Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University
In a world where humans and intelligent machines will soon be working side-by-side, companies are working to ensure that human beings—not their hardware-built friends—remain in the driver’s seat.
That’s expressly the mission of MatrixSpace, a tech startup headquartered at Northeastern’s Innovation Campus in Burlington, Massachusetts. The company, co-founded by Northeastern alum Greg Waters and associate professor Jose Martinez Lorenzo, is a spin-out housed at the Barracks Venture Creation Center on the Burlington site; it was recently named a “top five startup to watch” by the Silicon Valley Review.
With artificial intelligence growing ever-more sophisticated, and self-driving cars and autonomous aircraft on the horizon, Waters says it’s important that companies think hard about new work practices between human beings and intelligent machines.
“We’re all about connecting people and intelligent machines,” Waters says. “We think about ways of creating an ecosystem, so that people who, for example, know how to work a smartphone also know how to control intelligent machines.”
Their work is at the heart of Northeastern President Joseph E. Aoun’s concept of “humanics,” a human-focused way of thinking about a robot-filled future that offers “technological, data, and human literacies” as a model for integrating artificial intelligence and machines into education, the workplace, and society at large.
“The idea is to have autonomous machines conduct work in an autonomous fashion, while the most complicated decisions are made by a human person,” Martinez Lorenzo says.
According to Martinez Lorenzo, MatrixSpace has developed both hardware and software to improve the functioning of smart machines and other technologies, such as drones, radars, and sensors. The first product the pair introduced is called DopplerSpace, an AI software platform that offers more acute optical sensing, among other things. The technology gives machines and their human operators the ability to “see in the dark, at a distance, and in bad weather, smoke, or fog,” according to the Silicon Valley Review.
The applications of their work are seemingly endless. Martinez Lorenzo says another software platform they’ve developed, called ShannonSpace, would allow “a swarm of autonomous robots or drones” deployed to a city or place devastated by a tornado or hurricane, for example, to retrieve more accurate information about damaged structures and injured civilians. It could also be used by authorities to find weapons concealed under a person’s clothing in schools, public spaces, and large venues such as stadiums, he says.
Martinez Lorenzo and Waters are also working on another product that they say could revolutionize radar technology.
“We are about to introduce the world’s highest preference, lowest cost radar, which we think is going to transform radar applications across the board,” Waters says.
Waters told the Silicon Valley Review that the company hopes to focus on safety and security for both “enterprise businesses and defense” purposes before expanding, eventually, into “construction, insurance, and transportation.” For the time, that means focusing on existing technologies, making them “a lot better, faster, cheaper,” he says.
Northeastern owns a fraction of MatrixSpace, which began in 2019, Martinez Lorenzo says. The first two years were challenging, he says, “trying to commercialize the [intellectual property].” Now, with the backing of numerous investors, MatrixSpace is poised to make an even bigger splash—and they hope to do so, Martinez Lorenzo says, in the spirit of “humanics.”
“It’s about having machines work for people, and not having machines replace people,” he says. “This, and the idea of creating an [intellectual property] at Northeastern University that can be transitioned into startups—and that builds on interesting, important technology.”
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