In 2009, while the world was still reeling from a global economic crisis, a young Kitchener-based company called Clearpath Robotics (Clearpath) was established by four University of Waterloo mechatronics engineering graduates: Matthew Rendall, Ryan Gariepy, Pat Martinson, and Bryan Webb.
DESPITE PUBLIC SKEPTICISM AND HESITATION FROM INVESTORS, CLEARPATH HAS CONTINUED TO PROVE THAT INNOVATION, HARD WORK, AND STRONG PARTNERSHIPS ARE RELIABLE INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS.
“Originally, the business idea was to build robots to clear landmines in war-torn countries; that’s where the name Clearpath comes from,” says Meghan Hennessey, marketing communications manager at Clearpath. However, facing significant risks and barriers to entering the market in 2009, the founders decided to shift the company’s focus from military applications to customizable robotic platforms for research and development in academia. Through six years of working with different customers in this area of research, Clearpath was able to expand the business into different industrial applications. In April 2016, OTTO Motors, a division of Clearpath, was launched with the aim of building unmanned vehicles for material handling in the industrial world.
Currently, both Clearpath’s research and industrial divisions are based on the vision of “building robots to automate the world’s dull, dirty, and dangerous jobs.” Research vehicles have been used in a variety of applications in the military, agricultural, and mining industries, and the company’s clients include the University of Waterloo, the University of British Columbia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University. The research robotics have been exported to over 40 countries around the world.
In its OTTO Motors division, Clearpath is now building OTTO 100 and OTTO 1500 self-driving vehicles for light-load and heavy-load material transport in factories and warehouses. These vehicles are used for different applications according to their size differences, as Hennessey explains: “For example, OTTO 1500 can be configured as a cart, conveyor or lift in order to fit the needs of the factory or warehouse.” OTTO Motors is currently selling to the North American market with prominent customers include General Electric and John Deere.
“With a $100 billion market per year in the United States for industrial robotics in manufacturing, there is plenty of opportunity for us to grow the OTTO Motors division within North America,” says Hennessey. “We are focusing on supporting the vision of automating material transport within industrial centres.” To achieve this goal, Clearpath adopts new concepts and continues to innovate and enhance the OTTO Motors product offering.
Automatic guided vehicles (AGVs) have traditionally been used in the manufacturing sector for material transport, which require magnetic tape or cables affixed to the floor. OTTO Motors’ self-driving vehicles (SDVs), however, offer infrastructure-free navigation using 2D LiDAR sensors to perceive and map their environment. (The sensors are currently supplied by SICK Canada Ltd.) “The OTTO 1500 has front and rear sensors, which allow the vehicle to perceive almost 360 degrees of its environment. Using this perception method, and Clearpath’s proprietary software, the vehicles can figure out the most efficient route for transporting materials and dynamically move their way through the facility,” says Hennessey.
Clearpath is proud of its hard-working and talented team, comprised of 130 professionals. The majority of the employees are from the Waterloo region and the Greater Toronto Area, but due to Clearpath’s prestige in the robotics industry, the company attracts talent from all over the world. Approximately sixty per cent of its employees are engineers, with training in robotics automation, electronics, computer science, mechanical engineering, or electrical engineering programs. The remaining 40 per cent of employees are split between roles in operations management, sales and marketing.
“Although Waterloo’s talent pool has been an excellent source for skilled employees for our businesses, we also welcome applicants globally as we seek world-class talent,” explains Hennessey. “Robotics technology is still very new – it’s an emerging industry – so it’s important to scan the global landscape for talent. We’re looking to find the right people with the right skillset.”
CLEARPATH’S CO-FOUNDERS CONTINUE TO MAINTAIN A STRONG CONNECTION WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO AND WITH OTHER LOCAL EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS.
Clearpath recruits students for co-ops and internships directly from the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College. The company also participates in events hosted by those institutions, and sponsors some of their robotics clubs. For example, Clearpath recently participated in the “TronCon” event, hosted by the University of Waterloo’s engineering department, and the Canadian Association of Business Students (CABS) career events at Wilfrid Laurier University. Clearpath has also remained closely tied to the Accelerator Centre of Waterloo (a business centre) that helped Clearpath get up and running when it was first established.
Clearpath utilizes the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) Tax Incentive program, the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP), and FedDev Ontario’s Investing in Business Innovation (IBI) program for continuous research and innovation.
As the company has moved out of the “startup” phase, Hennessey notes that relevant government grant opportunities are becoming limited; “There are a lot of grant opportunities to help start-ups with R&D efforts, but for companies like Clearpath that sit between a start-up and a mid-sized company and are focused on growth, government grants are somewhat limited.”
BY LEVERAGING INDUSTRY KNOWLEDGE AND PARTNERSHIPS, CLEARPATH CONTINUES TO EXPAND.
When asked about the company’s plan for the future, Hennessey replies without hesitation, “We will remain headquartered in Canada – Clearpath started in Waterloo, we love it here, and it is a hub with a great talent pool.” The company is building technologies to ready the world for the fourth industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). They are prepared for any challenges and opportunities the future may bring. People, innovation, and partnership make Clearpath a prime example of a successful Ontario-based manufacturer.
Explore Clearpath and their robots by visiting their website.
Clearpath Robotics (Clearpath) designs and manufactures driverless vehicles for research and development. Solutions are used for research across mining, agriculture and military industries. OTTO Motors is a division of Clearpath, established in April, 2016, to provide self-driving vehicles for light-load and heavy-load material transport in factories, warehouses, and distribution centres.
Headquarters: 1425 Strasburg Rd. Suite 2A Kitchener, ON N2R 1H2
- Matt Rendall, CEO at Clearpath
- Meghan Hennessey, Marketing Communications Manager
Number of employees: 120
Year established: 2009
Line of business
334110 – Computer and Peripheral Equipment Manufacturing
541420 – Industrial Design Services
541710 – Research and Development in the Physical, Engineering and Sciences.
Clearpath Robotics – Research platform: designs and manufactures driverless vehicles for research. Core platforms include Husky UGV, Grizzly RUV, Heron USV.
OTTO Motors, a division of Clearpath, provides self-driving vehicles and technology for the industrial material transport in factories and warehouses. OTTO Motors’ line includes OTTO 100 for light-load material transport, and OTTO 1500 for heavy-load material transport.
Customers (Research Platform): The University of Waterloo; the University of British Columbia, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Carnegie Mellon, Harvard University, University of Coimbra, and the Canadian Space Agency.
Industry application: General Electric, John Deere, and others to be announced soon.
Exports: Research robotics have been exported to over 40 countries around the world, while the industrial vehicles via OTTO Motors are currently sold in North America.
R&D, Skills and Educational needs
Employees: Among the total of 130 professionals, approximately 60% of employees are engineers with training in robotics automation, electronics, computer science, mechanical engineering, mechatronics engineering, and electrical engineering programs. The remaining 40% are split between the operation, production, sales and marketing roles.
Clearpath was started in 2009 by four University of Waterloo students who wanted to provide help academics bring their research to the field faster and at a lower cost than what had previously been possible. The company vision was to provide robotics solutions to automate the world’s dull, dirty and dangerous jobs. After 5 years of inspiring researchers to work toward this vision, Clearpath launched OTTO Motors to provide a means of automating dull and dangerous tasks within industrial environments.
- Both Clearpath Robotics and OTTO Motors function within a competitive landscape.
- For Clearpath Robotics, competitors include Adept Technology, Robotnik, and Segway
- For OTTO Motors, competitors include those who make Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) and Laser Guided Vehicle (LGV) fields such as Adept Technology, Seegrid Corporation, and Cimcorp North America
- Government Relationship:
- IRAP & SR&ED programs have been beneficial and important to Clearpath
- Benefits from Accelerator Centre of Waterloo
- Utilizes FedDev Ontario’s Investing in Business Innovation (IBI) program.
- Education Institution Partnerships:
- Work with the University of Waterloo, Wilfrid Laurier University, and Conestoga College
- Participates in events hosted by educational institutions and sponsors special projects for robotic conferences.
- Participates in the Canadian Association of Business Students (CABS)
- Gets involved in TronCon events hosted by the University of Waterloo’s Engineering department.
- Sponsors industrial webinars to educate the market on Industry 4.0 technologies and their capabilities on changing markets.
- Community Partnerships:
- Work with Vineland Research Innovation Centre in Canada’s Niagara Region on the farming research.
- Members of a variety of industry-specific associations
- Maintains strong relationship with the local community and hacker space.
- Customers first: understand and meet customers’ needs.
- Continuous innovation
- Robotic solutions have proven reliability
- Reputable customer base, willing to provide referrals due to high customer satisfaction rating.
- Government grant opportunities tend to target startups, rather than mid-sized companies. Therefore, opportunities are limited due to the company size.
- Expand OTTO Motors’ feature set and product configurations to meet needs across a variety of industrial use cases.
- Won Silver at New York Ceremony for OTTO 1500 self-driving vehicle (2016)
- Won 2016 Robotics Business Review RBR50 Award (2016)
- Silver Winner for its OTTO 1500 self-driving vehicle by the Edison Awards (2016)
- Won Silver Edison Award for OTTO 1500 in 2016
- Won Gold Stevie Award in International Business Awards for OTTO 100 in 2016
- Won NED Innovation Award in 2015
- Winner of Startup Canada Award for International Trade, presented by UPS (2015)
- Won Silver Stevie Award in 2014 International Business Awards (2014)