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“Telexistence” robotic tech treats humans on the battlefield



Sheffield-based robotics software company BOW, formerly Cyberselves, has won two contracts to create robotic systems that will help remove humans from harm on battlefields and assist with the decommissioning of legacy nuclear sites.

BOW has developed a single software solution that can control any robot and can be extended to cover a wide range of scenarios.

The first project, TEL-MED, sees the company extending its general purpose software to assess a patient’s injuries in hazardous environments such as a battlefield and offer first-aid treatment.

In the second project, TEL-ND, BOW extends the software to address the safety requirements and specialist needs of nuclear decommissioning tasks.

Both projects involve “telexistence” technology, which utilises cameras, sensors and other equipment to provide feedback to the system’s operator, so that they feel like they are actually there in the remote location.

The two contracts, which together are worth £550,000, were awarded via the Defence & Security Accelerator (DASA), with funding from the Defence Science & Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA).

Daniel Camilleri, founder and chief executive of BOW, said:

“Both projects allow skilled human operators to carry out important tasks but without putting themselves in danger.

“Each project involves integrating cameras, sensors, robots, and other technology into a single platform.

“We are taking human expertise and transporting it into a robot in real time to make the experience safer for people, building on work we’ve already led on in explosives disposal in hazardous underwater environments.”

BOW’s partners for the nuclear project include an Edinburgh-based firm that has created touch-sensitive artificial “skin” for robots to feedback information to their operators; Kent-based 3D vision technology developer i3D Robotics; and the Nuclear Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (NAMRC) at the University of Sheffield.

The project aims to use PAL Robtoics’ TiagoOmni++ robot fitted with a gripper and with a human-style hand covered in Touchlab’s artificial skin.

The robot will use i3D’s radiation-resistant cameras, while the operator will use an off-the-shelf VR headset combined with a cutting edge cockpit to completely immerse the user with the robot.

NAMRC Technical Lead Benjamin Rae said:

“The Nuclear AMRC has extensive knowledge in the nuclear decommissioning industry, and we have previously worked with NDA’s subsidiaries on projects related to the glovebox applications.

“We’re pleased to have this opportunity to work with our partners to develop a telexistence platform for removing the possible contamination hazard to the human operator.

“The higher technology readiness level system will demonstrate the safer, secure environment for decommissioning operation, while improving productivity.”

Dr Zaki Hussein, Founder and CEO of Touchlab, added:

“In line with using our electronic skin to solve grand challenges for society, we have been looking into nuclear decommissioning and medical applications since our early days and tested our e-skin successfully in these demanding and dangerous environments.

“This project is an example of using robotics for good that will eventually take humans out of harm’s way and save lives.”

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