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Robokind Wins Mechanical Engineering Magazine Emerging Technology Award

Friday, December 21, 2018

Mechanical Engineering alumnus Richard Margolin and his Dallas-based company, Robokind, have won one of five Emerging Technology Awards from Mechanical Engineering magazine. Mechanical Engineering is the magazine of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

Richard MargolinMechanical Engineering magazine’s Emerging Technology Awards honor ascending technologies that are poised to transform their fields and the innovators behind them. Dozens of innovations in five core engineering fields – clean energy, bioengineering, advanced manufacturing, robotics, and pressure technology – are considered, and the magazine’s editors narrow the list to five technological innovations, one in each field.

Robokind won in the Robotics category. The other winners were IDE Technologies (Pressure Technology), GE Renewables Division (Clean Energy), Airbus (Manufacturing) and Microsoft HoloLens (Bioengineering).

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“It’s a great honor, and we’re still wrapping our heads around it. We’re a small company with 22 employees and the others are Fortune 100-type corporations, so it’s a validation with our customers, groups we’re talking to about new programs and potential investors. I hope people think what we’re doing is important because of the positive impact it’s having,” Margolin said.

Milo works with a childMargolin and Robokind were honored for their robot, named Milo, that helps teach children with autism about social skills and emotional understanding. Research has shown that children with autism who do not respond to or interact well with human therapists or other adults often open up to robots. Milo is programmed to interact with children through realistic movements and a screen on his chest that shows electronic flash cards and videos of how to greet a friend, for example, which the children repeat.

Robokind sells the Milo directly to school districts through its program Robots4Autism, which is used by about 400 schools in the United States. To make Milo affordable, Margolin and his team had to create flexible, lifelike skin that was less expensive to produce than a previous version, and they also had to engineer ways to reduce the number of engines needed to make Milo’s facial expressions.

Milo facial expressionsMargolin chose to work with robots and autistic children because he previously worked for a humanoid robotics firm and, while doing so, came in contact with several university researchers who were working with autism. When he looked at the research, he realized that robots could make a difference in reaching children with autism, but no one had taken the leap from the lab to the classroom.

“I identified a need and addressed it. Autism affects millions of children, families and teachers, and once I began seeing the positive results, it was easy to get really driven to continue down this path,” he said.

Robokind also offers Robots4STEM., which teaches visual programming to students of all abilities through the use of a personalized avatar and Jett, a highly advanced, facially-expressive robot.

“The work we’re doing applies novel technology to help in areas of need where people aren’t the best solution, or in areas where technology can enhance and extend peoples’ abilities. We’ve focused on public education because that’s where the most kids are and where the need is,” Margolin explained.

Three Milo robots“We can put a robot in a classroom and, with minimal training, a teacher can work with autistic children with positive results, and also collect real, reliable quantitative data about autistic learners. Or, with the STEM program, we can immediately give teachers the ability to teach children to code even if they don’t have any coding knowledge themselves.”

As Margolin looks to the future, he plans to continue to work with Joshua Jach, a fellow UTA mechanical engineering alumnus, whose contributions to the company have been instrumental in its success, to expand both the Robots4Autism and Robots4STEM programs and develop a next-generation robot, since the originals were designed before the company really had customers, and customer feedback has made an upgrade necessary.

Margolin is Robokind’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from UTA in 2010. He was the recipient of a Dallas Business Journal Tech Titan award in 2017 and is a member of the Forbes Tech Council.