October 02, 2014      

Rich Walker, Managing Director of London-based Shadow Robot Co., has gained valuable experience in his 25 years on the job, becoming active in developing and implementing European projects and consulting as an expert in small and medium enterprises and innovators.

Walker recently sat down with Joanne Pransky, associate editor at Industrial Robot, to discuss his journey with the company. The interview has been made available for free to RBR readers until Oct. 6. Just follow this link.

Walker joined the Shadow team before going to study mathematics. While there, Walker’s passion for robotics led him to write software in 1989, unpaid, as part of a team at the pioneering the Shadow Robot Co. Walker was soon involved in developing robotic hands based on pneumatic muscles, which resulted in eight patents, with Walker named as one of the inventors.

Walker and the small team have since grown Shadow to become a thriving global business that designs and manufactures state-of-the-art anthropomorphic robot hands and related systems, with 20 R&D and production engineers in London, Brest and Shanghai.

Here’s a quick preview of the interview:

Pransky: What were some of the big technical challenges Shadow faced and how were these dealt with?

Walker: Most of the challenges about building robot hands revolve around packing: trying to get enough electronics, sensors, actuators and mechanical structures into a small space. It’s something you learn to iterate on, although we have spent long periods arguing over small amounts of space in the design.

Pransky: Zero funds and loads of enthusiasm are fine up to a point, but after that the group would be limited by financial practicalities. How did the Shadow project manage to survive, and how did it go about raising funding for the R&D? How many people does Shadow employ now and are these full or part time?

Walker: We started with some U.K. national funding for business R&D, which we used to develop the first- and second-generation robot hands, which we then put on our website. At this point, customer business started coming in, which led us into the “selling robot hands” area.

We didn’t approach that commercially for a long time, though, so we sold hardware because customers had found us and didn’t manage to reach out to potential users. As time went by, selling hardware built our profile in the research community and that led to us getting involved in their research activities, which brought in money.

Our founders weren’t looking for a commercial return, which in some ways made it easier to continue, but in other ways made it harder to take a direct commercial outlook on things. Having said that, we’ve continued to grow through sales of hardware and taking on research projects; at the moment we employ 20 people full-time.

To read the entire interview for free until Oct. 6, click here.


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