The Essential Interview: Mitchell Weiss, Seegrid CTO and IP Expert

In the News
April 01, 2017

Joanne Pransky, associate editor of Industrial Robot, talked recently with Mitchell Weiss, chief technology officer of Seegrid Corp.

Weiss has experience with developing industrial automation systems, building successful startups, and protecting IP.

Weiss has a Bachelor of Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a graduate certificate in intellectual property (IP) from Northeastern University. He has taught at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pennsylvania and lectured at MIT.

In addition, Weiss holds 24 patents, has served as an expert witness in IP lawsuits, and is a member of national committees on safety standards for automatic guided industrial vehicles.

His first job was at Unimate, the world’s first robot company. Weiss has been an executive at Brooks Automation, PRI Automation, ProgramMation Inc., and United States Robots Inc. His current company, Seegrid, is a 2017 RBR50 member that makes vision-guided robots and vehicle-control systems.

This interview is available free to Robotics Business Review Readers until April 30, 2017. Here’s a preview:

Pransky: You’ve worked for many robotic companies, you co-founded your own, and you’ve worked in academia. What position has been your favorite position, and why?

Weiss: While it’s always fun to be the boss, there are really two things that get me up in the morning. One is getting to design a machine from the system level.

The other one that gets me up is solving customer problems — applications of the machines.

I spend a lot of my time on the road and have done so since my first real job out of college, which was at Unimation. I was the first applications engineer on the Puma robot. …

I’ve been in factories that make transformers, potato chips, semiconductor chips, clothing, and cars. I tell young people who are interested in manufacturing that you want to be an applications engineer [AE] because you will learn more about manufacturing in that job in less time than you will anywhere else.

At this point, my jobs at Seegrid consist of the CTO job, which is the systems and future side. There is also the application-support job, in which I get to go out with our AEs. We wander a factory.

I tell them that within a couple hours, you need to be able to say, “That, that, that, and that is being done wrong, and this is being done right.” You have to very quickly eyeball where the problems are and where the benefits are, and you learn a lot about business.

Pransky: How long did it take Seegrid to commercialize evidence and stereo vision technology, and what have been some of Seegrid’s challenges as a company?

Weiss: One of the big challenges was taking something out of a research lab and turning it into a repeatable, producible, manufacturable product.

You can have an evidence grid that’s fixed to the world, which is your basic map that the vehicle’s traveling through. You could also have an evidence grid that’s fixed to the vehicle that tells you about what’s changing in its surroundings.

Seegrid’s sensors are built using stereo cameras that utilize imagers for things like you see in automobile blind-spot detection or in cell phones. Until just a couple of years ago, we were still fighting with how to produce stereo cameras in volume reliably and sustainably and at a low enough price.

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