Brian Hart with his daughter Elizabeth and wife Alma at a Memorial Day display on the Boston Common. Each of the 20,000 flags placed on the Common represents a service member from the state of Massachusetts who was killed in action since World War II. Credit: Brian Hart
Brian Hart, 51, co-founder, with his brother, of Black-I Robotics,
a company that makes bomb-defusing robots for the military and police
Wife: Alma Hart, married 28 years; Kids: Rebecca, 23, John, forever 20, Elizabeth, 19
Brian Lives In:
Why Brian Is Amazing:
On Saturday, October 17, 2003, Brian Hart and his wife Alma had a home inspection -- the last step before selling their house and moving, with their two teenage daughters, to Illinois from Massachusetts. The following morning, a representative from the United States Army came to tell them that their 20-year-old son John, who had been serving in Iraq, had died.
John had called Brian a week earlier, expressing his fear that he'd be killed riding around in an unarmored Humvee. And that's exactly what happened. Grief turned into anger, and Brian started doing research. He found out that a third of American soldiers in Iraq didn't have body armor, and that only 225 out of 35,000 vehicles were armored. Brian also found out that soldiers weren't being supplied with inexpensive tourniquets, which could save many lives on the battlefield.
It was then that the grieving father decided he had to do something to make sure other parents didn't lose their sons and daughters because they were unprotected. Instead of taking the job that was waiting for him in Illinois, Brian took his severance package and focused on making sure that soldiers in Iraq got the armor they needed. He spent the next three years doing pro-bono advocacy work in Washington, D.C.
Brian is no stranger to tragedy. Years earlier, his father died when a nurse accidentally gave him a lethal overdose of the powerful painkiller lidocaine. Appalled that such medication errors could happen, Brian founded a company that made health-care robotics to ensure the safe distribution of pharmaceuticals using bar codes. And in 2005, two years after John's death, Brian and his brother Richard started their company, Black-I-Robotics.
"We chose the name because it defined our bad attitude at the time with regard to the way soldiers were getting -- or not getting -- equipment such as robotics," Brian tells ParentDish. "Also, our logo is the Eye of Horace, the eye of the warrior. The all-seeing eye of the warrior was put on Phoenician war ships and represented the eternal spirit of the warrior."
Their goal? To create robots that would go out and push IEDs (improvised explosive devices) off the road, so unarmored soldiers didn't have to risk their lives doing it. Today, Black-I-Robotics' midsized Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGVs) are used by law enforcement to deal with car bombs, border control and counter-terrorism. The U.S. Navy also uses one of the robots for reconnaissance.
Today, Brian blogs about his son, the military, robotics and more at The Minstrel Boy.
The blog is named after an ancient song, and it's usually played on bagpipes. Brian finds particular meaning in the first verse: "The Minstrel Boy to the way is gone, in the ranks of death you will find him; His father's sword he hath girded on, and his wild harp slung behind him."
"I've never sought any recognition for what I've done," says Brian. "This work was John's legacy and it provided some meaning to his death. For my wife and me, it's our contribution to a country we love."
Brian's Wife Alma Says:
"I'm very proud of Brian. We were moving from Massachusetts to Illinois for a job opportunity for Brian the day the Army knocked on the door, telling us John had been killed. It would have been very easy to just move. Brian could have taken the job and we would have had our nice house, but he didn't do it, because our daughters didn't want to move from their friends at such a crucial time. Brian chose his daughters over his career. He did the right thing, instead of the easy thing. I'm so proud of the hard work he's doing."
Black-I-Robotics won a $728,000 contract from the Pentagon to further develop the "LandShark" robot.
Brian's Guilty Pleasures:
"I collect pens. No need to be fancy. I'll be happy with one that says 'Joe's Towing,' as long as it writes well. I grew up in a household of artists, so a good pen or pencil is like comfort food for the hand."