New robotics partnership aims to shape future of safe handling of hazardous materials

Hayley Everett
Next-generation robotics systems could shape the future of material handling. Image via Extend Robotics.

A new partnership between two robotics companies is showing the potential of the technology to shape how hazardous materials are handled safely in the future.

Thanks to a recent virtual reality (VR) experiment between Extend Robotics and Shadow Robot, achieving that aim is one step closer.

This robotics partnership happened as part of the Value of Joint Experimentation in Digital Technologies for Manufacturing and Construction (VOJEXT) project. VOJEXT is a Horizon 2020 project which is aiming to provide a new generation of user-friendly frameworks for collaborative robotics for the needs of the manufacturing and construction industries.

Extend Robotics has developed software technologies to make it easier for users to control robotics hardware remotely using accessible and affordable consumer VR technology like Oculus and SteamVR. Shadow Robot, meanwhile, has been developing dextrous robotics for around 25 years, recently with a focus on teleoperation. The company builds next-generation robot hands and systems with advanced dexterity to help solve challenging problems and provide a meaningful purpose for robotics.

Ethan Fowler, TeleOp Technical Lead at Shadow Robot, explained the reason behind the firm’s involvement in the partnership: “We found that one of the things that we were lacking was depth perception. When you’re trying to do a remote task, being able to tell how far away things are and make the robot hand reach that position is extremely difficult.

“Extend Robotics has done a lot of work in improving those technologies – their volumetric streaming is something that looks extremely promising.”

The two robotics companies believe their combined technology could have a big impact in manufacturing and construction industries, particularly in industries where there is a need to handle hazardous materials like spent nuclear fuel rods, where a high degree of dexterity precision is crucial.

According to Dr Chang Liu, founder and CEO of Extend Robotics, “This partnership will take the industry of remote robotic operations to the next level.”