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.

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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).

TORC to Speak at National Military Robotics Conference

From TORC Technologies, a VT KnowledgeWorks member company:

Andrew Culhane, business development manager for TORC and a leading developer of robotic technologies for unmanned and autonomous vehicles, has been selected to speak at Military Robotics, a national conference featuring some of the industry’s top experts.

Culhane joins a distinguished panel sharing the latest information and insight on military robotics, an industry that’s expected to grow to almost $10 billion worldwide by 2016. Culhane will present information about the productization of robotic building blocks to enable technology reuse for military and commercial applications.

The conference will be held June 9-10, 2011 in Arlington, Virginia.  Read more about TORC and the Military Robotics conference and more about TORC Technologies on Inside VT KnowledgeWorks.

ABOUT TORC
TORC enables engineers to rapidly integrate robotic systems through 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 over a hundred mobile robots ranging from 15 pounds to 15 tons. TORC provides solutions for drive-by-wire conversion, emergency stop, power management, autonomous navigation and operator control. For more information, visit www.torctech.com.

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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 self-sustaining not-for-profit 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 is in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

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

TORC’s Autonomous Vehicle Featured on the Today Show

From TORC Technologies, a VT KnowledgeWorks member company. A version of this post appeared on Handshake 2.0.

In early 2010 Dr. Dennis Hong, Director of Robotics and Mechanisms Lab (RoMeLa) at Virginia Tech, was tasked with upgrading his “phase 1” prototype dune-buggy and nonvisual interfaces for the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) Blind Driver Challenge, and putting blind drivers in a real, road-ready vehicle. Because of the way the nonvisual interfaces (DriveGrip and SpeedStrip) work, the equivalent of an autonomous vehicle was required.
 
To accomplish this in such an aggressive timeframe, and remain focused on improving the novel devices used to communicate with the blind driver, Dr. Hong made the decision to leverage TORC’s off-the-shelf mobile robotics platform – the ByWire XGV. This “modified Ford Escape” was then topped off with TORC’s PowerHub modules which are used to distribute power to all of the added sensors, computers, and the nonvisual devices added to the system. A custom version of TORC’s AutonoNav (autonomous navigation system) was used to process the environment and make driving decisions.
 
In a typical autonomous vehicle, these decisions would be fed back into the vehicle’s control systems to carry out the actual driving behaviors. Here is what makes this project so unique: Instead of driving the blind person around autonomously, the whole point of the Challenge was to let the blind person make active decisions and have full control over driving the vehicle. This is why communicating through the nonvisual interfaces was so critical for the project’s success.
 
This is a perfect example of why using TORC products makes sense – it allows the researchers to proceed full steam ahead on their technological innovations and not “reinvent the wheel” by building custom, one-off robotic systems which can eat up a majority of a project’s time and engineering resources. TORC is extremely proud to have its products and engineering support used in such a visionary project led by the Dr. Hong, NFB and Virginia Tech.



You can see the story on the Today Show, read more about about it on Montgomery County, VA Economic Development and TORC’s Media Center and learn more about TORC on Inside VT KnowledgeWorks.

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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 self-sustaining not-for-profit 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 is in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia, USA.

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

Virginia Tech Engineering Students Use TORC Robotic Building Blocks

From U.S. Marine Corps to use autonomous vehicles built by Virginia Tech engineering students, Virginia Tech News, 6/30/10.  TORC Technologies is a VT KnowledgeWorks member company.

Four unmanned autonomous vehicles designed and built by a team of engineering students at Virginia Tech using the TORC Robotic Building Blocks product line, are headed to Hawaii to participate in the 2010 Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) war games in July.

Fourteen nations, 34 ships, five submarines, over 100 aircraft and 20,000 personnel will participate in the biennial RIMPAC exercise June 23 through Aug. 1.

The U.S. Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory worked closely with Virginia Tech and TORC in the creation of the four Ground Unmanned Support Surrogates (GUSS) that will be used for their ability to support a platoon of U.S. Marines.

via www.vtnews.vt.edu

To read the full story, please click here.

TORC Technologies in FRONT

Michael Fleming, founder and CEO of TORC Technologies, a VT KnowledgeWorks member company, was featured in the June 2010 issue of Valley Business FRONT in an article by Michael Miller.  To read the article, please click here and view page 30.

Michael Fleming of TORC featured in Valley Business FRONT

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VT KnowledgeWorks Global Challenge TrophyVT KnowledgeWorks has announced a Global Student Business Concept Challenge, August 29 – September 4, 2010, in Blacksburg and Roanoke, Virginia, USA.  The Challenge celebrates the energy and ingenuity of university students and their important contributions to the future of our global economy.  The name of the winning team, their university name, and their home city will be etched into the base of the VT KnowledgeWorks Global Challenge Trophy as a permanent tribute to their outstanding effort.  The winning team will earn a $25,000 cash prize.

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VT KnowledgeWorks sponsors include Attaain, Inc., BB&T, Handshake 2.0, Harris Office Furniture, Hodges, Jones & Mabry, P.C., Hutchison Law GroupLeClairRyan, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and The Becher Agency (TBA).

TORC’s Technology Keeps Getting Bigger

If TORC's ByWire XGV, an unmanned Ford Escape Hybrid converted to drive-by-wire, isn't a giant of technology in itself (they let me drive it), TORC has created a behemoth with its unmanned conversion kit for military vehicles, powerful enough to operate a Humvee.

Interior view of TORC's Autonomous Remote Controlled HMMWV (ARCH) in action

Here's the latest from TORC  on ARCH (Autonomous Remote Controlled HMMWV) – descriptions, photos, and videos.  An interview with Michael Fleming, TORC CEO, was featured in the Rackspace Tech Showcase on Handshake 2.0.

Two VT KnowledgeWorks Company Leaders Named to 20 Under 40 List

Allan Tsang, co-founder or 88owls, and Michael Fleming, CEO of TORC Technologies, were named to the Blue Ridge Business Journal's 2009 20 Under 40 List of young entreprenenrs.

The stories are currently online in the BRBJ's booklet format.  Allan Tsang's story is featured on page 7 and Michael Fleming's on page 12.

Allan Tsang's 88owls matches businesses with business consultants.

Michael Fleming's TORC Technologies develops unmanned and autonomous vehicle systems.

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VT KnowledgeWorks is a unique growth enhancement program open to entrepreneurs in the New River Valley of Virginia and beyond.  Acceleration center and incubation facilities are located in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center in Blacksburg, Virginia

VT KnowledgeWorks sponsors include Attaain, Inc., BB&T, Handshake 2.0, Harris Office Furniture, Hodges, Jones & Mabry, P.C., Latimer, Mayberry & Matthews IP Law, LeClairRyan, Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) and The Becher Agency (TBA).

TORC Awarded Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Contract for Autonomous Path Planning

A press release from TORC Technologiesa VT KnowledgeWorks member company:

Blacksburg — May 18, 2009 — TORC Technologies announced today that it was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to research and develop new path planning algorithms for use in dynamic and unstructured environments. Leveraging their existing experience in developing autonomous vehicle solutions, TORC will develop new autonomous path planning technology that increases the capability and reliability of autonomous vehicles.

As the United States Military works towards the goal of having one-third of its vehicles unmanned by 2015, autonomous vehicles will be called upon to operate in increasingly dangerous and dynamic situations. It is important that the algorithms for these vehicles be able to adapt accordingly. TORC hopes to build upon its proven experience in the DARPA Urban Challenge to develop and demonstrate the next generation of autonomous algorithms.

In Phase I of the contract TORC will design a new path planning algorithm to navigate through dynamic, GPS denied environments. Subsequently, TORC will perform a feasibility study using simulated models of the environment. If successful, a proof of principal prototype could be built under Phase II.

About TORC Technologies

TORC Technologies is a robotics engineering and product development company focused on unmanned and autonomous systems. TORC is automating dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks by commercializing intelligent robotic technologies into modular, interoperable, off-the-shelf products that enable customers to rapidly integrate and deploy robotic-based solutions.

Contact: David Cutter, cutter@torctech.com, 540-443-9262