Artimus Robotics Inc., a technology-transfer spinoff from research at the University of Colorado Boulder, has secured more than $3.5 million in grants and contracts that company officials say will allow it to expand its scope as well as its facility and workforce.
Tim Morrissey, Artimus CEO, told BizWest on Wednesday that the money will enable the young company to double its workforce from six to 12 and double its space from 2,400 square feet to 5,000 square feet by taking over a unit next door in the building at 2985 Sterling Court. The added space previously had been occupied by Colorado Processing, which moved to the Denver area.
Construction already is underway, he said, and should be completed within six weeks. The new space will house a clean-room facility, a higher-end lab space and a mix of manufacturing and research areas, Morrissey said.
“Now, Artimus needs more passionate and talented people as well as expanded cutting-edge facilities to optimize and validate the technology” for its customers, Morrissey said. “I am extremely optimistic about the future of Artimus and look forward to fully harnessing the potential of our team and technology.
“We’re very excited. We’re very fortunate,” he said. “We have over a 24-month runway right now, which in today’s macroeconomics is a gift for a young company. So we feel honored to have the opportunity, and we feel hopeful that within 24 months, we’ll be a much different company.”
Most importantly, Morrissey said, the funding will vault Artimus from research to application-based development.
Artimus builds actuator components for industries such as defense, automotive, medical devices and automation. Its proprietary HASEL technology — the acronym refers to hydraulically amplified self-healing electrostatic actuators — “already has shown incredible potential in many applications,” he said, “and now this capital will facilitate optimization of the technology for the best applications.”
Basically, he explained, the actuators convert electricity into motion “anywhere a person is interacting with a robot.” HASEL technology operates when electrostatic forces are applied to a flexible polymer pouch and dielectric liquid to drive shape change in a soft structure.
“The same way the muscles in your own body help you move around, we help robots and differing automation needs move,” Morrissey said.
Sources of the funding include both private and public origins, such as direct contracts from the U.S. Navy, government contracts and grants from the National Science Foundation, NASA, the U.S. Army, the Department of Energy and multiple commercial contracts from large corporations.
Eleven federal agencies offer Small Business Innovation Research grants, and five of them also participate in STTR, the Small Business Technology Transfer program.
Morrissey said most of the grants are SBIR, but one STTR grant came from the Army in partnership with research from Professor Sean Humbert in CU’s Mechanical Engineering Department. That grant will fund development of next-generation, highly controllable robotic actuators, Morrissey said, “making them smarter, making them more precise.”
Both SBIR and STTR awards go directly to a company, but under STTR a company must subcontract to a research university. Under SBIR, the principal investigator has to be at least 51% employed at the company.
He said the significant support from the U.S. government “exemplifies the dual-use potential of Artimus’ technology: leveraging technology development that benefits both government and commercial applications. The diversity in the sources of this funding demonstrates the wide range of potential applications of HASEL actuation technology.”
Artimus’ direct contract with the Navy is for development of autonomous underwater robots that generate virtually no radiated noise while navigating the ocean, using HASEL actuators that are inspired by the self-healing biology and motion of fish that inhabit the waters where the vehicles will operate.
“Over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with hundreds of potential commercial customers to explore the potential of HASEL actuators in their use cases,” said Eric Acome, Artimus’ chief technology officer. “This new funding, largely supported by the U.S. government, is directly aimed at the most pressing needs of our current and future customers: improvements in reliability, performance and intelligence. For the past few years, our incredible team of Ph.D researchers has developed an extremely robust understanding of underlying mechanisms that affect the performance and functionality of the HASEL actuation technology. With these funds, we have the resources we need to leverage our deep background learnings to benefit our customers.”
Artimus Robotics also is using the capital to support a business case for HASEL actuation technology. To compete with existing motion technologies such as pneumatics or servos, Morrissey said, the price of HASEL actuators must be low enough to justify their integration. Although HASEL actuators are made from low-cost and environmentally friendly materials, he said, the actuators’ driving electronics have some uncommon components, so part of the funding will be allocated to developing low-cost electronics for the actuators.
The new company had won second place at CU’s New Venture Challenge in 2018, enrolled in the Catalyze CU accelerator program and participated in entrepreneurship and venture-capital classes at CU Boulder. It also has participated in the local SAGE advisory network and the Boulder Small Business Development Center Tech Venture Accelerator.
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