Local Startup AMBOTS Receives $1 Million Small Business Award

An autonomous 3-D printer at work.
Photo Submitted

An autonomous 3-D printer at work.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – AMBOTS, a local startup company developing autonomous manufacturing technology, is having a pretty good year. Last summer, the company was featured on The Henry Ford’s Innovation Nation with Mo Rocca. More recently, it was awarded a $1 million Small Business Innovation Research Phase II Award from the National Science Foundation.

AMBOT’s technology utilizes a “swarm” of autonomous robots that can work in concert to print and assemble a range of products on demand — potentially anything from a table to an airplane, so long as it has a digital design to follow. AMBOTS stands for Autonomous Mobile roBOTS and Advanced Manufacturing roBOTS. The grant enables AMBOTS to invest in its workforce, both in salaries and additional personnel, and to continue developing and testing its swarm 3-D printing and assembling platform.

As part of the SBIR grant, University of Arkansas associate professor of mechanical engineering, Wenchao Zhou, will receive a subaward of $92,468. Zhou is a cofounder of AMBOTS, its chief technology officer and the primary inventor of AMBOTS’ underlying technology.

Zhou and his team will work with researchers from the University of Texas-Austin on the computational framework and algorithm design for large printing jobs involving multiple robots. Specifically, they will focus on multi-piece, large-scale models, some of which will involve different materials, including concrete and plastic. Finally, the two teams will determine the optimum post-processing procedure for completing a 3-D printed mold with the minimum of manual labor.

“We are excited about the promise of swarm manufacturing for enabling on-demand autonomous manufacturing,” Zhou said. He added that “we’re also grateful for the support from the University of Arkansas, the state of Arkansas, and the federal government to help us demonstrate that promise.”

The federal Small Business Innovation and Research award program incentivizes small businesses to pursue research and development with the potential for commercialization. The goal is for businesses to reach their technological potential and to create a pathway to profitability through commercialization.

So what’s next? “With SBIR Phase II funding,” chief mechanical engineer Zach Hyden said, “we aim to advance development of the AMBOTS platform and swarm printing technology to a commercial product release by the end of 2023.”

The cofounders of AMBOTS participated in the national NSF I-Corps program. The  I-Corps program strives to “reduce the time and risk associated with translating promising ideas and technologies from the laboratory to the marketplace.” One way the program does this is by assisting fledgling businesses in the customer discovery process to ensure there is a market for their products. In fact, Zhou estimated they participated in 400 customer discovery interviews. Participation in the I-Corps program is often instrumental to securing a SBIR grant.

Zhou’s research has additionally received gap and commercialization funding from the university’s Chancellor’s Fund.

The AMBOTS can be seen in action in this clip from Innovation Nation.

About the University of Arkansas: As Arkansas' flagship institution, the U of A provides an internationally competitive education in more than 200 academic programs. Founded in 1871, the U of A contributes more than $2.2 billion to Arkansas’ economy through the teaching of new knowledge and skills, entrepreneurship and job development, discovery through research and creative activity while also providing training for professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the U of A among the top 3% of U.S. colleges and universities with the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the U of A among the top public universities in the nation. See how the U of A works to build a better world at Arkansas Research News.

Contacts

Wenchao Zhou, associate professor
Department of Mechanical Engineering
479-575-7250, zhouw@uark.edu

Hardin Young, assistant director of research communications
University Relations
479-575-6850, hyoung@uark.edu

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