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Spotlight on Shadow Robot

At the 2020 E&T Innovation Awards, Shadow Robot’s Tactile Telerobot scooped three awards: Excellence in Intelligent Systems; Excellence in R&D and the Judges Award: TechforGood. We hear from Rich Walker, Managing Director at Shadow Robot about their innovation and the impact that success in the E&T Innovation Awards has had on their organisation.

Inform E&T readers about your innovation and the problem it’s trying to solve.

The Tactile Telerobot is an intelligent teleoperation and telepresence system. It allows you to transmit touch and complete tasks in real-time across the globe without physically being there. It protects workers in dangerous, difficult, or distant jobs with 0% risk to their safety while giving them complete operational control over the system.

We've developed the Tactile Telerobot as a safety and mission-critical tool for high-risk industries. This includes nuclear decommissioning (handling radioactive material) and pharma labs (key workers can perform intricate lab tasks at a safe distance, massively reducing the need for PPE and the risk of human contamination).

As well as safety, another benefit includes speed of response so that we can solve challenges faster and smarter. 

Finally, the Tactile Telerobot decreases the need to travel to complete tasks, which helps to massively reduce carbon dioxide emissions and improve time efficiency. A Telerobot in Santa Clara could be operated by an engineer in London, allowing faster and easier problem solving.

Tell us more about how your innovation works.

The Tactile Telerobot has three key elements of remarkable engineering:

Shadow Robot's Dexterous Hand (the world's most advanced human-like robotic hand available on the market)

Biomimetic tactile sensors from SynTouch (detecting everything the human finger can feel such as force, vibration, temperature)

Realistic haptic feedback motion-capture gloves from HaptX (feeling what the robot hands touch).
A worker wears the haptic gloves and can control the robots in an entirely different location, even cross-country (we've successfully trialled it between the UK and the US).

Our five-fingered robot hand allows workers to perform dexterous tasks with advanced grasping and fine manipulation capabilities. The biomimetic tactile sensors allow the operator to feel the objects they are handling instantaneously, which provides increased accuracy and precision.

What plans do you have for the future of your innovation?

If we look at what we are globally going through right now, it's become evident that our tech is needed within pharma labs and remote maintenance via teleoperation. We shouldn't fall into complacency and assume COVID-19 is a once-in-a-lifetime challenge, there probably will be additional phases to this pandemic, and there will be new pandemics in the future.

If we look ahead, with further development, our technology could be deployed below ground level (deep sea) and high above the skies (space missions). Our dealings with the space industry go back a long way (two of our earliest clients were NASA and ESA) and conversations in this sector continue today.

Overall, we want this technology to be more widespread to make working lives better and enable breakthroughs within robotics research.

How has your innovation progressed?

Our innovation has gone from a prototype to a fully functioning product, and it’s now available to purchase on www.shadowrobot.com. We've already started to pioneer real-world applications of this technology by selling several Tactile Telerobots, particularly in Japan.

We've also sold the telerobot to a multinational tech company in the USA (within the top 20 if we were to go by revenue) in a new marketplace around remote maintenance.

We're also excited to mention that we've secured a research project with Pfizer, and we look forward to sharing some preliminary results soon.

Has anything else changed since you won the E&T Innovation Awards?

Yes, we've gained a lot more interest in the role that artificial intelligence can play in our innovation. By utilising telerobots, we can train AIs to be able to do a specific task autonomously. It allows workers to focus on more specialised assignments while the telerobot performs repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

A key component of the telerobot is the Shadow Dexterous Hand which, on its own, is also an excellent testbed for AI training. We've had the pleasure of working with OpenAI, the Human Brain Project and Google Brain, and we have since won the AI Awards - the global achievement awards for AI.

Has winning E&T Innovation Awards made a difference to your journey?

It has in many ways. Our enquiry forms include the question: "How did you hear about us?" and it's refreshing to see many mentions of the E&T website as we won a hat-trick of awards last year.

There is a lot of amazing stuff being done in robotics today, and we know that having won the E&T Innovation Awards helps as a vote of confidence for potential clients. We've even reconnected with a few of our contacts in our network who sent handwritten notes congratulating us on our win. It then kick-started discussions around other collaborative opportunities.

Winning the E&T awards under three categories was an exceptionally proud moment for Shadow Robot. Our trophy sits on our wall of fame and serves as motivation to continue pushing ahead, as well as a reminder to pause when we can and celebrate the work we do.

What made you decide to enter the E&T Innovation Awards?

We've been in the robotics space for over two decades now. Along the way, our paths have crossed with the IET. It's a fantastic organisation with a solid reputation and many of our engineers are members, including our Managing Director. We've also been avid readers of their monthly magazine, E&T, so when we found out the awards were rebranding to align with the publication, we wanted to be one of many who put in an application.

It had been a tough year for us all (no points for guessing why), and Shadow Robot wanted to be a part of something that could show the positives of engineering and look ahead at innovations that could make dramatic improvements to our society.

What advice would you give to other organisations considering entering this year's awards?

Do it. Even if you're not at the stage of measurable results, state the value proposition within your entry. The competition is intense, but the opportunity to win or be shortlisted is too good to miss. We had faith in our innovation, but we had no idea we'd be awarded a triple win! 

The 2021 E&T Innovation Awards are open for entries from 11 May to 29 June 2021.  Find out more and apply online at eandt.theiet.org/innovation.

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