Robert D. Howe, Ph.D.

AIMBE College of Fellows Class of 2007
For seminal contributions to the biomechanics of sensing and motor control in humans and robots.

Accelerator Fund Boosts Harvard Tech Startups

Via Harvard | June 2, 2015

Some ideas hatched in university research labs need a little nudge to take off into the real world.

Take the robotic hand designed by Professor Robert Howe and his research team. Grasping and manipulating irregular objects is an incredibly challenging task for robots. But in 2012, Howe’s robotic hand managed to outperform its rivals in a competition sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Autonomously picking up a basketball, swinging a hammer, and lifting a door key off a table, the hand proved adaptable and robust. The research team began to see that this gentle grasper could have a wider reach beyond the lab, streamlining tasks in logistics, distribution, or manufacturing.

“Our robot-hand technology had reached the point where there were some real-world applications,” said Howe, the Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Engineering at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS). “It was time to kick it out of the nest.”

Enter the Physical Sciences and Engineering (PSE) Accelerator, a fund to help technology projects clear the last few steps to market. Harvard’s Office of Technology Development (OTD) launched the PSE Accelerator in 2013, having successfully run a similar fund for biomedical projects since 2007.

“Our goal is simple: to identify technologies with strong commercial potential that require some additional translational development to be commercialized,” said Sam Liss, a director of business development at OTD. “The accelerator provides our faculty with the critical funding necessary to position these technologies as the platform for a startup, as a license to an existing company, or to attract additional research funding from a commercial partner.”