Cash in the attic?
Shadow Robot is a pioneer in next-generation robotic hands and their impressive array of clients include NASA, the European Space Agency, Hitachi, GlaxoSmithKline, Siemens and Beko. A whole host of universities join these notable clients and it’s amazing to think that the story of this world-class company began with a group of enthusiasts in an attic, where robotics was a fun challenge and commercial enterprise was not the original intention.
The Shadow Dexterous Hand is the only robotic hand on the market to have 24 movements and 20 degrees of freedom, which gives it unparalleled dexterity. The hand is coupled with 129 sensors that increase accuracy and enable high-level precision. It’s quickly become a favourite research tool in AI and Machine Learning among universities and in 2019 won the Alconics Award for best innovation in AI hardware. These are achievements that were never imagined during the humble beginnings of the robotic hand; Managing Director Rich Walker remembers “we built for fun, our original goal was just to build useful household robots, and then we found that we got good at things.”
Soon requests were coming in for robotic builds and so Shadow Robot was born, still the first and second robotic hands were built more for the challenge than for a commercial enterprise but securing their intellectual property quickly became important. “Other people say ‘WOW! How did you do that?’ and a lot of innovators fall into the trap of believing that they are the only one who can engineer something because they are the only one that has. The thing is, once someone has done something, it’s not hard for other people to then do the same,” Rich points out.
In 2006-2007 Shadow Robot really began its commercial journey and with the commercial vision, Rich got the hot seat as Managing Director. “We really had to figure out who we were… and we are the best people in the world at building hands. We create and build high-end, state-of-the-art robotic hands.” And, because they own their IP, their technology is unique and unrivalled allowing Shadow Robot to carve its own space in the market. Their commercial strategy is working too, with a fan base that includes Amazon Founder and then-CEO Jeff Bezos.
Rich encourages other inventors to develop a strategy and protect their IP early: “If you think you can make some money at some point then it’s important to protect early. Not too early, but early. Once you start the patent process the clock starts ticking and you will continue to incur costs, but if you’re investing it means you’re innovating and the amount of work that goes into the development of something gives it a nominal minimal value.” Dr Elliott Davies, Partner and Patent Attorney at Wynne-Jones IP agrees with Rich “Rich is right, protecting your IP early is important but some inventors really don’t know they have anything to protect. In this case, there are things you can do to help you identify your assets – like an IP audit, and we’re happy to help with that, and developing your strategy”.
Shadow Robot can boast patents that have expired through old age and innovation that solves problems. Beneficial for an array of industries that include the nuclear, pharmaceutical and engineering sectors, their clever robotics enable tasks and challenges to be tackled differently, in a safer, better and more efficient way. The technology also has other applications that reach beyond its original development intentions. The drive train mechanisms, for example, could be used by anyone that uses gears and exposed parts that move backwards and forwards. Utilising their intangible assets through licensing is something that the company is opening up to in the future and demonstrates how protecting your intellectual property not only protects your market position but also allows for additional revenue by licensing the technology to other businesses.
“IP gives you a solid foundation to not only build a commercial enterprise and leverage your technology, but financiers ask to see that you’re protected too,” said Rich reflecting on how they have used their IP.
It’s not all plain sailing however, every business has its challenges and Shadow Robot are no exception; “Thumbs!” said Rich. “The thumb is a nightmare, it has three sets of kinematic movements that are difficult to replicate. Fortunately, we have all the important parts of the movement (like touching the little finger with the thumb) and have got it as close as we can to build it.”
If you’d like to learn more about Shadow Robot’s technology, visit www.shadowrobot.com