Pioneering robotics business wins Bristol Uni enterprise contest

June 29, 2012

A unique concept which brings puppets to life through the use of robotics has won nearly £13,000 in Bristol’s equivalent of Dragons’ Den.

The futuristic idea, from Bristol firm Rusty Squid, was one of seven vying for the judges’ votes at the University of Bristol’s New Enterprise Competition.

Rusty Squid calls itself a collective of creative technologists and is made up of roboticists, puppeteers and model makers. It designs and builds ‘corporeal’ creatures which can interact with people to help with anything from marketing to education.

The team has won £10,750, plus £2,000 worth of legal support from Bristol law firm Veale Wasbrough Vizards to help grow  from a part-time collective into a scalable business.

The judging panel, made up of industry experts, were impressed by the concept and excited by the fact Rusty Squid’s creations are so popular that they’re having to turn away demands for work.

Final year Physics PhD student Brendan Arnold put Rusty Squid’s business plan together and works alongside directors  David McGoran, Roseanne Wakely and Paul O'Dowd.

Brendan said: “We focus on soft robotics which people can physically handle. For example, one of the members has built Heart Robot which engages in a very primal way. It looks like a puppet but has inbuilt robotics which create a heartbeat and enable it to squeeze someone’s hand.

“We find that they’re very popular as a marketing tool because it gets people talking and engaging.  We do a lot of work for museums and theatres who want to make showcases for various events. Winning this competition is incredible and will allow us to fast-track many of the projects we’re currently working on and help achieve more exposure.”

Second place went to students Sam Harris and Nishil Raichura for their Pedal Power Transport business – a courier and taxi business powered by people not petrol.

The specialised rickshaws allow them to make deliveries of people and parcels around the city, offering a high-quality, competitive and eco-friendly service.

Pedal Power Transport won £6,750 from Basecamp, the university’s dedicated student start-up space, to continue to develop its business.

Two teams of engineering students shared third place and win £6,000 each plus business advice from the university’s SETsquared business acceleration centre.

Sam Barrett, Madeline Burke, Leo Morgan, James Gray and Odysseas Pappas are the brains behind Cleatfit – an innovative mechanical solution for cyclists to accurately replace the cleats which fasten their cycling shoes to their cycle pedals.

This solution provides an affordable way for an expanding market of cyclists to avoid costly injuries.

Tim Ankers, Laura Clare and Will Tiley, George Cusworth, Dave Green and Claire Tobin form the team behind Flare, which designs stylish branded organic cotton bags that use colour-changing technology to highlight when UV radiation from the sun has reached specific intensities.

This year’s competition entries were judged by a panel of industry experts from sponsoring organisations including accountants Deloitte, EADS, IP Group, Motorola, Santander, SETsquared, Veale Wasbrough Vizards, and Wyvern Seed Fund.

Pictured, from left, Brendan Arnold (Bristol PhD student in physics and funding officer for Rusty Squid), Roseanne Wakely (chief model-maker at Rusty Squid) and David McGoran (general manager at Rusty Squid)


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