ABB's mobile YuMi robot cut the ribbon on its new home in the Texas Medical Center. Cody Duty/TMC

Videos: Robotics company unveils its Houston operation at the Texas Medical Center

Meet the robots

Houston has a new fleet of robots training to better streamline health care operations. ABB Robotics cut the ribbon of its Texas Medical Center incubator on Wednesday, October 9.

"This is really an exciting day for us at ABB because we are opening up our innovation hub in a globally unique place at the Texas Medical Center," says Sami Atiya, president of Robotics and Discrete Automation at ABB, at the grand opening event.

According to ABB research, the industry expects 60,000 non-surgical medical robots by 2025, which is four times that of 2018. Zurich-based ABB has 400,000 robotics products across industries in over 53 companies, but this is their first dedicated health care center. The 5,300-square-foot space located in TMC Innovation Institute, which was announced earlier this year, will have around 20 employees in the facility managing robots conducting a myriad of tasks.

The potential for collaboration between ABB and TMC is just getting started with the hub space. ABB already has connections with TMC's member institutions and ABB also recognizes the innovation avenues the TMC brings to the table.

"This is not only about the chance to interact with 25 hospitals," Atiya says. "We have the chance to interact with bright startups, bright academia, and with an ecosystem that is unique. We really looked around the world to set up this business because we need to learn. We need to interact."

One way TMC's CEO, William McKeon sees a huge opportunity for robots is in the inventory process. Right now, each hospital manages its own inventory process with its own team of employees. McKeon explains how that process can be streamlined and better organized using robotics.

"It may not be as exciting as some of the things you see here [in the hub], but it's equally as meaningful and economically important in lowering our health care costs," McKeon says.

YuMi cuts the ribbon on the new ABB facility in the Texas Medical Center

The mobile YuMi robot cut the ribbon of its new home.

A new robotics facility is headed for the TMC Innovation Institute. Courtesy of TMC

TMC plans to open one-of-its-kind robotics facility later this year

The robots are coming

The Texas Medical Center has announced its plans to open a new robotics-equipped laboratory in October of this year. The automation capabilities will allow for more efficient lab tests and services.

The new facility is being made possible by a partnership between the medical center, TMC Innovation Institute, and ABB, a leading robotics company. This would be Zürich-based ABB's first dedicated health care center, but the company has over 400,000 robotics products across industries in over 53 countries.

"The next-generation laboratory processes developed in Houston will speed manual medical laboratory processes, reducing and eliminating bottlenecks in laboratory work and enhancing safety and consistency," says Sami Atiya, president of ABB's Robotics and Discrete Automation business, in a news release. "This is especially applicable for new high-tech treatments, such as the cancer therapies pioneered at the Texas Medical Center, which today require manual and time-consuming test processes."

A team of 20 will work out of the 5,300-square-foot facility, which will be located in TMC Innovation Institute. The space will have an automation laboratory with robot training facilities, and meeting spaces for the human innovation partners.

Currently, ABB's robots specialize in food and beverage laboratories worldwide, but able to adapt to medical facilities for specific tasks, including "dosing, mixing, and pipetting tasks, as well as sterile instrument kitting and centrifuge loading and unloading," according to the release.

"We are proud to co-develop collaborative robotics systems for the hospital of the future with one of the world's most advanced partners and to test them in real-world laboratories to ensure they add value to healthcare professionals, driving innovation, and transforming how medical laboratories operate worldwide," says Atiya in the release.

According to the release, TMC's connection to innovation, startups, and researchers were key factors in bringing the facility to Houston. ABB Robotics has a long-term plan to invest and innovate in robotics, says Atiya in the release.

"The Texas Medical Center continues to push the boundaries of innovation with cutting-edge industry partners by establishing TMC as the epicenter for ABB Robotics' entry into the healthcare space," says Bill McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, in the release. "We continually strive for opportunities to accelerate research and enhance clinical care through key strategic partnerships. ABB's move into the heart of the Texas Medical Center campus with this first-of-its-kind R&D facility for creating robotics solutions in healthcare will set a new course for advancements in medicine."

Automation nation

Courtesy of TMC

A team of 20 will work out of the 5,300-square-foot facility, which will be located in TMC Innovation Institute.

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Overheard: Fintech company with Houston ties sees opportunity for growth in new work-from-home age

Eavesdropping in Houston

From esports to telemedicine, some technologies are having a major moment during the COVID-19 crisis. As many businesses are operating remotely with work-from-home policies in place indefinitely, payments automation is another technology that's seen an opportunity amid the pandemic.

AvidXchange, which has invoice and payment processes automation software for mid-market businesses, is one of the companies in this payment automation space that's seen growth in spite of the economic downturn caused by the virus. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based company was founded in 2000 and went on to acquire Houston-founded Strongroom Solutions Inc. in 2015.

Since the acquisition, AvidXchange has quadrupled its presence in Houston and does a good deal of business locally. Equipping companies with tools for remote work is crucial — now and especially in light of Houston's propensity for challenges. Tyler Gill, vice president of sales for AvidXchange based in the Houston office and former CEO of Strongroom, joined Houston Exponential on a virtual panel to discuss this topic.

"We've had a history of disasters in Houston. Any time we can help businesses move to a more cloud-based infrastructure is going to be better," Gill says on the livestream. "I think working from home is maybe the new normal for a lot of employees — so how do we enable this?"

Gill and his colleague, Chris Elmore, senior sales performance director at AvidXchange, joined Joey Sanchez of HX for the talk about the acquisition, the pandemic, and growth for the company. If you missed it or don't have time to stream the whole conversation, here are some impactful moments of the chat.

“Economic downturns have a tendency to put a very bright light on a feature set or a product or a service that’s underperforming."

— Elmore says on how the pandemic affects innovation and startups. "My hope is that entrepreneurs will see this as a real time to get focused on their business — what's working well and what's not working well — and my hope is that they'll say, 'I need to fix that,' not 'I wish this was better,'" he says.

“For a young entrepreneur looking to build a business, make sure you’re looking for the people who are germane to your business.”

— Gill says about starting his business in Houston. At first, he was trying to find investors in oil and gas, but he found more success working with companies with a background in finance technology. "Houston has a history and density in fintech — I just had to find it."

“The fact that Strongroom owned the automated payment process in HOA that made them so attractive to AvidXchange because we didn’t.”

— Elmore says on the 2015 acquisition. He explains that AvidXchange had set up a presence in multifamily and commercial real estate, while Strongroom had a hold on homeowner's association, or HOA, business. The two companies competed for a while, and if Strongroom hadn't had their HOA specialty that made the company ideal for acquisition, Elmore says the two companies would still be competing today.

“When Strongroom was added to AvidXchange, our culture improved. By the way, we went from 40 employees to 1,000 within 14 months, and Strongroom was right at the beginning of that.”

— Elmore says on growth following the acquisition. The company now has 1,500 employees across seven offices and just closed a $128 million round of fundraising in April.

“Customers don’t care how big you get or how much money you raise from investors. They care about if your service is still doing the things they need to operate their business.”

— Gill says, reminding entrepreneurs to always prioritize and be focused on the client experience — through mergers or acquisitions, fundraising rounds, growth, etc.

“When you replace human interaction with technology, what you have to do, is to now move that person on to something more impactful and more important for the business. I don’t like tech for tech’s sake.”

— Elmore says on the importance of automation. "When you automate something, the output of automation is time," he adds.

“Houston couldn’t be a better place to build a business — I found great investors and employees here. It’s a city that’s used to risk. But it’s got to be you, the entrepreneur, that’s got something festering — that’s how you know it’s a great idea.”

— Gill says on inspiring future innovators. "What kept me motivated was I wanted to win. I felt like we had a great product, and we had a big market to serve. … I wanted to build something lasting and build a great team."

“We continue to be a great Houston story — some of my angel investors in Houston are still benefiting."

— Gill says on AvidXchange's presence in Houston. He adds that he's proud of how his former Strongroom team members have risen through the ranks of the company following the acquisition and that he sees the company, which is still privately held, moving toward IPO.

Houston startup teams up with Austin company on medical device amid COVID-19 crisis

texans teaming up

Two Texas companies with NASA roots are joining forces on a technology that can be used to monitor vital signs of seniors or others that are at-risk of contracting COVID-19.

Houston-based Galen Data Inc., which has developed a cloud platform for medical devices, and Austin-based Advanced TeleSensors Inc., the creator of the Cardi/o touchless monitor. Together, the two health tech companies are collaborating to take ATS's device and adding Galen Data's cloud technology.

"We wish we had found Galen Data sooner. We had been building our own cloud for six months, thinking a custom solution would best meet our needs," says Sajol Ghoshal, CEO and president of ATS, in a news release. "Getting up-and-running with them was very easy, and it allowed us to focus on our core competency — which is data-signal processing."

ATS's technology uses radio frequency in its remote, touchless monitoring. The company's founders developed the core technology at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. Initially, the technology was intended for assisted living facilities. Now, amid the COVID-19 crisis, monitoring isolated seniors or at-risk patients is even more relevant.

Galen Data, which launched in 2016, also has NASA roots as the founders met as software contractors working on NASA's safety systems. The company has developed and marketed its cloud-based platform for connecting medical devices to the internet, including pacemakers and glucose monitors.

Chris DuPont, co-founder and CEO, has led the company to meet compliance standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), cybersecurity organizations, and others.

"We knew that our platform would be a great fit for Cardi/o," Chris DuPont, CEO of Galen Data, says. "Speed was critical, accentuated by the COVID-19 crisis. We were well positioned to address ATS' needs, and help those at-risk in the process."

Sajol Ghoshal (left), CEO and president of ATS, and Chris Dupont, (CEO of Galen Data), are bringing together their technologies. Photos courtesy

These are the risks and rewards of prototyping, according to Houston expert

Guest column

We live in a digital world. Music, movies, and even family photos have become primarily digital. Computer software offers us a range of comfort and efficiency and has become part of our daily routine. So, why would anyone want to build a career around physical product development?

Simple, almost every software product or next big thing relies on a well-executed physical product development project. Apps need a place to run, games need a console to be played, and pictures need a camera to be taken.

Physical product development means dreaming of something that does not yet exist and solves an existing problem. It means taking an intangible idea and making it into a physical item that people can see, touch, and use.

The journey from ideation to creation, and then manufacturing can be difficult, but rewarding. By understanding the process, you'll find that not only is your inspiration worth pursuing, but it may be one of the most fulfilling things you will ever do.

From inspiration to perspiration

Every product development project begins with a vision, the identification of a problem and a solution for that problem. That initial spark of inspiration is what drives the entire project.

Look for a problem that hasn't been solved and solve that problem, or try the reverse. Think of a product idea, and then work backwards to find the need. Regardless, one cannot be successful without the other.

Projects require this problem, or need, because it embodies the product's target market. A product idea without a well-defined need has no reason to exist, and if it did, it would be downright perplexing.

Once you identify your need and idea, start your research.

Test the validity of your idea. How much of a market exists for your problem-solving miracle? Send out surveys, look at various markets, conduct data analyses, and generally, do everything in your power to ensure that your product should be made.

Then, start making something.

From concept to reality

The design, prototype and manufacturing stages are what bring your inspiration closer to reality. Turning it into a concrete product means letting go, and that can be scary.

Initial concept designs can be done in a variety of different ways. Detailed sketches and blueprints could be drawn up, or CAD drawings can be created. This concept design can help you explain your idea to others, including partners and investors. What works even better, though, are prototypes.

A prototype is a preliminary model of your product that can help you determine the feasibility of different aspects of your design. You can make a functional prototype, which acts as a proof-of-concept for your idea, or you may create aesthetic prototypes that will test the look and feel of your product.

Once you nail down the ideal appearance and physicality of your product, you will need to combine the two disciplines as seamlessly as possible. This performance prototype will effectively demo your final product.

Finally, you can prepare your product for production. Designing for manufacturability (DFM) means ensuring that your product can be made efficiently and cost-effectively. DFM allows you to mistake-proof your product by choosing the best manufacturing materials and methods, while keeping in mind the appropriate regulations for your desired market.

From nothing into something

The product development process often changes. Trends like crowdsourcing and innovative fast-to-market solutions constantly upend the process and make it new again. Some automakers, for example, want to innovate the design process using existing customer data — similar to how companies like Microsoft and Apple create iterative versions of their software product development projects.

Getting your product to market can be tough, but certain approaches can ease the burden. Create a simpler product. Fail fast and fail cheap with lean development, meaning limit your risk to maximize your return. Also, never underestimate the importance of customer feedback and intellectual property protection throughout the process.

With that said, invest in yourself and your inspiration, and you will avoid that nagging what if-mentality that drives regret. Great reward always requires risk, but there are also ways to invest smarter. Use available resources and give your dream the best chance for success.

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Onega Ulanova is the founder of OKGlobal.