UK & World News

  • 14 June 2014, 10:32

Rise Of The Robots: UK Inventors' US Mission

British robots are set to invade America.

Seven UK robotics companies will tour Silicon Valley as part of a trade mission organised by the Technology Strategy Board.

The companies include Reach Robotics, which makes robotic toys, Shadow Robot, makers of a controllable hand, and Maplebird, which is developing a prototype drone that mimics the flight of a bird.

Zoe Webster, from the Technology Strategy Board, told Sky News: "The mission allows us to help a group of the most innovative companies in robotics and autonomous systems to go out to see the largest markets in the world, and get some unique insight into the world.

"In the UK we're particularly strong at things like design, usability - and those are key aspects in robotics, in order to make real systems that real people will use."

The UK has a strong research tradition in robotics, but a more limited record of developing that research.

More recently, companies have come out of research institutes like the Bristol Robotics lab.

Silas Adekunle, the founder of Reach Robotics, told Sky News: "British talent is booming. There are lots of research labs at the forefront of technology.

"In the States, they're more about commercialising it. As we keep developing and bringing new technologies to life, we'll also get to that stage, where we can exploit the results of that research."

Much of that commercialisation has been driven by the convergence of other technologies - notably, the smartphone.

Rich Walker, managing director of London-based Shadow Robot, told Sky News: "Mobile phone technology has been a game-changer for robotics.

"Packing sensors, actuators and batteries in computing into tiny spaces. And with that, we can take robot hands out of the lab into the world."

US tech giants have been looking to use robots in the real world. Amazon's warehouses are full of Kiva robots, which move pallets around.

Google has bought eight robotics start-ups, including Boston Dynamics, the makers of animal and human-like machines.

UK companies have a long way to go if they are to catch up. The mission to Silicon Valley aims to give them a head start.

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