Scientists at Staffordshire University were behind the development of the Handy1, which is already one of the most widely used robots for disabled applications. This is a low-cost device, costing around £4,000 (€6,000), but is pre-programmed and cannot easily be moved around.
The Flexibot was designed to overcome these limitations, but still be in the same pricing bracket. For this reason it has been constructed from readily available off-the-shelf components, a factor which kept the cost of building a prototype at the fairly low level of €65,000.
Robots are already used in the food production industry in manufacturing and research settings, for example for picking individual compounds out of the hundreds of thousands that may be storied in a compound library.
But in contrast to the Flexibot, these industrial robots can cost several hundred euros per machine. It is for this reason that the developers behind Flexibot thought that their invention could be of significant interest to other secotrs.
Another benefit of the Flexibot is that it is a more flexible alternative to current industrial robots. Several arms can work simultaneously from a socket network, and their mobility - as well as the ability to be programmed to conduct multiple tasks - means that one can do the work of several fixed robots.
The Flexibot takes the form of an arm, jointed in the middle and at either end, with grippers at either end, that can travel across a grid or chain of sockets and operate effectively from each.
The arm moves along in a manner similar to an inchworm, plugging one end into a socket and then reaching over and plugging into the next. The first end detaches, and the arm is ready to operate from its new position. Using a network of sockets built around a room, the Flexibot can navigate and travel at will, even going up stairs and across ceilings.
The prototype is 1.1m in length, is accurate to within one tenth of a millimetre and can pick up a weight of 2.8kg. It is scaleable, so could be designed in bespoke dimensions to fulfill a particular task.
Staffordshire University has appointed Davidsons, a leading London-based intellectual property consultancy to manage the process of taking the invention to the next stage of its commercial development.
More details about the Flexibot are available on www.robotic-arm.com.