Joe Jones of Franklin Robotics

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Joe Jones, the co-founder and CTO of Franklin Robotics, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Franklin Robotics – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

Prior to Franklin Robotics, I was one of the founders of a company called Harvest Automation (also located in Billerica). Harvest makes robots that move potted plants around greenhouses and nursery farms. After developing our first product, I began looking for other opportunities for robots in agriculture. An application I considered was weeding farm fields. Unfortunately, I couldn’t come up with any ideas that were better than the ones I saw other people developing already.

Then, in March 2015, I attended a robot conference in Cambridge called RoboMadness. There, I encountered an acquaintance of mine who suggested weeding home gardens. In a garden, I could see a robotic weeding approach no one else had considered. So, I left Harvest and, with Rory MacKean, started Franklin Robotics.

The basic problem we’re trying to solve is diligence. As gardeners, we intend to weed regularly, but sometimes we forget. Our robot, Tertill never forgets. It keeps your garden looking great despite occasional procrastination on the part of the gardener. It also provides relief for those with mobility challenges.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

One of the biggest hurdles in robotics is the disconnect between the way real robots work and the way customers believe they work. A revolutionary robot that does something no robot has ever done before is a great joy for its developer. But it also means that customers have no intuition about how to use the robot effectively. That makes customer education a key part of the process.

What does the future hold for Franklin Robotics?

Many outdoor jobs around the home can be done by inexpensive robots. In the near future, Franklin will be developing those robots. In the longer term, I hope to get back to agriculture. Through working on Tertill, we’ve now discovered a unique, low-cost way to build robots that weed farm fields. The big dream is to develop such robots until they are cost-competitive with herbicides. That would allow the elimination of herbicides from farming.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Billerica?

Billerica has been very helpful to me. The town has been home to both the companies I founded. It offers a great combination of space and cost.

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

I came at entrepreneurship from the technology side. For others in my position, I’d advise them to partner with someone who understands and enjoys business. A confluence of technology and business is needed to make a company successful.

 

For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series

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