Article Published: October 21, 2014
Article Published: October 21, 2014
By Tim Hayes, Contributing Writer
The world of robotics can sound a little intimidating, science-fictionish even, where machines perform amazing feats that outpace and outflank the human factor.
Parag Batavia, President of Neya Systems LLC, describes what he and his Wexford-based team of robotics experts do as more of a blending of left- and right-brain capabilities, where complex technology meets creative innovation.
Launched in 2009, Neya Systems develops robotics technologies for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), as well as for a number of commercial clients nationwide. Begun by Batavia alone, Neya Systems today employs 20 professionals.
The company refers to itself as “a leading developer of advanced unmanned systems technologies. We work with defense, homeland security, and commercial customers to deliver novel solutions to some of the hardest problems related to autonomy, computer vision, and general unmanned systems development and deployment.”
Key differentiators for Neya Systems versus its competitors in the robotics development space include:
• Solid technical solutions and industry-leading customer service.
• A highly experienced group of experts in autonomous systems, including mission planning and management, active and passive perception, navigation in structured and unstructured terrain, and human-robot interaction.
• Employee backgrounds in robotics, computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering.
• Strong focus on unmanned systems interoperability, including leadership in establishing unmanned systems standards through top positions in the AS-4/JAUS Working Group and the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Control Segment Architecture Working Group (UCS-WG).
• Significant experience in unmanned systems integration, on platforms ranging from small 10-pound unmanned platforms up to large 6,000-pound systems.
• Deep experience partnering with large companies and institutions.
Batavia noted that these differentiators for Neya Systems take on greater meaning given the evolution of needs and priorities in the defense industry.
“The DoD’s priority today is to focus on keeping soldiers safe, operating from greater distances,” he explained. “As a small business with great talent and experience on board, we can be more agile and cost-efficient in addressing that priority. DoD realizes they need to engage organizations like ours.”
As proof, Neya Systems has developed a leading package of robotics offerings falling under the heading of its MPMS™ product. The MPMS set of software tools allows users to integrate multiple-legacy unmanned platforms—whether operating in the air or on the ground—into a single cohesive environment, permitting advanced mission planning and management. In layman’s terms, that means a single operator can control and monitor multiple unmanned vehicles at once, moving away from the typical “one soldier, one robot” paradigm.
Batavia said that the ground vehicle segment continues to see meaningful growth among commercial customers, especially related to driver assistance robotics in the automotive industry. That doesn’t necessarily mean self-driving cars, he added, but robotic applications to make the human driver safer.
“Our team is responding to demand among our key markets to go beyond what’s currently available,” he said. “This is an exciting time to be in robotics, since the concept has been gaining acceptance from society as a whole. Practical, real-world applications are being made in larger numbers across all major industries—including agriculture and others, along with the ones you would think of automatically, like automotive and defense.
“Industries either have robotic applications already, or if they don’t, they’re asking for them,” Batavia remarked. “These industries will take the time to do the business case analysis themselves, and realize that robotics can make a lot of sense for them. Now our team at Neya Systems has 10 years of experience to piggyback from, to meet those needs.
“We don’t dictate solutions to clients; we work closely to provide solutions in partnership with them. People here have an innate industry. We have recruited nationally. Some team members came from an earlier company I owned, with the rest of our hires coming through recommendations from existing team members.”
Batavia has been involved with robotics in one form or another since high school. The Wisconsin native worked in the Robotics Lab at the University of Southern California as an undergraduate, and eventually arrived at Carnegie Mellon University, where he earned his advanced degree.
“Everybody told me to apply to CMU, so in 1995 I came to Pittsburgh and we’re never leaving,” he affirmed. “Neya Systems is completely bootstrapped, with no outside investors. I believe that’s consistent with the Pittsburgh culture of being self-sustaining.
“We’re more of a custom solutions provider than an off-the shelf seller of robotics products. DoD recently awarded us a Phase III SBIR, advancing our contract straight from Phase I, demonstrating its follow-on interest in funding our ideas. It’s very rewarding getting our ideas on robotics into the world. We get to play with really big toys.”