The robot at today's presentation for Nesta, is a previous recipient of Nesta money, demonstrating that even robots can earn a living. The Shadow Robot Company's Hand Arm - when not working at award ceremonies - is designed to give elderly and disabled people literally a helping hand about the house.
The Shadow Robot Arm with Jem and Lord Puttnam.
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A £75,000 grant from Nesta is helping to pay for a full prototype of the artificial hand and arm on a mobile base which can be taught to navigate its way around a person's home. It will be able to fetch a glass of water, or pass a tissue or towel, to someone unable to reach for one themselves. Fitted with a vision system and Open Source software, over time it will be able to learn more complicated tasks, such as basic cooking and cleaning, restoring privacy and dignity to thousands who dislike relying on home helps.
(NOW AVAILABLE FOR PURCHASE) The Shadow Robot Company aims to have a full working prototype within about three years. Two million people in the United Kingdom are currently receiving Disability Living Allowance and more than 1.25 million get Attendance Allowance, which alone cannot cover for the full requirements of an elderly or disabled person living at home. Inventor Richard Greenhill, managing director of Shadow, said "Our robot will hopefully give disabled people more independence and dignity. Fetching a much-needed glass of water in the middle of the night is annoying at the best of times, but can be a real problem for someone with a disability. The robot will help with the little things that the majority of people take for granted." Shadow was founded in 1987 by a group of enthusiasts and inventors who shared a vision of producing useful, multi-functional humanoid robots that can carry out a wide variety of programmable tasks.
The development Shadow's Hand Arm is breaking new ground. The Hand Arm can mimic all 24 human hand movements. To put this in context, the equivalent NASA hand, when last reported, could mimic only 12 similar movements.
Not only does the Shadow robot hand resemble a human's, it is also powered by a series of air-powered muscles built into the robot's fore and upper arm that in their own way also closely resemble the functionality and form of human muscles.
This is no coincidence as the company's vision is that of robots that interact with humans within their own environment, in a way that complements the human form.
Jeremy Newton, Nesta's Chief Executive, said when awarding Shadow's grant: "Our economy will become more and more dependent upon our creativity and our ability as a nation to harness new technology to stimulate new ideas. Shadow is meeting this challenge head-on and Nesta is delighted to be a part of this important innovation. The robot has real commercial potential for the assistive aids markets as well as offering substantial social benefits by empowering both the disabled community and an increasing aging population."