“We specialize in mechatronics, robotics, and intelligent automation.”
Houston Mechatronics, Inc (HMI) was founded by NASA roboticists with a passion for problem-solving and providing innovative answers to age-old questions. It thrives on approaching complex problems with imagination, aptitude and determination. Could robots take on the dangerous elements of deepwater drilling and operations? Is intelligent automation the answer to more streamlined business practices? Its questions like these that drive us to do what we do.
The enterprise was founded in 2014 with leverage over 20 years of proprietary mechatronic and robotic systems development technology and expertise, to bring its customers first-to-market products. The company’s capability includes everything from full dynamic simulations to embedded motion control systems to perception and everything in between.
HMI takes technologies from the laboratory, couples them with resourceful and innovative engineering design, and creates integrated hardware and software solutions for its customer’s toughest problems.
Why was the company set up? How did you select the vertical and decide to be a part of the global platform?
Our experience at NASA afforded us a great education in robotics. We had the opportunity to work on and develop the world’s most advanced robotic systems. We developed robots to solve really hard problems. Often these developments were also severely constrained in budget and schedule so we also learned to build things rapidly and resourcefully. When we formed the company, we recognized the time was ripe for a surge in robotic and intelligent automation across many markets. Advances in computing, robotic development tools, and sensor affordability to name a few were creating a tipping point in the marketplace for robotic systems to solve more complex and interesting problems. Being in Houston, we were in the epicenter of Oil and Gas so that market made sense for us to approach. It happened that many Oil and Gas companies were looking for robotics and intelligent automation to make their operations more efficient and to enable new markets. So our timing was right.
What were the grounds on which you have expanded your company and its offerings over the years?
While we were experts in robotics, we didn’t necessarily understand our potential customers’ specific challenges and issues. To learn we took engineering services jobs and robotic development projects that exposed us to the customer’s problems and at the same time gave us a revenue stream. But as we worked these projects, we kept our eyes open for other problems that we might go after with our own money and investment. We are currently developing several of those opportunities that we identified through keeping our eyes and ears open for wrongs in the market place for us to right.
What learnings helped you to set this company up?
Personally, my experience at NASA gave me opportunities to lead complex technology projects and to develop project management skills but also all the soft skills of leading a highly educated and skilled workforce. I also learned how to develop technology rapidly in a budget and schedule constrained environment.
How do you and your company contribute to the global IT platform and society at large?
Robotics will be the iconic technology of this century. It will reduce human drudgery and benefit society with better and cheaper products. While there is fear that robotics will destroy jobs, technology historically creates jobs.
A compendious journey of the Triumphants
Matt Ondler, President and CEO: Matt is the co-founder of Houston Mechatronics and has nearly 30 years’ experience in engineering, management and leadership in both government and industry. As a business executive, he performed business development, proposal development, strategic planning, program management, lead corporate innovation initiatives and served as the company deputy chief engineer for Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies, a $600M/year engineering Services Company. Prior to joining SGT, he served 28 years with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) at the Johnson Space Center (JSC). He also served five years as the Division Chief of NASA’s Software, Robotics and Simulation Division, an organization renowned for its leadership and innovation in robotics. He is recipient of NASA’s Exceptional Achievement Medal and Outstanding Leadership Medal.
Nic Radford, CTO: Nic is co-founder and CTO of Houston Mechatronics, and is responsible for growing and positioning the company as a robotics and mechatronics leader specializing in both intelligent automation and electric vehicles. Prior to Houston Mechatronics, he spent 14 years at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in the Dexterous Robotics Laboratory. At the conclusion of his government career, he was the Principal Investigator (PI) for the Valkyrie project, a humanoid robot developed initially for disaster response outlined in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC). There, he led and managed a mixed staff of 55 engineers and technicians, through the design, development, and field testing of the 44 degree of freedom humanoid robot. Prior to that, he served as the Deputy and Chief Engineer for Robonaut 2 (R2), a spaceflight humanoid robot, initially developed in partnership with General Motors as a lab prototype for advanced manufacturing processes requiring human level dexterity and coordination. During his tenure at NASA, he was the recipient of countless patents, design awards, and commendations for his expertise and leadership, ultimately culminating in receiving NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal.
Reg Berka, Senior Vice President, Operations & COO: Dr. Berka served as chief of the Robotic Systems Technology Branch at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Johnson Space Center. He also served as deputy project manager for the DARPA Robotic Challenge project, which advanced the field in full-body, humanoid robots capable of remediating post-disaster scenarios. Prior to his recent tenure at NASA, Dr. Berka served as president of Aphelion, Inc., where he developed the startup business into a global leader in electronic payments for the health and fitness market. He guided the company from startup through an acquisition by CheckFree, Inc. of Atlanta, Georgia and became vice-president, general manager of the resulting business unit. While at Aphelion, the company received the Crescent Technology Fast 50 award in recognition of the top 50 technology companies in Texas by Deloitte and Touche. Dr. Berka earned his Ph.D in mechanical engineering from Rice University and holds a BSME from Wichita State University. In addition to his current work with Houston Mechatronics, Dr. Berka teaches engineering coursework at the University of Houston-Clear Lake.
“Our capability includes everything from robotics design to embedded motion control systems to perception to electric machine design and everything in between.”