Shadow Robot is Britain’s longest-running, carbon-negative, robotics company – and this year they’re celebrating their 25th anniversary!

Between offices in London (HQ), Bristol and Madrid, Shadow Robot builds next-generation robot hands and teleoperation systems, with everything taking place in-house from design and development to delivery. Their leading robotic technology is custom-made, providing gold-standard, long-term service support.

They’ve worked with customers such as NASA, ESA, Carnegie Mellon, University of Bielefeld, UCL, OpenAI, GSK and others. We’re here to serve both researchers (university professors, AI researchers, researchers at corporate innovation labs) and industry professionals (those in dangerous, difficult or distant jobs including pharma, nuclear and remote engineering jobs).

Shadow Robot turns 25!

But how did it all start? Shadow Robot dates its humble beginnings back to 1987 when they formed as a hobbyist group in Richard Greenhill’s – their founder – attic in London. Rich Walker, Managing Director at Shadow Robot, tells us, “Richard’s wife, Sally, would cook a big pot of spaghetti and we’d work through the night with full bellies and the enthusiasm to create cool robots!

We had fun making Europe’s first walking robot (Honda created the world’s first biped called Asimo) and we soon turned our focus on one of the most complex mechanisms of nature, the hand.

“We based our Humanoid Hand on the dimensions of a human hand. It was made from maple wood which we got from a skip at a local kitchen furniture maker. The first thing our humanoid hand picked up was a pint of beer (smooth sided, thin-walled glass). No other robot hand could do that for a long time after. In homage, we still celebrate our milestones with a drink or two.

“I guess you could say we accidentally became a business after a company contacted us with a purchase enquiry which sparked the idea of becoming a business and being able to sell things properly. So in 1997, we formally registered as the Shadow Robot Company and over two decades later, we’ve created a string of world firsts, won the Queen’s Award for Innovation 2019 and become pioneers in the fast-evolving fields of telerobotics.”

What are they up to now?

Their flagship product, the Shadow Dexterous Hand, is the world’s most human-like robot hand and the only robot hand on the market to have 24 movements and 20 DOF for increased flexibility in grasping and manipulating a range of objects. Rich adds, “It’s also our most-loved item by researchers across the globe.”

Shadow Robot also created the world’s first haptic telerobot hand, enabling the user 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. Rich explains, “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.”

When it comes to research projects, their most recent work is with a pharma giant, a name well-known as we navigate out of this pandemic. Shadow Robot works around telerobots in aseptic manufacturing, and will be sharing some preliminary results soon.

Rich adds, “At the heart of it all, we always have been and continue to be here for professors and researchers. It’s why we ensure that all Shadow Hands are fully integrated in ROS allowing researchers to quickly edit and extract data for more meaningful and experimental work.”

The future of robotics

Her Majesty, The Queen visits the UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) stand at The International Festival for Business 2016.

So what’s Shadow Robot’s focus for their next 25 years? Rich tells us, “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). We’re also gaining 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. Hence, we call on all researchers in robotics, machine learning and AI to get in touch. If you’re looking for futuristic yet functional robotics, you know where to find us!”