Boston is well-known for its bevy of software companies transforming everything from marketing and finance, to HR, travel and healthcare. But the city’s hardware scene — which arguably receives less attention — is blossoming into an impressive space of its own.
Creating everything from smart furniture to warehouse robots, the following five companies are adding a new element to Boston’s tech scene while gaining some serious attention from venture capitalists. If you want to know where Boston tech is headed next, hardware is where you should be looking.
Founded in 2015, Desktop Metal has a mission to transform manufacturing and engineering with its metal 3D printers. The company operated in stealth mode for two years before unveiling two trademark 3D printing systems in April 2017. The company’s first product is described as “the first office-friendly metal 3D printing system for rapid prototyping,” while Desktop Metal’s other printing system, “Production System,” was created for mass production of high-resolution metal parts at a speed “100 times faster than today’s laser-based additive manufacturing systems.”
The company became a unicorn in July 2017, raising a $115 million Series D, which put the company's post-money valuation above $1 billion. If you weren’t impressed yet, that round marked the largest individual private round for a metal additive manufacturing company. Ever.
Waltham-based 6 River Systems is a robotics company aiming to redefine fulfillment automation for e-commerce and retail operations. One of its warehouse robots, Chuck, uses state-of-the-art sensors to navigate work zones and can carry a whopping 160 pounds of material.
The startup raised $15 million in July 2017 to accelerate the deployment of its warehouse products and handle the rising tide of e-commerce orders. In total, 6 River Systems has raised over $21 million in financing. Fun fact: the co-founders sealed the deal for the company over bowling and beers at Sacco's Bowl Haven in Somerville one evening, and one of the founders (Jerome Dubois) still has the score hanging over his desk.
Cambridge startup Soofa is on a mission to make cities more “user friendly” with its smart infrastructure, which includes benches and signs that monitor how the public interacts with them. The company was started at MIT in 2014 by three women who wanted to reinvent public spaces. Their first product line — Soofa benches — are solar-powered and can charge electronic devices via USB. They’re also sensor-enabled to measure activity in outdoor spaces.
Another day, another revolutionary startup out of MIT. One such company is Lightmatter, which is focused on making a light-powered AI chip that can process data and train engines at — you guessed it — the speed of light. Lightmatter closed an $11 million Series A funding in early February 2018 led by Matrix Partners and Spark Capital to continue developing its silicon chip that uses light (rather than electrical signals) for processing.
According to the startup, this technology could rapidly accelerate the power of AI and its ability to transform everything from smart personal assistants to online advertising. The AI models powering these types of products learn using large datasets, which traditionally takes a significant amount of time (and energy), but Lightmatter promises faster and more energy-efficient computers.
Another hardware startup with MIT roots is Lightelligence, a company attempting to commercialize information processing carried by light, rather than electrons. The startup raised a fresh $10 million in VC funding in February 2018, which will help perfect the company’s next-gen artificial intelligence hardware.
The founders’ prototype, a programmable nanophotonic processor, is capable of quickly carrying out the many repeated multiplications of matrices (arrays of numbers) that are needed for deep learning tasks. The team hopes that the nanophotonic processor could be used in everything from security systems to drones to self-driving cars.