Coming to the Boston area as a visiting researcher at the Bio-Robotics Laboratory of Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences was certainly a wonderful opportunity, but what I found was that the greatest opportunities were the ones available outside the laboratory.
Boston is known for its excellent teaching hospitals and world-class universities, which fuel intellectual talent into biotech, robotics, pharma and health-tech startups — and the area is also where investors in these fields are looking for opportunities. The talent and innovation in the city attract more talent from around the world and foster more innovation. Boston’s universities cultivate research and development, and the business community and state and federal governments fuel that innovation into startups. I encourage the students I mentor in my country to come to Boston, not because they will learn more but because this is the place you want to be to take the technology to the commercial market.
When I brought my first project here in 2012, it was very surprising to me to secure funding in a matter of days. Since then, I have scouted companies in my native Italy that offer great potential and are looking to expand into the North American market. In the past, I have worked with these companies by becoming a board member. This time around, the company was different.
XSurgical was creating surgical robots, which is one of my areas of research and expertise, so we decided to bring the company to Boston. We changed the mission and goals of the surgical robots to perform surgical procedures in critical environments remotely. In disasters or war, patients are generally triaged and transported to treatment facilities where there are doctors available to perform surgery. But those first few hours after injury are often critical, and the patients are receiving minimal or improper treatment for their injuries. Onsite containers with surgical robots and real emergency rooms can provide the best care. It is a safer environment than transporting an unstable patient, and they can receive the care they need immediately. The potential for this is incredible, and some key people at the U.S. Department of Defense have expressed interest in our technology.
Our third prototype, Gamma, is underway now, and we are consolidating a team of engineers for our new headquarters and laboratories in Cambridge. We are working to develop the artificial intelligence to make this prototype fully autonomous. We are assisted by ADMTronics to take us through the regulatory and quality assurance processes.
Additional resources for companies starting up come through the unique partnerships and consortiums that combine the resources of the intelligence community with private businesses and government. We belong to MTEC, which is a nationally dispersed consortium with members from industry, academia and the nonprofit sector. Their mission is to be the partner of choice for private industry, academic institutions, government agencies and other research organizations seeking to accelerate the development of medical solutions that prevent and treat injuries and restore America’s military and veterans to full health.
According to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, the state’s economic development agency focused on the innovation economy, the Massachusetts robotics industry consisted of 122 companies with 4,700 employees in 2015. Those companies generated more than $1.6 billion in revenue that year. The region here is fertile ground for an industry based on intellectual advances, and these companies will be the economic wave of the future.
Dr. Gianluca De Novi is an instructor at the Harvard Medical School and Harvard Extension School. He received his master’s degree in electronics engineering and his Ph.D. in robotics and control systems from the University of Bologna. After spending a year as a visiting researcher at the Bio-Robotics Laboratory of Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, he completed his postdoctoral fellowship in medical simulation at the Department of Imaging of the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. He is the CEO of XSurgical.
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