Spotlight on: South West tech shines at TechCrunch Disrupt 2016

Three days of 3D-printed superhero-themed bionic hands, fighting robots, virtual supercomputers and budding new startups showing off their wares
8th December 2016

TechCrunch Disrupt London 2016 was held earlier this week and we at TechSPARK were there to see some of the most exciting tech currently being developed. In amongst startups from all over the world and huge leading names on stage in fields such as AI, robotics and fintech, the South West of England was making waves showing off its innovative tech to an enthused audience of 2000 high-profile thought-leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators and investors.

techcrunch-disrupt-2016-sammy-payne-open-bionicsOn stage, being interviewed by TechCrunch moderator Jonathan Shieber on the subject of Better Living with Bionics, was Samantha Payne (pictured right) from Bristol-based Open Bionics. Open Bionics specialise in making robotic 3d-printed replacement prosthetics for those who have lost a limb. Because they are 3D printed, the robotic hands can be made in a matter of days and are considerably cheaper than other bionic hands on the market.

You can have Iron Man’s hand!

Now, with partnerships with Disney and Marvel already in place, Open Bionics can also use cartoon and superhero designs for the limbs such as Iron Man, Frozen and Star Wars. This means kids (and adults too!) can feel proud of their replacement limbs where in the past some people with prosthetics have found there has been a stigma attached to them.

techcrunch-disrupt-openbionics-3d-printed-handThey are definitely eye-catching and Daniel Mellville (pictured right) joined Samantha on stage to show one of the robotic hands in action. As Daniel says, people’s reaction to his prosthesis is very different to before. He told the crowd people often mistake it for a glove, and when they realise it’s a bionic limb, the reaction is: “What is this, how does it work and why can’t I have one?”

As a first adopter he’s clearly a fan: “It’s better to wear something that makes you more empowered and more inspired – it makes people jealous.”

NHS plans

The multi-award winning entrepreneur (including our own SPARKies 2016 Founder of the year) had other big news to share, telling the TechCruch Disrupt audience that they were about to start a feasibility study with the NHS through SBRI Healthcare to see if Open Bionics can provide its cheaper multi-grip bionic hands to amputees via the NHS. The money savings could be impressive – current solutions cost from 10,000 to 100,000 in some cases, while Open Bionics’ solution reduces this to a few thousand. You can see the hand in action below:

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Samantha had some favourable words for Bristol too: “We really like being in Bristol – Bristol Robotics Lab is one of the best robotics labs in Europe. We want to stay local – you don’t need to fly around for board meetings!”

Hacking gaming robots

mekamon-reach-roboticsAnother familiar face on the Bristol robotics scene, gaming robot creator Reach Robotics, was also involved with the event, this time as a sponsor and to provide mentors for the 24-hour TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon held on the weekend.

They provided two of their Mekamon battling robots and opened up the back end to the hackers to see what they could do with these awesome fighting machinesreach-robotics-at-the-techcrunch-disrupt-hackathon. Chris Beck, CTO and Co-Founder of Reach Robotics (pictured second from the left, right), told us, “It was loads of fun and rewarding to finally see people getting to engage and develop with the MekaMon. We provided access to our communication protocols so they could control the robots directly over their own custom controllers. The custom controllers ranged from laptop commands via Amazon’s Alexa or servers running on smartphones.”

Virtual supercomputers

yellowdog-gareth-williams-techcrunchMeanwhile, over on Startup Alley was the Bristol-based virtual supercomputer specialist company YellowDog. Founder Gareth Williams was showing off his ability to create and lease out massive virtual supercomputers for use in compute-intensive tech fields like computer graphics and 3D animation. This is despite the fact that the business doesn’t own any computers or servers itself! Instead, he uses the spare capacity of other people’s and businesses’ computers, paying them for what would otherwise be dead time on their servers.

So why was YellowDog at TechCrunch Disrupt? Gareth explains: “We’re here for two reasons: to find more customers – and there were a number of large media companies attending – and to begin to sound out the investor landscape for a potential fundraise in 2017.”

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TechCrunch Disrupt: 100s of cutting-edge startups were
competing for the attention of the attendees

Gareth was pleased with how the event was going: “It’s great. We’ve already met some inspiring startups, generated a few sales opportunities, and talked to a number of people about our strategy and future plans, and it appears to have been well received.”

This wasn’t Gareth’s only event of the day either, he had to rush off to a reception at 10 Downing Street! Matthew Hancock MP, Minister of State for Culture, Communications and Creative Industries, was hosting a reception in celebration of the UK Animation industry and Gareth was one of the lucky invitees.

Business analytics on a budget

We also caught up with the team from ikooloo from Bournemouth, who are out to provide business analytics for smaller companies, who typically can’t afford it. Founder ikooloo-andrew-walker-techcrunch-disrupt Andrew Walker (pictured right, right) told us his wife is a small business owner, and ikooloo was designed as an inexpensive solution for companies such as hers looking to set and track business goals.

You can see more from the event over on the TechCrunch website or by following the hastag #TCDisrupt on Twitter.

Image credits for Open Bionics images and video: Dan Taylor for TechCrunch Disrupt London