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4 December, 2017 - 11:48 By Kate Sweeney

Bots hot in the cloud and the crowd as funding soars

Britbots, a Suffolk organisation devoted to promoting the fortunes of UK-based robotics companies, has invested the first part of a £300,000 funding package for Tethered Drone Systems.

Britbots operates the British Robotics Seed (SEIS) Fund and the equity crowdfunding platform, Britbots CROWD from its base in Martlesham near Ipswich; both support promising robotics-related ventures performing autonomous tasks on land, air and sea.

Dominic Keen, founder and CEO of Britbots says: “Much is written about tomorrow’s world of driverless cars, where we are to be seamlessly whisked around by an all-pervasive fleet of unmanned road vehicles.

“However, the complexity of the road network and the high consequences of failure suggest that the public’s first experience of self-driving objects is much more likely to happen well away from roads; and human beings probably won’t be the cargo.”

Tethered Drone Systems 

Based on the South Coast, Tethered Drone Systems (TDS) builds unmanned multi-copters that can be used for aerial surveillance and broadcasting tasks. 

Whilst ordinarily drones have limited air time and must be remotely controlled by a pilot, TDS units are powered via a tether, so as to fly near-continuously.

TDS engineers are working on building technology so that the vehicles can take-off and land by themselves. Currently the only UK-based tethered drone in commercial development, and with a flight capability to 300m/1000ft, it will see a step change in operational activity.

The company has recently received the initial part of a £300k funding package from the British Robotics Seed Fund to complete the development of a fully-commercial product and build the order book; and it is open for investments from interested members of the public via Britbots CROWD at:

Jim Gibson, who is founder of TDS, says: “Pilotless tethered drones will be transformative technology not only for the security industry but also for precision agriculture, telecoms and the emergency services plus many more applications.”

Waving not Droning – ASV Global

One company supporting Tethered Drone Systems’ is ASV Global. ASV Global has for the last seven years been making unmanned boats for customers such as the Royal Navy and the offshore energy industry.  Their vessels perform tasks that would be too dangerous, too laborious or too expensive for more conventional shipping. 

Mark Exeter, Managing Director, ASV Global, said: “We’re excited to be partnering with TDS, their technology has the potential to complement existing autonomous operations at sea giving greater visibility, enhanced communications and more data”. We look forward to working with them to unleash the potential of combining different types of robotic systems.”

A bit of Rough – ZOA Robotics 

In addition to the unmanned activities in the air and on water, land-based technology is also being developed to allow autonomous vehicles to make inspections and move objects around uneven terrain, well away from the road network.

ZOA Robotics is one such company.  Based in North London and also backed by Britbots, they are building self-operating four-legged robotics which are initially to be used to gather health and safety data in hazardous industrial locations, but in time will also be able to carry materials around building sites; and up and down stairs. 

ZOA Robotics is using the funds it has raised to test its technology with early-adopter customers in 2018.

Founder and CEO, Thiago Azevedo, said: “There’s a lot of hype about driverless cars at the moment but I think that we’re likely to see many other types of self-controlling mobile devices before fully unmanned automobiles become a reality.”

Dominic Keen added: “It is great to see UK-based robotics companies rapidly moving to develop and launch the next cohort of robots, delivering real value-add in the physical world.”

• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Britbots CEO and founder, Dominic Keen

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