A deep tech company developing electronic skin for robots has raised £3.5 million seed funding.
Despite skin enabling people to make sense of the world around them, there has been little progress with respect to giving robots a sense of touch similar to that of human skin.
Startup Touchlab, based at The Higgs Centre for Innovation in Edinburgh, is solving this by developing low-profile tactile sensing skin which can be wrapped around robots as an ‘e-skin’.
Founder Dr Zaki Hussein’s PhD grant alone was not enough to fund manufacturing of a real-world solution for robots, so he founded a company that could – and proceeded to work with suppliers and manufacturers such as Quantum Technology Supersensors.
Two of the founder’s colleagues have also joined the team: Laura Garcia Caberol, who did her product design Masters project on e-skin integration into wearables, and Dr Vasilis Mitrakos.
Touchlab’s e-skin is thinner than human skin, making it easily retrofittable without reducing the robot’s or gripper’s degrees-of-freedom (DoF). Machines fitted with Touchlab’s e-skin can now roll pens; grasp soft objects; and even detect slip – and compensate for it.
Unlike older sensor technologies, TouchLab’s e-skin is also able to withstand a high load, sense direction in 3D – described as the ‘holy grail’ of e-skin and important for detecting slip.
It can also withstand extreme environments such as acid, high and low temperatures, and even radioactive environments, giving it unique capabilities.
The investment was led by Octopus Ventures, one of Europe’s largest and most active early-stage investors, with participation from existing investors including Creator Fund and Techstart Ventures.
“Touch is the final frontier for robot interaction and entry into physical environments – enabling true dexterity and safety,” said CEO Dr Hussein. “We have taken on this challenge by developing a ‘full-stack’ solution; retrofittable e-skin that gathers the data, software to make sense of it, and integration to ensure it works in demanding applications – from grocery grasping to telerobotics in extreme environments.
“Octopus’ expertise propels us to achieve e-skin’s full potential and create a step-change in robotics.”
Touchlab says its progress has caught the eye of several major companies including the client Sellafield Ltd. in the notoriously difficult to penetrate nuclear sector.
Mason Sinclair, investor at Octopus Ventures, added: “Touchlab has made truly pioneering advances with its technology in tactile sensing. Electronic skin will open a world of new opportunities and applications in robotics, making it an extremely exciting time for the industry.
“Zaki and the Touchlab team have a huge vision for the business, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to be supporting them on this journey.”