£3.5 million for start-up giving robots a human touch

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The FINANCIAL — A Scottish start-up at the Higgs Centre for Innovation, has raised £3.5 million to give robots a sense of a touch.

Scottish start-up Touchlab, has raised £3.5 million ($4.8 million) in seed funding to develop an electronic skin for robots.

According to UKRI, the biggest remaining challenge to mass robot adoption is their inability to feel the world around them.

Now, at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)’s Higgs Centre for Innovation, Touchlab is solving this challenge by developing an ‘e-skin’.

An e-skin is a sensing skin that gives robots the power of human touch.

Robotic revolution

Thinner than human skin, this e-skin can be wrapped around robots to sense, in real-time:

pressure
location
direction.
It enables a robot to:

roll pens
grasp soft objects
detect slips.
‘Superhuman’ capabilities

It can also sense direction in 3D, and withstand extreme environments, such as acid, high and low temperatures, even radioactive environments, giving it unique ‘superhuman’ capabilities.

This technology is exceptionally versatile, with applications in nearly any robotics field.

These include the ability to operate remotely in environments too hazardous for humans, and in the medical sector to reduce the transmission of healthcare-acquired infections.

The final frontier for robots

Dr Zaki Hussein, founder and CEO of Touchlab, said: Touch is the final frontier for robot interaction and entry into physical environments, enabling true dexterity and safety.

We have taken on this challenge by developing a retrofittable e-skin that gathers the data, software to make sense of it, and integration to ensure it works in demanding applications, from grocery grasping to telerobotics in extreme environments.

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Our location at the Higgs Centre for Innovation has helped us meet this challenge.
Vital support for start-ups

Touchlab located to the STFC’s Higgs Centre for Innovation, at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, in 2019.

It initially joined as part of STFC’s business incubation programme, designed to support technology start-ups in their mission to:

overcome challenges
commercialise their technologies
create profitable businesses.
Two and a half years on, it remains as a tenant at the Higgs Centre, with access to:

world leading scientists and engineers
state-of-the-art research facilities
vital business support.
Good vibrations

Locating to the Higgs Centre meant that Touchlab could test and refine its technologies, explore markets and prepare for commercialisation.

Dr Hussein said:Amongst other things, our location at the Higgs Centre meant that we could test our sensors in harsher environments.

For example, we used the cryogenic facilities to test our tech in low temperatures, and we used advanced vibration shakers to test how it responds to different levels of vibration.

For us, the perfect combination of business support and access to specialist knowledge and tech facilities has been a game-changer, according to UKRI.

Far-reaching benefits for society

STFC’s Ruairidh Henderson, Business Incubation Manager at the Higgs Centre for Innovation, said:Touchlab is an outstanding example of a pioneering start-up whose technology could have incredible benefits for our society and economy.

I sincerely congratulate Touchlab on its funding success, which is a major boost for the far-reaching potential of this technology.

Through access to the right technologies, skills, business support and funding, this is exactly the kind of thing that STFC, via the Higgs Centre for Innovation, sets out to help early-stage companies achieve.

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It’s been fantastic to support Touchlab during its early stages, and I look forward to following its future successes.

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