From the Gowanus Canal to Esteemed Startup Accelerator

NYU Tandon Team Selected for Cleantech Open Northeast

solar powered robotic vehicle collecting data on water

A solar-powered robotic vehicle that collects aquatic data developed by Professor Maurizio Porfiri and postdoctoral researcher Jeffrey Laut. The pair has been selected to participate in the Cleantech Open Northeast accelerator program.

Manifold Robotics — the brainchild of Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Maurizio Porfiri and postdoctoral researcher Jeffrey Laut — was recently selected to participate in the prestigious Cleantech Open Northeast 2017 accelerator program. Laut and Porfiri, who is the director of the Dynamical Systems Laboratory at NYU Tandon, will join 30 other companies selected by Cleantech Open Northeast, a regional member of the national Cleantech Open — the largest cleantech startup accelerator that supports entrepreneurs and business ventures in clean technology, such as agriculture, water and waste technologies, transportation, or energy storage.

Manifold Robotics evolved out of the Brooklyn Atlantis project created by Porfiri and Associate Professor Oded Nov, which Laut worked on as a doctoral student at NYU Tandon. Combining robotics, technology and citizen science, the Brooklyn Atlantis team built robotic boats to collect data on water quality and capture images of the infamously polluted Gowanus Canal.

Over the past year, the Manifold Robotics team participated in PowerBridgeNY, a proof-of-concept center led in part by NYU Tandon that helps innovative research transition from the lab to full-fledged cleantech startups. Transforming Brooklyn Atlantis into a commercial product required strategic customer discovery and research into the ideal customers, which PowerBridgeNY helped the team achieve through the lean startup model. “We’ve been in this program for over a year now, and we all agree that we’ve now identified who our customers could be, what problems they would have, and we believe our technology could solve those problems,” Laut asserted. The startup aims to provide a platform and physical robot to streamline the process of data collection of marine and freshwater environments for a multitude of consumers, such as universities, local governments, and agencies.

Now, Porfiri and Laut are developing the robotic boat to traverse any water surface and whose platform can be tailored to any user’s purposes. In addition to its water quality sensors, customers can outfit the boat with their own sensors and hardware, such as sensors for bathymetric surveys of underwater depth. Currently, their platform features an onboard computer offering autonomous control, with the ability to save collected data onboard or through a wireless or 3G connection.

"We are extremely proud that Manifold Robotics has earned a spot in the Cleantech Open Accelerator this year," Kurt Becker, the Vice Dean for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at Tandon and the principal investigator on the PowerBridgeNY program for NYU, said. "Manifold Robotics truly exemplifies PowerBridgeNY’s goal to translate research breakthroughs into scalable cleantech businesses: they came to us with just a lab prototype two years ago and now, after completing over 100 customer interviews, they are able to compete in a national business accelerator program."

Through Cleantech Open Northeast, the team will continue to hone their business acumen and pitching skills, as well as seek out capital investment opportunities. Now that Manifold Robotics is officially incorporated, the team aims to develop a commercially-viable prototype and expand their team. “As the company continues to grow, we will be able to identify more problems to tackle,” Laut said.

Camila Ryder
Graduate School of Arts and Science
Master of Arts in English Literature, Class of 2018