Heartland Robotics Ramps Up, Rejiggers Management as Co-founder Departs and IntelliVid Founder Arrives

Heartland Robotics, the two-month-old industrial robotics startup MIT computer science guru Rod Brooks envisions as an engine for revitalizing the American workforce, has ramped up its own workforce while making some key changes at the top, Xconomy has learned. Founding CEO Ken Zolot has departed and will no longer be involved in company operations. Meanwhile, the company has hired veteran technology company executive Patrick Sobalvarro, who founded surveillance video analysis software company IntelliVid, as President.

“I’m running the development team, and he’s running everything else I guess is the way to describe it,” founder, chairman and CTO Brooks told me yesterday when speaking of Sobalvarro. No one holds the CEO title, at least for the time being: “Title, schmitle,” Brooks quips. “We’re a team.”

Xconomy got the inside scoop on Heartland’s creation from Brooks and Zolot (both Xconomists) back in early September. So it was something of a surprise when Zolot informed me this week he had stepped down. Neither he nor Brooks, both of whom are true professionals, would comment on whether there was any split between them. Zolot merely said he felt he had done his job by helping get the company off the ground. Meanwhile, about all Brooks would say was: “Ken wanted to move on.”

As far as the rest of Heartland’s progress goes, Brooks was pretty tight-lipped—but did shares a few details. The company, headquartered on Massachusetts Avenue in the heart of Cambridge’s Central Square, only had one or two employees when we spoke in September—and they were telecommuters. As of October 20 (the day that Sobalvarro started), that has changed, says Brooks. “The office got real on the 20th, and people have been filing in the door ever since. Today there are nine of us there,” says Brooks. “We’re working hard, and things are going well.” There are even a couple of robots to be seen, as employees get various systems up and running.

For his part, Sobalvarro is a veteran executive who got his undergraduate, master’s, and PhD degrees in computer science from MIT, where he met Brooks. “I’ve known Patrick for a long, long time,” says Brooks. “He was at the AI Lab [MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory] way back in the early 80s.” In fact, Sobalvarro temporarily dropped out of MIT as an undergraduate to work as a research staff member in the AI Lab, when Brooks was there as a post-doc. A few years later, he joined Lucid, a Silicon Valley startup Brooks co-founded with some Stanford folks. The work he did for Lucid gave him enough money to return to MIT.

Since that time Sobalvarro has held management roles at a host of technology companies, including Digital Equipment and Sun Microsystems, as well as several startups. He also worked at Boston Consulting Group and served as a senior principal at Flagship Ventures before founding (in 2002) IntelliVid, which was sold to Tyco International for an undisclosed sum in July. Sobalvarro was working at Tyco until joining Heartland.

And he sounds pumped. “I worked for Tyco for about three months, and when … Next Page »

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Bob is Xconomy's founder and editor in chief. You can e-mail him at bbuderi@xconomy.com, call him at 617.500.5926. Follow @bbuderi

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