VT KnowledgeWorks Success Showcase: TORC Robotics

VT KnowledgeWorks encourages and enables creative entrepreneurship world-wide, through innovative curriculum, local business resource centers, and a global network of cooperating regions, all focused on three essential contributors to success: clear understanding of fundamental business principles; access to timely, relevant information; and meaningful personal and corporate relationships. It is a subsidiary of the Virginia Tech Foundation, funded through the continuing confidence and enthusiasm of its clients, sponsors and friends, both corporate and individual. Its world headquarters are located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

VT KnowledgeWorks Success Showcase: TORC Robotics

Company’s Full Name: TORC Robotics, LLC

Year Founded:  2005

Year Company Entered VT KnowledgeWorks: 2006

Total Number of  Employees When Entered: 2

Total Number of Employees to Date: 32

Overview of Company’s Products/Services, and Significance to the Market

TORC changes the way mobile robotic systems are designed, integrated, tested and deployed by empowering engineers with a suite of modular, customizable products. TORC’s Robotic Building Blocks product line is used by leading academic, commercial and government organizations to shorten the development process, lower costs and mitigate risks. These products have been used on more than 100 mobile robots ranging from 15 pounds to 15 tons. TORC provides by-wire and autonomous vehicle kits, as well as individual products and custom solutions for drive-by-wire conversion, emergency stop, power management, autonomous navigation and operator control.

Traditionally, engineers have relied on products that were not intended for use in robotic applications. This approach created system integration problems, escalating development costs, poor reliability, and limited performance. As a result, robotics technologies have struggled to transition out of research laboratories to real-world applications. TORC helps solve these problems with a line of safe, reliable, and customizable products specifically designed for engineers of robotic systems.

This product-based approach has enabled customers to accelerate their development efforts, stay focused on solving their problems or developing new technologies, and reduce overall project costs. From developing cars that enable the blind to drive to autonomous ground vehicles that lighten the load of our Warfighters, TORC products are used in a wide variety of robotic systems.

Company Accomplishments

Since entering the VT KnowledgeWorks program in 2006, TORC has grown significantly in revenues, employees, office space and market presence.  Originally a two person operation working on small research contracts, TORC has quickly become a leading provider of unmanned and autonomous vehicle technologies. TORC continues to grow year over year, attract and retain a high caliber workforce in the region, and provide excellent internship opportunities for a number of engineering students from Virginia Tech each year.

In 2007, TORC partnered with Virginia Tech in the DARPA Urban Challenge and led the software development that allowed Odin, the team’s fully autonomous Ford Escape Hybrid, to navigate complex urban traffic situations without human intervention.  Odin finished the 60-mile race in third place, minutes behind teams from Stanford and Carnegie Mellon.  The team was awarded the 2008 Graphical System Design Achievement Award in Robotics from National Instruments for the use of their LabVIEW graphical programming environment in the development of the award-winning autonomous vehicle.

Since its success in the DARPA Urban Challenge, TORC has been engaged in a growing number of contracts to transition unmanned and autonomous vehicle technologies to commercial and military applications.  One of the more prominent examples has been the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate (GUSS) project for the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory.  TORC’s product line and engineering services were used in the development of four optionally unmanned ground vehicles designed to support dismounted Marines with missions such as autonomous resupply, casualty evacuation, and to “lighten the load,” among other capabilities.

In 2008, TORC won the prestigious Roanoke-Blacksburg Technology Council (formerly NewVa Corridor Technology Council) “Rising Star Award” in recognition of its growth, cutting edge products and services and its current and future impact on the local economy.  In the same year, TORC was also nominated and selected as the winner of the 2008 Donna Noble Outstanding Virginia Incubator Client Award.

In early 2010 Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) partnered with TORC to provide its ByWire XGV mobile robotics research platform, along with other sensing, perception and route planning technologies, to integrate with RoMeLa’s non-visual interfaces for the National Federation of the Blind’s Blind Driver Challenge®. This allowed for the first full-sized blind drivable vehicle to be demonstrated on January 29, 2011, when a blind driver successfully navigated 1.5 miles of the Daytona International Speedway, reaching top speeds of 27 mph and navigating obstacles. This effort resulted in major media coverage including the Today Show, MotorWeek, Bloomberg, Anderson Cooper 360, Popular Science magazine and more. This was recently written up in an article by Mashable titled “7 Tech Breakthroughs That Empower People With Disabilities.”

Over the last few years, TORC has been selected to participate in several programs sponsored by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership designed to help promising Virginia-based companies increase export sales and expand into international markets.  In 2009 TORC was nominated to participate in the year long “Accessing International Markets” program and was recently selected as one of a small number of Virginia companies for the 2011-2012 “State Trade Export Promotion” initiative.

TORC has a strong record of commercializing robotic technologies into products.  Through a balance between work with the DoD, industry and internal research and development, TORC has commercialized eight robotic products over the last four years and are used on platforms ranging from 15 lbs to 15 tons, from speeds of 1 mph to 102 mph, and by customers in defense, mining, automotive, agriculture, security and academic markets.  The TORC product line provides modular, interoperable and scalable “Robotic Building Blocks” to rapidly upfit platforms with unmanned and/or autonomous capability.

Read more about TORC on Inside VT KnowledgeWorks.


VT KnowledgeWorks sponsors include Attaain, Inc., BB&T, The Branch Group, Handshake 2.0, Harris Office Furniture, Hodges, Jones & Mabry, P.C., Hutchison Law Group, LeClairRyan, New River Valley Intellectual Property Law, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and The Becher Agency (TBA).

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