New startup aims to provide smarter robotics for hazardous environments

Recently I looked a project being undertaken by a British team from Lancaster and Manchester universities respectively.  The team were looking at how robotics could be better deployed to help in the aftermath of a nuclear accident.

It's part of a growing trend that is seeing robots deployed in extremely hazardous environments, such as this German project that is using robots in bomb detection and disposal situations.

A common feature of most of these projects is that human beings remain in control of the robots, which can create issues regarding the agility of the robots and their responsiveness to circumstances on the ground.

Agile robotics

A British team are attempting to rectify this with a new system that uses telepresence to allow for a more adaptive means of controlling the robot.

The company, called Cambrian Intelligence, are part of the Entrepreneur First stable and consist of academics from Aalto University and the University of Stuttgart respectively.

The company equips controllers with a VR headset that provides them with a 3D view of the working environment. They can then manipulate the robot via hand movements.

Feedback is provided to the user through the gloves so that the controller 'feels' what the robot feels.

Safer decommissioning

The company are targeting the $50 billion global nuclear decommissioning market, although there are clearly other applications for the technology in other dangerous environments.

"As traditional teleoperation relies on joysticks and flat screens Cambrian connects innovations from gaming industry such as VR headsets to control robots responsively," co-founder Miika Pera said to me recently.

The company is still very much in early stages of its development, but they are already in talks with a large nuclear power plant in the UK, and hope to grow rapidly once the proof of concept has been established.

It provides another example of how robotics is becoming more powerful and giving us the ability to function more safely in very hazardous environments.

Check out the video below to see the technology in action.