chief Technology Officer and the primary inventor of AMBOTS’ underlying technology. Zhou and his team will work with researchers from the University of Texas-Austin on the computational framework and algorithm design for large printing jobs involving multiple robots.
“We are excited about the promise of swarm manufacturing for enabling on-demand autonomous manufacturing,” Zhou said. “We’re also grateful for the support from the University of Arkansas, the state of Arkansas, and the federal government to help us demonstrate that promise.”
The federal Small Business Innovation and Research award program incentivizes small businesses to pursue research and development with the potential for commercialization. The goal is for businesses to reach their technological potential and to create a pathway to profitability through commercialization.
“With SBIR Phase II funding, we aim to advance development of the AMBOTS platform and swarm printing technology to a commercial product release by the end of 2023,” Chief Mechanical Engineer Zach Hyden said.
In October, the startup announced the addition of former Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin as CEO.
“We are excited to announce that Mr. Mark Martin is joining AMBOTS as CEO. As the former Arkansas Secretary of State, a member of the Arkansas Academy of Mechanical Engineers and former CTO of The Engineering Institute, Mr. Martin brings in decades of experience in executive management, engineering, and entrepreneurship. We look forward to working with Mr. Martin to create the next chapter of AMBOTS.”
The cofounders of AMBOTS participated in the national NSF I-Corps program. The I-Corps program strives to “reduce the time and risk associated with translating promising ideas and technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace.” One way the program does this is by assisting fledgling businesses in the customer discovery process to ensure there is a market for their products. In fact, Zhou estimated they participated in 400 customer discovery interviews. Participation in the I-Corps program is often instrumental to securing a SBIR grant.
Zhou’s research has additionally received gap and commercialization funding from the university’s Chancellor’s Fund, and last summer, the company was featured on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca. The AMBOTS can be seen in action in this clip from Innovation Nation.