Dr. Robert J. Shillman
$243 million FY08
TSC MEMBER INSTITUTION(S):
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
National Science Foundation
ABOUT THE COMPANY:
Founded in 1981 by three academics, Cognex is the world’s largest supplier of industrial machine vision. Cognex vision systems and sensors help companies improve their manufacturing quality and performance by eliminating defects, verifying assembly, and tracking and capturing information at every stage of production. Cognex vision systems perform tasks that are difficult or impossible for people to do reliably and consistently — such as finding very small product defects on high-speed production lines, capturing and recording complex identification information, and guiding robots. The TV-like cameras that Cognex makes equip computers with artificial eyesight, without which razor blades could not be made in quantity — and semiconductor chips could not be made at all. And the three founding academics? They are still actively engaged in the company’s day-to-day operations.
UNIVERSITY-BASED RESEARCH CONNECTION:
Cognex Corporation was founded by Dr. Robert J. Shillman, a lecturer in human visual perception at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Dr. Shillman decided to leave academia to start Cognex, investing his life savings into the company. He invited two MIT graduate students — Marilyn Matz and Bill Silver — to embark on this business venture with him, offering free bicycles to convince them to leave MIT for a summer. What began as a summer job for Marilyn and Bill turned out to be the start of a career, as they stayed on to help co-found the company. These three individuals gave Cognex its start — and its name, which was derived from the phrase “Cognition Experts.” Today, Shillman is Cognex’s Chairman and CEO, Matz is Senior Vice President of the Vision Software Business Group, and Silver is Senior Vice President and Senior Fellow, pursuing research into new product areas. The company continues to focus heavily on its technology. A 2004 Fortune article about Cognex noted, “More than 100 of its emplyees possess advanced degrees in industrial machine vision — the largest concentration of such specialists at any university or company.”
ROLE OF FEDERAL RESEARCH FUNDING:
Cognex was founded to develop a commercial product based on research in machine vision that Dr. Shillman carried out as a National Science Foundation Fellow at MIT.
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