Case study

Shadow Robot: a helping hand to achieve independent living

Innovate UK funding supports technology to help older adults be more confident and independent - and keep their brains active for longer.

Shadow Robot md Rich Walker with robot hand on desk in foreground
Rich Walker with the Dexterous Hand: "It mimics what goes on in the human brain."

Robot hand technology developed by a small London-based company could help people in the early stages of dementia keep their independence for longer.

The Shadow Dexterous Hand, a robot hand with 20 movements where most robot grippers have two, makes its own decisions on how to pick up, grip and release objects.

This innovation has opened the door for Shadow Robot Company to join two consortia developing robot technology that can allow people to stay independent in their own homes.

Long term care revolution

CHIRON is a project funded through the ‘Long term care revolution’ SBRI challenge. Shadow Robot and its partners are sharing £2 million funding through Innovate UK to develop a robotic solution that can be adapted to different tasks.

Since January 2015, Shadow Robot has also been part of a three-year European collaborative project that is receiving a total of €3.8 million through the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. The partners are researching and developing robotics, not only for older adults but also for those suffering from mild cognitive impairments and dementia.

Managing director Rich Walker said:

A common problem is that people with dementia lose confidence in their ability to do things – so they stop doing them and their ability decays quite quickly. This kind of technology can help people to continue performing those tasks and keep the brain active for much longer.

Growth in employment

At the heart of their innovation is a system called Grasp Stabilization and Control (GSC) which won a Innovate UK feasibility study grant of £70,000 in 2013 to explore novel concepts in autonomous service robots.

It uses algorithms and software to mimic what goes on in the human brain, so a robot hand can do the things that you or I do naturally – see an object, pick it up, hold it and put it down.

Working with the Knowledge Transfer Network also led Shadow to another collaborative R&D project to develop soft fruit picking technology, with £106,000 funding from Innovate UK.

Shadow Robot has grown from 2 original founders in 1997 to 25 employees, mainly engaged in software and hardware development.

Robotics Mission to California

The Dexterous Hand travelled to California in June 2014 when Shadow Robot was selected as one of only 7 UK companies to take part in a Robotics Mission led by Innovate UK and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) to showcase the best of UK technology to peers, partners, investors and potential customers.

It’s the way Innovate UK bridges the development gap between the research lab and commercial viability that makes it so valuable, according to Rich.

Innovate UK helps companies like us make that critical transition from boutique engineering to rugged industrial engineering – from a system that just works in the lab to one with real commercial applications. It’s a great model.

Published 5 May 2016