Bucks County robotics company gets DOD grant for minesweeper

Published in technicallyphilly

There are millions of landmines in the ground around the world and someone in Bucks County is going to do something about it.

Bristol-based start-up Humanistic Robotics recently received $2 million in Department of Defense grants to make their minesweeper prototype a commercially viable product, according to the Inquirer. One of the leaders is a 20-something entrepreneur and has something to say about it. See what after the jump.

Humanistic Robotics was launched in 2005 by then University of Pennsylvania Wharton business school student Samuel Reeves and Joshua Koplin, then a master’s student at the Pratt Institute School of Design in New York.

“The truth is we didn’t start with the idea let’s solve the world’s landmine problem,” Reeves, 25, told a Wharton alumni magazine. “But when we were discussing the idea, that’s definitely something that jumped out about this one.”

The third version of their SCAMP (Specialized Compact Automated Mechanical-clearance Platform) was on display recently at Grundy Industrial Complex in Bristol, Bucks County. The device is made of a heavy steel frame that uses six pneumatic pistons to press two rows of nine steel wheels to the ground.

At best, Reeves says SCAMP can cost $100,000 and can clear mines from an acre in a day.

The duo, which has planted their 5,300 square foot headquarters on Canal Street in Bristol, estimates some 110 million anti-personnel land mines are planted in 60 countries. Few more than 150,000 are cleared per year and most removal methods are inefficient, they told the Bucks County Courier Times.

The DOD grant is helping their transition into a new headquarters in Bristol and helping with additional research. They also hope to expand from four employees to 12. The funding was mostly secured by Congressman Patrick Murphy, who first won our hearts one year ago when the Eagles fan cast the only dissenting voteagainst a resolution congratulating the New York football Giants for their Super Bowl victory. Murphy’s district covers lower Bucks and some of Northeast Philadelphia.

When asked how he took his business from the theoretical to the practical, Reeves answered:

We’ve been working on this for a year and a half. First, we wrote a business plan and that took months and months. As we were doing it, we talked to people in the field, specifically a think tank in Geneva. Their job is to know everything about mine clearance and come up with new ideas about mine clearance, know the trade-offs and methodologies – basically know everything about how it’s done. I was talking to them about rollers – rollers are our cornerstone technology for detonating mines because they create a lot of ground pressure – and their initial reaction was very negative. They said things like “nobody uses them” and “they don’t work.” I kept asking why, because from a practical standpoint they seem so simple and cheap to produce.

They realized they didn’t really know for certain the answers that they were giving me about rollers. They decided that since it’s their job to know, they should do a study about whether rollers are a viable clearance technology, where are they used, and where are they successful. It was something they needed to know. So they hired us to do the study for them since we were asking about them. They sent us all over the world. We went to Geneva a couple of times to meet with the think tank, and they sent us to Afghanistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Bosnia, Croatia, and Canada.