Salt Lake City
Industry: Electronics & Aerospace
Diversifying from defense, CEO Ben Wolff is leading the robotics innovator to new products and global opportunity.
Wolff admits it's easy to go to work. "It's easy when you manufacture products that are meaningful, when you're working on a product that’s cool, that’s now, and that can change the world," he says. "And there's so much more to be done. We're constantly innovating. We are doing things that people have never done before. It's tremendously exciting."
Originally established at the University of Utah in the early 1980s with a focus on prosthetics and biomechanics, Sarcos was spun off and came to be a part of Raytheon in 2007. "Under Raytheon, Sarcos was focused on providing products for the military," Wolff says.
When government spending dried up, particularly after sequestration, the time was ripe for Sarcos to break away and rethink its business model, and Wolff helped lead an ownership company that bought Sarcos' assets from Raytheon. The company's IP portfolio includes more than 300 patents and represents $265 million of R&D.
"We've been involved in robotics longer than anyone on the planet," Wolff says. "But through our history, we've been custom product manufacturers. We wanted to take our technology capabilities and turn them into products that could be sold all over the world."
Today, staked with growth capital from GE Ventures, Caterpillar, and Microsoft, Sarcos is focused on commercializing a line of products under the Guardian brand that seem poised to fulfill this goal. The Guardian S is a surveillance and inspection robot capable of traversing over challenging terrain and through small, confined spaces. The Guardian GT is a human-controlled, dual-armed robot that can lift 1,000 pounds. And the Guardian XO resembles something from the next Iron Man movie, a wearable exoskeleton suit that can amplify a wearer's strength and endurance.
"Focusing on a product line, not a custom one-off, is different," Wolff says. "No longer are we trying to come up with a robot to solve one problem. Now we're building a replicable, scalable product line."
Sarcos has two offices, the headquarters in Salt Lake and another office near Seattle in Bellevue, Washington. "Salt Lake is where all the real work happens," Wolff admits. "Our entire research and development team as well as all manufacturing is in Salt Lake. Basically, all the fun stuff."
Salt Lake is also where all assembly occurs, a major undertaking at Sarcos. "One robot could have 40 to 50 different component vendors. All of these components which we have ordered or had made especially for us come to Salt Lake," Wolff says, noting that Sarcos also has a machine shop on-site. "We've been in the same location for over two decades. We've always made our stuff right here."
Salt Lake not only offers Sarcos a technical center but a location where it can easily attract new employees due to its environment, he adds. "We cannot imagine being headquartered anywhere else. Our employees love living there. It offers us a growing, vibrant community where the cost of living is still reasonable. As a business environment, it cannot be beat."
Challenges: Rapid growth. While Wolff acknowledges growth is a great thing, the human resource part of growth is a challenge. "We have to hire rapidly as a result. We have 20 job openings right now. Hiring people in the numbers we need is a great challenge because not a lot of people build what we do," he says.
Opportunities: New products, particularly the Guardian S. "It's going to help people stay alive," Wolff says. "I just have to get it in the rights hands and then let the robot do its job."
Need: Exposure. Wolff wants to get more robots in more hands, but he is mindful of doing it in a way that makes sense. For example, Sarcos is participating in more trade shows. "But we are small," he admits, "and as a small business, we need to be careful with where we spend time and money. We could be in a trade show every week, but is that the best way? We are trying to figure that out."