Tucked away in an unremarkable-looking north London building is a robot that looks and feels like the progenitor for "Pacific Rim"-style mechs.
Shadow Robotics has a simple M.O.: it builds robot hands. Most recently, Shadow made a splash at Jeff Bezos' re:MARS robotics conference when the Amazon CEO tried out its new set of robot hands, which are controlled remotely by a haptic-feedback glove. In layman's terms, this means not only do the robotic hands mirror the person's movements, they also relay the sensation of touch back to them.
I went to Shadow's London office to try the hands out for myself. The office looks every inch like a tech startup, complete with two office dogs — Milo the Jack Russell Terrier and Henry the Husky — but the company has actually been going for 22 years. For most of its lifespan, it was focused purely on building robot hands for research, but in the last few years, it's broken more into the consumer space.
While Shadow made the robot hands themselves, the whole project has been done in tandem with two other companies, HaptX and Syntouch. HaptX develops VR and reproducing the sensation of touch for people operating machines remotely, and is responsible for the gloves. Syntouch specializes in making materials capable of relaying touch to people, and made the touch sensors that go on the end of the robot's fingers.
Here's what it was like to use the gloves: