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Philip English

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

Senmag Robotics

Senmag Robotics


Hi, guys! Philip English from RoboPhil.com and today we have an interview with the guys from Senmag Robotics, who are telling us about their robots.




Philip English – Right. Hi guys. Uh, Philip English here from robo field.com. we’ve got a gentlemen on the line today, uh, Gareth from Sen mag, who’s going to give us an overview of his technology and uh, yeah, we just have a sort of chat chat to Gareth and get an understanding of what he’s up to. Uh, so welcome Gareth. welcome. Pretty much. could you give us,  just a real quick overview, you know, of what you do and, and, and just about yourself please.


Gareth– Okay. So, I’m a PhD student at Russel and so I work in what we call haptic robotics. So haptic in seal, sense of touch and haptic robots are kind of like using your sense of touch space to a computer. So simply what that ends up meaning is you can touch, touch things that aren’t really there. So if you’ve got like a table in virtual reality, you can sort of press down on it and it’ll be all solid. And so not only can we do just making things feel solid, we can make things sort of springy. So you can have like buttons that click and you can do soft materials and also even textures make things feel rough and smooth and anything kind of like that.


Philip English – Wow. Okay. Yeah, I mean it sounds, it sounds very sort of like that. That’s that, that that’s the way the future is going to go. You know, you put on your headset and then you’ll be able to actually physically touch things and feel things. So the fact that you guys are working on that, on that, that technology is really, really interesting. so you’re over at Bristol and we were just chatting earlier, so this is your last year, isn’t that, is that right?


Gareth– Yeah, so I’m sort of in the last year of my PhD I’ve got, so these are robotic systems that are pretty much ready to go and I’m taking that forward into a startup, which is 10 back.


Philip English – Right. Fantastic. So the, uh, so yeah, Aboriginal, you’re doing what, what’s the name of the degree? Is it, is it robotics? And,


Gareth– so PhD isn’t going to really have a name. It’s computer science on the degrees certificate. but it’s kind of like, it’s, and you think about the title. Wow. And so it’s sort of day to day work is mostly, the actual core robotics itself. So motor control and control theory, that kind of thing.


Philip English – Yeah. And how does it work at, at Bristol then? Do you, do, do you pick your own projects, did you say, all right, I’m particularly interested in this type of technology and, and then is it a group of you or was it just you or you or you’re just on your own and you do your own thing or you as a team?


Gareth– so vary a lot between, between people. Like some people have a lot of, uh, kind of, so that’d be a team and they’ll have like a role within the team getting questions, what they’re doing. myself, I’ve been very lucky having a supervisor. He’s very free reign with me. Okay. So I get a lot of freedom in choosing the direction I want to go down. And my supervisor kind of helps me work out academic side to that.


Philip English – Wow. Okay. And, and then how, so why did you pick this route? cause obviously we, we’ve seen quite a lot of things from Bristol light with a mixture of different products. And this I really, really like was it was their passion to do with VR was it? Or was that,


Gareth– yeah, absolutely. So, when I first sort of encountered this technology that, false feedback haptic stuff,  as an undergraduate. So when I was going around doing open days, I saw these at a university and it’s like you haven’t tried the rift DK one. It was like that kind of moment of just like magic. It’s like, what is this? How does it work? Kind of thing. And as I like, I was an instant believer in the tech it like I, I wanted to work on it. so did my major project, in my undergraduate degree working on the kind of haptic technology stuff and carried it forward into a PhD and still going


Philip English – okay. Yeah. No, that’s it. Yeah. I mean, again, you know, I think you’ve definitely got, that’s, that’s definitely where the future’s going really for, you know, for that sort of, so it sort of take, I mean we’ve all seen the films with the game. W w what’s the game by Stephen stillbirth? Sorry, the film by Steven bulwark for say his name. yeah, that’s the first thing. Yes. The first thing that I think about when I see this sort of sort of this sort of set set technology. so I suppose I suppose if we go to sort of the, the problems that your technology solves. So I guess in a, in a three D world, obviously you can see what’s going on, but if you want to, if you want to get some real reaction and engagement from, from, from people, then you want them to be able to feel and touch. I mean, is that the main sort of problems it solves? And


Gareth– yes, I think there’s, there’s two sites that, so whenever we’re talking about anything in computers, right, there’s the side, whether you’re consuming that, the content and which is like when you’re playing a video game or watching a film, that kind of thing. But there’s the whole other side, which is where you’re creating the content, right? So whenever you’ve got a video game, someone’s had to create all of those models. And I think us as kind of our platforms that we’re using and moving into things like VR and AR and the way that we’re going to have to create this content is going to have to change along with the platforms. So if you think about now when you see an advert on your screen, it’s a two D two D image, right? But how, how does that, but in a VR environment, look, is it still two D or is it going to be a three D thing?


Gareth– Yeah, I think to actually utilize the benefits of the new platform, a lot of the content we’re creating is going to have to move into, into 3d to suit it. Yep. And that opens up quite an interesting question to how do you create this kind of new three D content? And so anyone who’s done anything like three D CAD, a lot when you’re working trying to work with three D objects using two D interfaces. Like you know, there’s normal screen, there’s two D and a keyboard, the mouse two D kind of things like that kind of translation doesn’t really work very well and a lot was the whole market is things called Spaceballs, which are just for Orien orienting your view in three D 


Philip English– seeing those things with twist. Yeah. 


Gareth– Yeah. So it’s all about just getting around that one problem. And so I think there’s, there’s going to be a lot of, a lot of interesting things in looking into how, how we actually create the new, the new wave of content for VR and AR and I think things, things like this that naturally work in that environment naturally work in a three D environment are probably the way forward for it.


Philip English – Wow. And I suppose as it develops, then you, you, you could, you could get ultra sensitive as, as an adult, as in that you, you can actually really start to train people, with that sort of tech. And I suppose, again, it’s a bit like, you know, the films where you’re, you’re, you’re almost, you can train someone to a physical level, using that tech tech technology before they go out and do it in, in, in the real world. So


Gareth– yeah. So one of the real powers about it is the intuitiveness of the sense of touch. So when we’re young, like touches the first, one of the first things we learn, right? And so on thing that’s really interesting is when the gooey first DUI programs, they really explained it to you soft computers just because they were so intuitive, right? Anyone can pick one up and, you know, pointing click at things. Yeah. We see that again with, with, touch screens and smartphones, right? Even our grandparents could work out, you know, pointing, click the smartphone. So I think there’s, there’s a real, there’s a real thing about intuitive interfaces and that a lot of the current things kind of aren’t quite working, I think when, when we sort of move into this, the three D space with 3d interactions. And that’s, that’s going to be very interesting for how it, how it affects human creativity in all spaces.


Philip English – Yeah. Well that this is it. I mean it’s, it’s the reaction there. So, so, so I suppose, so your solution, if I, if, if it goes through that, so you, so you’ve, you’ve made your building out a three D parts, is that, is that right at the moment or,


Gareth– yeah, so the, what, what it essentially gives you is not only a position in 3d so you can move around in 3d. It gives you interactions in 3d so you can put stuff into the three D environment and it can sort of push back at you. Right. So it’s, yeah, it’s kind of like, it gives you a real physical presence in, in this VR world where the rules are code


Philip English – and then how much force can, can it get? It, can I push back or does it depend on how well the, the device, the three D device is made?


Gareth– Yeah. So it does completely dependent on the device. the ones that we’re sharing can do about killer kilogram. Right. And so for a finger tip, that’s probably, we think about a good bull range to go for, cause it’s not, no, it’s not enough to tell you from your off, is a thing. And so it’s, it’s plenty enough to feel some something substantial on the end of your finger. Like some, it’s not to make things feel solid, but not enough to be dangerous.


Philip English – And can you pick something up? There was it, is it at the moment it’s just about pushing it or feeling it?


Gareth– yeah, so it’s, we’ve, we’ve done, so the actual devices that we’re doing, we’re designed to surgical device. So, and the video is offering you is just the one on its own. perfect. But you can sort of pick up two of them at the same time, have one on the thing and went on the farm and pinch things if them up from the ground. So it’s, it’s really kind of, if this is a really low level thing, it actually gives you this kind of physical presence and sort of flexibility you get from it is, it’s kind of, it’s what you can imagine to program with it, but you can do, right.


Philip English – Yeah. Yeah. So it’s a Stein for, I mean, I think, as we chatting earlier, I saw you at one of the shows in Milton Keynes and I think, I think I had a quick go and that what I saw was you had a round ball and a square. Was that what you currently have or is there lots of different things that you, that you can move around?


Gareth– so there’s a few things we can do. So, Matt, the minute as far as we’ve got is we’ve hooked up with unity and so you can work directly in unity. You can drag and drop a cube into it and it will work. Right. so we built up, built up a few demos on that, but it’s all working with the inbuilt physics engine.


Philip English – Right. And then unity, sorry, I don’t, I don’t know what, what unity is.


Gareth– Okay. So, unity is, so it’s developing video games. It’s a essentially like or anything three D graphics. but it’s, it’s kind of like, it’s a really, really nice intuitive program for just creating things.


Philip English – Right. I see. Okay. So you see develops into that. So it makes it easier to create different, right. Or objects that you actually want. Absolutely. 


Gareth– So the, the whole kind of the, the approach I’m doing is trying to make, make the false feedback stuff really accessible, really easy for people to just create stuff with. So I think the trouble at the minute is, cause I think there’s such a vast scope for where it could be useful. And yet it’s too much for me to think about either, so that the approach I’m taking is try and make it easy for as many people to work with as possible. And see, see what people come up with.


Philip English – Well, I mean, is it, is it possible to sort of download a, like a three D kit then and prints it on, on the three D printer and build something similar? Or is it, is it, is it, is it not?


Gareth– So it’s, it’s a bit difficult. So the, the actual physical parts can be three. It could be three D printed. the tricky stuff is all the electronics and the motor control and stuff that goes behind it to make it work. so yeah, it’s, it’s probably not, not anytime soon, something that anyone could build a home, the robot itself, but to, to buy a robot and use it is what we’re trying to make, make easy.


Philip English – Right, right. And then I suppose, where, where do you see the, the first, the first users as this, I mean, do you see it sort of in, in the industry space or health space? Or is it, have you got plans to sort of, to build one in, in, in that’s doing a task that, that, that that’s alive?


Gareth– Yeah. So there’s, there’s kind of like a few application spaces that I immediately see for them. one big one that we tend to robotics. So quite often if you’ve got like has this environment that you’re working in and you don’t want to send a human into that environment. So it’s a nuclear reactor or something like that. You can’t have a human in there, but at the same time you don’t necessarily want to rely on a bit of code to perform the task. So you want the human intelligence there, but not the human presence. And the way of getting around my is to use sending a robot, which is controlled by one of these devices.


Philip English – I’m with you. Yeah. I mean I, I’ve seen a lot of news about when we sort of crossed over into more of a robotic world that there’s going to be a bit of a half half thing. We’re going to have a lot of people who are going to be in control of robots. So it’s sort of just having a, like a robot in, in a mall that’s going round and you just tap on the screen that you actually have, that’d be connected to someone, sit, sit, sit, sit in at home or sit in an office and you can actually have a face to face conversation and then the ability to help people out with stuff. So yeah.


Gareth– Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So I think there’s going to be a lot of applications in, in kind of things like nuclear industry and in, particularly space, stuff. Actually, I think it’d be interesting. So you see videos of astronauts going out on spacewalks to, do basic maintenance kind of tasks and it’s, you know, it’s quite, but probably quite a dangerous thing to do really. If you could send a robot out instead and that save a lot of time. Right?


Philip English – Yeah. Yeah. And then have you, have you, have you tried the technology with any of like the cobalt arms that, that are out there at the moment? Is it, is it possible to, to code since something like that? Well, I suppose you would need your need some sort of sensor wouldn’t you on, on the arms so you can figure out what it’s picking up.


Gareth– Yeah. So it’s the, the robots themselves, they, they throw out, the position and XYZ and you can do anything with that. Yep. so it’s very easy to look up to pretty much anything like, one of the cobalt arms would be, would be theoretically fine to do. yeah. So the thing is you need to give, give that, that feedback of feeling what you’re actually doing. As you say, you’d need to put sensors on, on the cobalt.


Philip English – Ken, if, have you seen any census stuff that’s come out recently? I mean, I know, I saw the, I saw, I’ve seen the, the, the cloth ones where they, they put a cloth over the robot and the, and the cloth has got a sort of sense that sensitivity to it. Is that, is that something that, that you, that, that you could possibly merge but your to echo, is it, is it a completely different, that type of technology?


Gareth– so it’s kind of, is isn’t like a neighboring field I’d say. So with, within the sort of term of haptic feedback, you’ve got kind of two, two sub camps within that which are call them kinesthetic, which is forces. So making things feel hard and then you’ve got the tactile, which is kind of on the skin sensation. So if something feels rough or smooth, that’s more tactile. Yep. I’m with, you know, things, sort of things like cloth, like it sounds like it’s probably more, more towards the tactile side, so it will be more for recognizing textures, feeling around the shapes of things. so whereas the actual, the best, best way to do it would be to combine both. So you need both the tactile and the kinesthetic components and that sort of makes up a full, the full sense of touch.


Philip English – Full sense of touch. Yeah. Wow. Okay. Okay. Yeah, I mean I think, I mean, so as you were saying about the space, you know, the spaces, uh, and, and the nuclear field is the place to go. So is that it, have you got like a time flight where I suppose the timeline or like a vision? I mean as you were saying like the, the possibilities could be endless really. I mean from, from basic tasks of us, you know, in into doing office tasks all the way up to space. So I suppose if you, if you can build that modular, that platform and then you can just implement it into, into many different industries. is that, is it, is it that easy to actually build a module? I suppose now I suppose. You know, so, so actually, yeah, I mean, what, what’s your sort of dream plan to say to, you know, to, to, to, to, to, to actually get it out there to more people.


Gareth– So well the hope is that we’ll eventually say, well, have something to sort of start in like an industry to get us going and then we’ll be able to sort of focus our designs on something a bit more generic as such. So I think the trouble is these kinds of robots is that they’re not going to be cheap enough for your everyday average consumer to, you know, play their video games with. Yeah. And so I think that going to be there sort of a bit more of an experiment into the space at the minute. So I think mass markets will come later once you understand what, what bits we need and what bits we do. Okay. But I think, I think for now there’s, you know there’s also applications within a lot of three D design space as well. So people who are doing three D CAD and working natively within the three D environment is something we could do now. And I think that’s, that’s another big application space as well as the tele robotic stuff. And Ben future, I think it’s definitely is talking about this idea of re-imagining how we interact with our digital digital spaces.


Philip English – And then, and then w would it be more, again I’m not thinking a bit out, I have the top here, but would it be more of like a a suit then? Cause, obviously I know from the videos that were show you, you’ve got it, that the fingers. So would it, are you looking, would it be a glove that you’d put your hands into? And then essentially then it would go up and around and it’d be more, more and more something that you would wear to control something.


Gareth– Yeah. So I think this is, this is about, looking into the understanding behind what it is we do need and what it is we don’t need in this tech. So the trouble is, the more the more parts you add, the more it’s going to cost in the end of the day. So if you’re trying to able to build a, essentially a robot around your body, that’s a lot of motors, that’s a lot of electronics, all that kind of stuff. So I think in terms of actual force force generation, and I’m not, I’m not sure there’s many application spaces that could, could afford that kind of, full body thing. so I think in terms of doing full body stuff, I, I am expecting a lot more tactile stuff rather than kinesthetic. So tactile, you can do, do a lot easier. so with the vibration motors, that kind of thing, it’s much easier to stick it out vibration episode for you than to build an exoskeleton around you. I see. So I see, I definitely see the sort of future of full body stuff being in more of the tactile area. Yeah. That’s something we’ll be exploring.


Philip English – Yeah, I mean this, it sounds like you said like you need, if you have a specific task, you know, there’s a good example is, is, is, is, is a nuclear task or something where you need that, that, that, that level of sensitivity to feel what, what’s going on? yeah, no, no, it’s, I mean it’s this, it’s, it’s a great product and I think this is definitely way we’re the world’s sorts or go going with that site. So I would say technology. So I’m looking forward to see how things are developed really, you know, and then keep an eye on. Yeah, I mean, what, what like what’s the best way to find your Gareth or sort of the best way to get a at gain contact?


Gareth– Okay. So we’ve got a website, which is setback-robotics.com, and there’s not much on it at the minute. We are working on updating it. but you can put in your email on that. Send us a message and we’ll get back to you and keep you updated.


Philip English – fantastic. Fantastic. Okay, now that’s great. Thank you, Gareth. Well, we’ll guys, what I do is our, our, I put those details down. so you can get in contact with Gareth and uh, yeah, no, thanks for very, very, very much for your time today. Gareth is right. It’s been a very, very, very, very interesting.


Gareth– Thanks for having me. Thank you.


Senmag Robotics: https://senmag-robotics.com

Senmag Youtube: https://youtu.be/6vPi3Q2nH3E

Philip English: https://philipenglish.com

Sponsor – Robot Center: https://www.robotcenter.co.uk

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