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MATLAB for Startups – Notes from a founder with You Wu » Startups, Accelerators, & Entrepreneurs


You Wu is at present the Robotics and Autonomous System Trade Supervisor at MathWorks the place he works on methods to develop MathWorks merchandise’ utilization amongst robotics builders. Unexpected, I met You just a few years in the past when he was working beneath a special mindset, one in all an impressed and pushed startup founder. You was figuring out of a lab at MIT after we met to debate his use of MATLAB and the way MathWorks Startup Program may assist his then firm, WatchTower Robotics. Quick-forward to at this time, and we’re introduced again collectively as we hear You’s ideas from a founder and why entrepreneurs ought to select MATLAB for startups.

Madeline: Are you able to inform the viewers about Watchtower Robotics?
You: Watchtower Robotics produced a robotic to examine underground water pipes, finding leaks for municipal utilities. We constructed these robots and deployed them into water pipes in Massachusetts, Texas, Virginia and Indiana. This expertise was all I wanted for as an engineer; design and develop a product and deploy the product in actual life to assist clients clear up their issues.

M: How did your startup concept come about?
Y: The concept comes from clients who actually need to unravel their water drawback. The expertise was initially developed at MIT as a part of my PhD analysis, and Watchtower licensed the patented expertise from MIT. My analysis was began by visionary leaders in Saudi Arabia. They’re conscious that, whereas it prices much more to supply clear water within the desert nation, they’re continually dropping their produced water as a consequence of leaks in transmission. Their water pipe community was dropping about 30% of all produced water day by day. They wished to cease the leaks however, at a primary step, they might not discover and find these leaks with out there options again then. Thus, they got here to MIT to fund the event of a leak detection resolution that may work for them. I used to be very fortunate to have the chance to work on their undertaking and developed this expertise.

M: Pipe inspection robotic! It’s certainly a novel software. What do you see as the present traits for startups in robotics and autonomous programs?
Y: Within the robotics business, I see startups heading in all instructions. A number of years in the past, we considered robots as robotic arms in meeting strains. Now, we see robots crawling into pipes, and robots doing the digital camera work at film studios. Robotics startups are diverging and lengthening the appliance of robotics into all edges of all industries.

Watchtower Robotics’ pipe inspection robotic (courtesy of You Wu)

M: It should take a lot of effort to construct a robotic product. What number of engineers have been there at Watchtower Robotics? What was most essential once you have been constructing an engineering workforce in a startup?
Y: On the peak time in 2019, we had 11 engineers.

I learnt two key issues by my startup life. First, make engineers house owners of the product. Their work produces the worth proposition for patrons. I discovered it attracts out one of the best of the engineers’ productively after we respect them because the proprietor of the merchandise. Quite than telling them how they need to construct it, inform them the client’s ache and allow them to clear up the issue with their very own creativity.

Second, it may be chaotic when you might have a bunch of engineers, or now, a bunch of homeowners. It is very important have a communication system that brings everybody collectively. For instance, every day standup and cadence. In early days I bumped into these two conditions lots. When engineer Bob was talking on the cadence, he spoke immediately on the development he made with out first telling everybody, first hand, what he was engaged on and why an enchancment was wanted. One other scenario was that each engineer has his or her most popular growth instruments or programming language. It took loads of time to combine totally different folks’s code into one software. Having a communication system, a algorithm in place, resembling how we talk to one another and the way our code communicates to one another, could be very impactful on the startup’s productiveness.

M: What lead you to select MATLAB in your growth?
Y: At Watchtower Robotics, we used many different instruments earlier than converging to MATLAB. When each engineer was utilizing his or her most popular programming surroundings, it incurred loads of overhead, non-productive work hours, to combine everybody’s code modules. Everybody was aware of MATLAB, and there was not a steep studying curve to modify to MATLAB for folks. With MATLAB as a single surroundings, it saved us loads of the overhead to attach totally different code modules collectively.

M: How did MathWorks instruments make it easier to in your growth?
Y: MathWorks instruments actually accelerated our growth. As one instance, we have been making an attempt to do information processing on the readings from an Inertia sensor (IMU). The aim was to know how the robotic was rotating when it was shifting by the pipe. Our engineer, who has a pc science background, did loads of analysis, discovered some opensource libraries in Python, and put collectively his personal code. It took one week. Throughout the demo, I turned the IMU the other way up in a short time. His code predicted that the IMU was flying by the roof—a bug was discovered. It took him one other few days to debug and repair the issue. As compared, we tried the identical IMU in MATLAB. Utilizing the IMU options within the Navigation Toolbox, we obtained the identical IMU working in an hour. And once I flip the IMU, the MATLAB characteristic predicted the movement completely. No bugs. That was about ten days of engineering time saved.

M: MathWorks has a partnership with MassChallenge to sponsor startups with free licensing and engineering assist. How did this affect you once you have been a member?
Y: The free licensing is a large profit, particularly as a startup with restricted sources. However I need to spotlight the extra free MATLAB useful resource I want I knew about again in my startup days. At Watchtower Robotics, we thought that’s all we get from MathWorks for startups, free licenses. What I didn’t know till I got here to work at MathWorks, is that startups can get free technical assist from skilled software engineers at MathWorks. This isn’t simply coding and debugging help, it’s discussions with senior engineers with a few years of business expertise on the best way to clear up an engineering drawback. I’ve since supported a number of startups in this sort of technical assist calls. Startups, be sure to make the most of this free technical assist!

M: Do you might have another recommendation outdoors of MathWorks instruments for startup founders?
Y: For at the very least {hardware} product centered startups, would you wish to spend your workforce’s priceless time on constructing purposes and person expertise, or reinventing sure backend software program that you simply noticed helpful elsewhere? Like within the IMU story, I discovered it very environment friendly to make use of the toolboxes in MATLAB to speed up the backend software program growth, so my workforce can concentrate on constructing purposes and person expertise. I hope you discover this benefit as effectively.

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