The following paper is a “Q&A interview” conducted by Joanne Pransky of Industrial Robot Journal as a method to impart the combined technological, business and personal experience of a prominent, robotic industry engineer-turned successful innovator and leader, regarding the challenges of bringing technological discoveries to fruition. This paper aims to discuss these issues.
The interviewee is Mel Torrie, CEO and President of Autonomous Solutions, Inc. (ASI). ASI manufactures an OEM/vendor independent software and hardware solution retrofitted to existing equipment to create a wide variety of fully autonomous vehicles spanning agriculture, mining, automotive, industrial cleaning, security and government/military applications. In this interview, Torrie shares how he first got started in the robotics field along with his experiences in running his ground-breaking startup.
In 1999, Torrie received a Master’s Degree in Electrical Engineering at Utah State University (USU) where he worked on two National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) space shuttle payloads. After his work at USU, he managed robotics development programs for John Deere, the US Department of Defense and the US Department of Energy. He founded ASI, a spin-off of the Center of Self Organizing and Intelligent Systems (CSOIS) at USU, in 2000.
Torrie was a pioneer and visionary who bootstrapped ASI from the beginning. Under Torrie’s leadership, ASI raised over $85m in a unique business model where there is no equity but only strategic partners. These foremost companies are given exclusive rights to their vertical market and jointly own their industry’s driverless vehicle’s intellectual property (IP) with ASI. The vehicles are developed and tested at ASI’s 100-acre proving ground facility in Utah. To date, ASI’s more than 100 employees and their business partners have automated 75 different vehicle types and ASI continues to create new markets. Some of ASI’s notable installations include the Bingham Canyon Mine clean-up effort; BatCat, the teleoperated CAT telehandler for the Los Angeles Police Department; and the robotic durability testing program with Ford Motors, Toyota, Fiat Chrysler Automotive, Hyundai, General Motors as well as other private proving grounds.
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