Khamis and fellow University of New South Wales researchers Stephen Redmond and Benjamin Xia have been on this path and have spun out their work into a startup called Contactile.
Contactile’s tech is a sensor system designed to give robotic ‘hands’ greater efficiency to better guide robots on how much grip and force to use when lifting different kinds of objects.
Once launched to market, the founders believe other companies that build automation solutions can make use of Contactile’s inventions to build robotics for a whole range of sectors.
«In terms of applications, it’s endless: from fruit packing to warehouse picking, like at Amazon,» Khamis says.
Contactile recently completed CSIRO’s ON Accelerate program. The technology has been developed with hundreds of thousands of dollars from combined grant funding over the past few years.
The trio also recently won funding from the US Office of Naval Research Global to work on a project to develop a device for disarming underwater mines in turbid water using a robotic hand.
Khamis says once the company is formally up and running, the founders will look to leverage further grants before approaching seed investors.
It’s an important time for researchers looking to make robotic systems more responsive to real-world stimuli.
«The landscape at the moment is very focused on sensing force,» Khamis says.
Social robots blossom
Globally, businesses and governments are preparing for widespread robotic disruption and Australian businesses have clocked the opportunity.
The global robotics market, including industrial and non-industrial robots, will generate more than $US500 billion in revenue by 2025, Statista predicts.
Melbourne business Exaptec is helping companies and organisations weather the transition through sourcing the perfect robot for their needs.
«It was a slow start for me, I’m not a technical person at all, so the learning curve has been extreme,» says founder Nicci Rossouw.
Rossouw founded Exaptec in 2015 after noticing a boom in the number of professionals attending conferences remotely.
Telepresence robots allow users to enter spaces remotely, usually via video link, with the robotic unit able to move through offices and other spaces through remote control use.
Exaptec distributes Israeli-produced telepresence robot Temi among others and does in-house software development for businesses who use this technology.
The team of four has seen turnover grow to $500,000 over the past three years and Rossouw says there are little signs of a slowdown as more Australians become comfortable and familiar with the idea of robots in the workplace.
«I see a big future for these types of robots, particularly in aged care, health and education sectors. Our latest robot, Temi, can follow you around or it can be programmed to go to a specific room in your house.»
When it comes to honing robotic touch and senses on the development side, Khamis says startups like Contactile are making great strides after decades of researching the required «tactile senses» needed for robots to «go the extra mile».
She says the company will look to «get as far as we can without diluting equity» and show off what its tech can do.
«That puts us in a great position to go after seed funding.»
Emma is the small business reporter for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald based in Melbourne.