Philip English

Robotics Enthusiast, Director, Investor, Trainer, Author and Vlogger

Inovo Robotics

Inovo Robotics

Hi, guys! Philip English from and today we have an interview with Henry Wood, who are telling us about Inovo Robotics.

Philip English– So hi guys, it’s Philip English and Robo Phil. And we’ve got another interview today. Uh, we’ve got, uh, Henry Woods and, um, I’ve got some interesting robots to show us. So we have a, a quick overview and we’ll see a discussion around the robots and Sandra. Yeah. So, uh, could you give us a quick intro please? 

Henry Wood– Sure. Yeah. So, um, I’m one of the founders of Innova robotics. We set up the company about three years ago, um, to develop modular robots that could, uh, be used in batch manufacturing environments. So, um, well we, it was, um, design a system where you can put together different, different sections of arm to physically change the reach and payload of the arm depending on the job with the intention, the, um, the batch manufacturers don’t necessarily know what jobs are we doing in the future. So the flexibility to repurpose the robot between different tasks is absolutely critical. 

Philip English– Yeah. So I can definitely see the advantage, especially if you want to use one robot and quickly change to a different line. But you need a robot that’s longer or shorter. You can quickly literally just swap the module out, make sure the grip is working, and then you’re going again instead of having to sort of actually change the physical locations of, of, uh, of how the line works. So definitely see the vine is so is it, uh, so was it you and John who were the two founders, is that right? 

Henry Wood– Yeah, that’s right. Yeah. So myself and John, um, originally founded the company before that we’ve worked together Northrop Grumman for a number of years where we, um, we were very involved in the development of a disposal robot, which was basically a mobile mobile platform with a modular robot arm on it that could be used to go in and look at suspicious packages in cars or, um, bags and things like that. So what the mod had to challenge to face the challenge there was that they never knew what form the object was that they’d be dealing with. So they’d go onsite and they’d need to put the robot together with the right kind of length links and things like that to handle the particular job they were doing. 

Philip English– Right. I see. I see. So that’s the background there. So was that a, was that an academic company? Was that, is that, is that cool? 

Henry Wood– No, not for Grumman’s a really large American defense company. Um, and they, they typically sold in the U S only and they were, they were really keen to get into the UK market. And so this opportunity came up for them probably about 10 years ago. Um, they worked with a UK company to do that and then they acquired the UK company. 

Philip English– Wow, okay. And then, and those guys are, so they do a whole host of different types of bond disposal, like robots. So obviously 

Henry Wood– it’s a funny cycle with, with defense. I mean the defense typically have a really long list of requirements and they’ll spend a lot of money getting a system that works. And then it has quite a long lifespan. I mean, most of the defense equipment is large for at least 10 years. So they’ll, they’ll, they’ll invest in a new system, they’ll fund for everything in it imaginable and then it, and then it will keep on working for quite a long time. So it’s much, much longer cycles in consumer products or difficult industrial products. 

Philip English– That’s interesting. Okay. I never knew that. So you have a longer life cycle, right? I’ll have to do a bit more research like in today’s, um, types of technology. I know that you have like the I robot, um, army types of roadblocks. I’ve seen those. Um, and it’s, there’s kinetic as well. 

Henry Wood– Yes, that’s true. Actually, John’s background was, was from Connecticut, so he’d worked at kinetic before that and they were a collaborator in that project. I wrote an interesting one because they, American company, um, like vacuum cleaners, senior product and then they make, um, on the spot is the robots for the defense sector as well. So completely different markets. But obviously there’s quite a lot of overlap in the technology inside. 

Philip English– Right. I see, I see. So, so I suppose that try and trying to get that boat, the best of both worlds there and you know, to use that on a tech. Okay. Um, so, um, for Inovo mobile, yeah. So is it, is the name from, is it coming from like innovation is that it isn’t, 

Henry Wood– yeah, we really just come from the idea of innovation. Just trying to sort of, so it was a kind of evolution in this effort. I mean, robotics is, has got a long history in industrial robots go back probably 40 or 50 years, really with, with sort of industry 3.0 where you had very, um, very dumb, very quite precise, but um, but very deterministic robots that we’re working on production lines, putting doors on cars and things like that. And as time goes forward, do you see this technology getting into sort of smaller companies, much more agile companies? Traditional industrial robots don’t really fit those environments. You have to spend a lot of money integrating an industrial robot into a cell and that, uh, and then it’s, it’s quite fixed. You know, when we have to put a Cajun, there’s normally a lot of custom tools design. 

The programming is pretty complex. It’s normally pretty skilled, um, tasks. So actually programming industrial robot. So all that equals a large investment and it only really makes sense if you’re doing something in really large volumes like the car industry where they’ll be building millions of calls hour an hour and day on day and that industry justifies it. But when you got an industry that’s, that’s much more agile, that’s doing different jobs for different customers or with writing products really fast, it’s really hard for them to use the same model because they can’t spend a lot of money and a lot of time automating a task that’s going to change in two weeks that just doesn’t add up. So they kind of being stuck doing things manually. Um, and in a new generation of robots came out when universal robot sort of brought out their first offering and it started to show you that, yeah, you should use these in more agile environments, but, um, it’s a continual evolution and we think we’re kind of taking it further with the modularity. It’s really flexible in hardware as well as software. And we put a lot of focus on making our software easy to use. And, uh, we’ve developed an arm which, which can be reapplied to a really wide range of different tasks. 

Philip English– Right, Fantastic. Fantastic. Yeah. And again, I can definitely see like the, that, the problems that you’re solving. They’re so sort of thing, you know, if we’re ever, if we’re a small manufacturer, a small engineering company, um, that does have a repetitive tasks, then yeah, he wants something that’s uh, easy to use, quick and simple and can work with other people as well. So as you said, like you haven’t gone put a cage around it and it’s a, it’s a lot safer, sort of safer from that side. And so can you tell you any grippers I, I saw you had one of the robot sequence. 

Henry Wood– Yeah, that’s, that’s right. So, um, we were using the ISO tool couplings, so it’s a pretty standard for bolt fixing. Um, you find some people that are making their own brackets or making, but that’s just for the end. But you can plug on a standard on robot or robotic gripper as well. Mechanically. Yeah. Um, we were never really a fan of having a long cable running down the arm because that’s, that’s always a pain if the robot’s moving and you can snake the cable or stretch the cable. Um, and so we put quite a lot of work making, making a robot so it can drive from the risk. So there’s a connector on the risk. You can select the kind of robot tool that you’re using and we support on robot and robots can, we’re adding to that library all the time and then it can just be connected straight to the wrist. 

Philip English– Right. Fantastic. And then, and then for the vision, I know a lot, a lot of the grip has come with their own life vision, but can you put a vision system on it as well or, or would you have that separate? I’ve seen them where they have it separate and then they pick it up. 

Henry Wood– It varies a lot actually. It depends, depends what the application is. Um, vision can get quite expensive quite quickly. Um, you know, you can be looking at sort of 15, 20,000 pound robot and you can easily spend the same on a vision system. Um, so really it really comes down to the application and what you need to do. But, um, there are some more affordable systems, data logic, make a really nice little simple. Um, so in camera module with, with some machine vision in it, um, systems, you can connect to our software fairly easily because most of those cameras have, have an interface where you can say, Oh, in this object and give me the coordinates. And then in the software you can say, read the coordinates from the camera can go to that point. So you have to do a bit of that integration yourself. But it’s really not that hard. And we’re putting together tutorials and guides and templates and things to make that easier for people. Mmm. Longer term, we might go build some simple vision into our, our robot natively, but it’s our first release. Um, it will be a matter of working with the off the shelf systems.

Philip English– Right. And then for the solution. Right, right, right. At the moment, how many modules can you screw in? Can you, can you just go higher and higher and higher? Or is there a set limit or, 

Henry Wood– uh, yeah, there’s a, there’s a set limit. I mean, basically what you’re doing is you’re trading off the payload to the reach site, right? As he might be on longer, you’ve got, I’d like to pay later. But, um, what we found was that, but you get a lot of, a lot of applications where they need a bit more reach than the standard [inaudible] that maybe need 1.1, 1.2 meters. And that’s often because people loading pallets. So when you’ve got an end of line or a machine tending tasks and you’re picking parts out in the machine, or if we can by you putting them on a pallet, the holiday itself, so normally about a meter, um, across, so you need, you need normally can cover that whole area. But we found a lot of people were handling fairly light objects, you know, small boxes, small parts that were weighing 300 grams, maybe a kilo, maybe Tila and a half, two kilos. 

But, um, the, these people were generally forced to buy quite a high end robot. They’d be looking at a URL and to be able to do that job because they needed the reach, they didn’t really need 10 kilos. So we saw in all the applications, we, we studied that something like 85, 90% of them, well, we’re only handling items up to a couple of kilos, but a lot of them needed that long reach insight. What we’re letting people do is, is get the rope, set it up with a seminar, reach maybe 1.2, 1.3 meters. They’ll only have a payload of about three kilos of that reach, but that still seems to be serving a really, really big section of the customers’ outlet. Um, if you set it up with a shorter reach, you know, the kilos, the payload can be up to 10 kilos. So I have a six 50 centimeter to reach a millimeter reach. If you can lift 10 kilos there at, uh, at about 850 900 millimeters, you can lift five kilos. And if you’re going right out to the longer reaches of 1.3 meters, then you’re down to about three kilos. 

Philip English– Right. I see. Have you got a product name similar to you are Y I suppose if you’re that all like you can do as you said, you know, from 10 all the way up to one kilos. So yeah. Yeah. 

Henry Wood– So so exactly. So it’s all the same product. It’s all the same core parts, but just different links, link tubes. Um, so it’s essentially one, one kit and people can buy different length tubes if they want to, um, want to create longer, longer reaches. So we’re kind of looking at a starter kit where you’d go the sixth w, well three joint modules, which is a six degree of freedom arm, um, and two, two link tubes. So you can basically set it up with, with no link tube or a short link tube. And then that would give you, um, the flexibility to set up an arm swing about 600 millimeters and about 900 millimeters. And then if people want to have longer reaches, they can just buy another link section. There’s not a lot in the link section. It’s just a coupling, a connector, the tube and some wires. So that’s not really the expensive part of the technology. So you’re looking at a fairly small cost just to add along the link. 

Philip English– Right? Yeah, I can definitely see like the adaptability. I mean, I mean to like challenge the idea a bit. I mean, um, if you get, um, like some, someone like me, I like it was a bit clumsy. If we, if is it possible to not connect the two properly and then fuse or 

Henry Wood– no, not really. Um, the, the way the coupling goes together, it won’t lock it. It’s not in properly, it’s only one move. So you couldn’t, you couldn’t put it together without looking at and installing the arm around and the end flight office is, um, is going to locks and stop that happening. Um, the actual software detects what you plug in so the user doesn’t have to set up the robot and then tell the software what it is. As soon as you plug in apart, it also identifies it. So whatever you put together, the software immediately shows the same, the same kind of three D model of what you, what you built. And it’s really familiar to me immediately. So you don’t have to do, um, you have to get the software in sync with the hardware. You don’t have to do calibration steps and things like that just to play basically 

Philip English– plug and play. Fantastic. Fantastic. So where did you see, um, I suppose like what’s the vision then for like you guys, I suppose it fits I suppose to make it more and more that’s more and more and more pieces and one more be seeing. 

Henry Wood– Yeah, absolutely. Yes. I mean what we’re doing is we’re getting a kind of basic starter kit out there as the first products inside that will let people change the change, the reach and cover sort of free to tend T loads with different, different length links. Um, I mean longer term it’s a whole, there’s a whole ecosystem really because the connector and the way we’ve designed designed the software and interface, it means we can keep bringing out new modules be compatible. So longer term we can bring out different tools, we can bring out different types of tubes. Um, I mean our arm is a six degree freedom arm at the moment, but a seventh degree would just be a link to that’s got a right type that went to it. It’s like someone can buy a six degree freedom all now, like you’re not graded to a seven in, in the future, um, without, without writing off. So it’s giving it a lot of kind of, um, uh, future expandability 

Philip English– say future proof date. Yeah. So people can add on to it, you know, sort of buy into the range and as you said, buy into the ecosystem of all the new products. It was, I didn’t ask then. Yeah, I think this would work. Um, have you ever, uh, have you had any health care, like examples? I mean, um, um, 

Henry Wood– in terms of applications? 

Philip English– Yeah. Yeah, 

Henry Wood– yeah. Interesting question. Um, I mean these are strange times right now. Every, every, every company is sort of looking at different opportunities with the current type of 19 situation. Uh, I mean, prior to that we were focused on manufacturing as our, our main target area and thinking longer term about applications where there’s more, there’s more need for AI and vision and things like that, which, which is really exciting growth areas, but the technologies less proven and there’s more work to do there. So the plan was always to, it’s a focus on manufacturing at the beginning, but start to expand into things like, um, farming and food tech and pharmacy schools and all these areas where you need bit more technology on top of it. Um, with current current situation with the covid19, you know, there’s new opportunities springing out in terms of testing and cleaning and sanitizing and things like that. So we’re exploring all those areas at the moment. Um, so if the health care, we’re not, we’re not developing a sort of surgical robot that’s, that’s a different level of certification. That’s, that’s a big barrier. So, um, that’s mine. That’s not an immediate focus. But, um, that said, you know, there are things in healthcare that, uh, on surgery where you’re not contacting the patient directly. If you, if you’re holding cameras above a patient or things like that, then they’re much more accessible and, and some opportunities there that we’re also involved in. 

Philip English– Right. Why fantastic. And then he, are you allowed to give us a rough sort of like cost of, you know, 

Henry Wood– yeah. In terms of price point, um, with somewhere a bit below 20,000, there’s our target price for basically a starter kit for something where you can put together an arm like this and you could reconfigure it in a few different different, um, links. So that would be the, the, the arm, a couple of linked tubes, the control box and the software. 

Philip English– Right. Fantastic. Fantastic. Right. So great. So vision wise, I mean, obviously I know we’re in, um, a locked down situation right at the moment. I mean, what do you see as a vision sort of in robotics in general? 

Henry Wood– Well, I think, um, one of the things that’s been really, really apparent during a lockdown is, um, that we’re very reliant on importing things from other countries. And that doesn’t always work. And we’ve seen it a lot in the news with the NHS struggling to get hold of loads of PPE and ventilators, Napa equipment. And most of this is because it’s made overseas and people have stopped, stopped exporting it cause they’re using it themselves. So what was really highlighted is that I think post locked down, there’s going to be more focused on manufacturing more things in the UK. And uh, and if we’re going to do that and we’re going to scale up manufacturing in the UK again, and we’re going to need more automation because if we’re gonna do it in a cost competitive way and we’re going to be chasing more things here, then we’re going to be more information. So I can see a fairly quick growth in, in more automation being used in batch processes and more and more companies investing in robot arms and AGVs and other equipment to help them produce more here in a more scalable way. 

Philip English– Fantastic. Yeah. And as you said, it’s about all that being self, self sufficient and um, and, and as you’re saying like, it’s not just what we say so we can work in the health and industry, but then we can go into the agriculture and a whole host businesses there. So yeah, no, no, I definitely agree with that. 

Henry Wood– Yeah. I mean, you know, it’s really interesting. There’s been quite a lot of press around that recently as well. The challenges they’ve had, finding workforce that are willing to sort of pick fruit or 10 crops. And uh, I mean that’s a really big growth area. I can see in the next few years where more robots and, and vision systems are being used to automate fruit picking and, and, uh, production site. I think that’s an exciting area to watch as well. 

Philip English– Fantastic. Fantastic. So, yeah. So can you take us through like, I suppose like the opportunity sort of, or like the next action steps like to work with you guys? 

Henry Wood– Sure. Well, I mean, what we’ve, what we’ve found, we’ve been speaking to a lot of different, different potential users out there and what we’re finding is there’s a kind of growing appetite with smaller companies with, with batch manufacturing and SME companies who haven’t previously used automation, but they can see it being part important part of the future or future. And, uh, not all of them have necessarily got a really clear idea of exactly what they want to automate, but they know there’s a lot of repetitive manual tasks going on in their business. And, and I just want to start that journey. They want to basically get hold of a robot and start exploring where it works. And they’ve normally got one or two ideas in mind. Um, but there may be lots of different opportunities. So one of the things where we’re really strong, a customer can do that, they can get, get hold of a robot. And because you can reconfigure the robot in so many different ways, no, they can, they can test it out and try it. And lots of different tasks around there, that business. Um, and we found that really popular in research centers where you’ve got large companies that have got dedicated research departments and they’re looking at all the different tasks they might be able to automate. This is ideal for them because they can run three proof of concepts and do trials with lots of things without having to Bennett because I need to get any robot with a longer reach or, or get hold of a new robot because it needs a different configuration. Um, and similarly small companies where there’s different tasks and that on that learning curve, that journey in terms of becoming more automated, um, this is ideal for them as well because I can get hold of it and they can set it up on an application and then they can move it to a new one and they can learn all of the nuances of actually automating tasks and how it can help them break. 

Philip English– Yeah. So I think, I think that’s fantastic because I mean, from, um, like, like you could go into a customer and just say, well look, you can get the robot for this basic tasks, but actually you can try all these other tasks. You know, you can buy the accessories and you can really have a, have a play and bring like automation into the business, you know, is that, as you said, uh, you know, relative low cost. So I think, I think I said, I think that’s a brilliant opportunity really. And I, and the whole, the whole module site services side of it is brilliant as well as you said. It’s just that flexibility to change things around really, really easily. So, um, yeah, no, no, no, that, that’s been really, really good. So I mean, thanks for that. And remind me what, what, what’s the best way to get in contact? Is it the go to your website? Is that it? 

Henry Wood– Uh, yeah. Please do. Um, so I mean, if you, if you want to get in contact directly, then please send an email to and we’ll get back to you straight away on that where we’re currently doing beach patrols with a number of customers and we’ve, we’ve got custody to do some more. So if you’re a business where you’ve been thinking about automating things and you’re keen to try it out, let us let us know. Send me an email, um, and we’ll, we’ll come have a look book, we’ll look at your application and potentially if we could beat your trial for a few months just to prove the concept and, uh, and then that, that could turn into a, a solution for you. So please let us know. 

Philip English– Okay, fantastic. Fantastic. Okay, Henry. No, that’s how much I appreciate it. Thanks for your time today. It’s been a great interview and a great 

Henry Wood– overview of all of the robot assessment is very much appreciate it. Thanks for, thanks for time.

Inovo Robotics: 

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