- Course studied:
- Robotic Engineering
- Year of graduation:
Kai Longshaw has ambitions of his invention, the HEW-DV4 desktop robotic arm, being used to teach pupils in schools around the world. The Robotic Engineering graduate is already trialling the device to teach robotics and programming in schools in Stoke-on-Trent. Armed with a gripper and a 360º working range, HEW can be paired with a Raspberry Pi or other micro-computers to play chess, musical instruments, or manipulate its surroundings.
“We’re starting it out small, targeting schools in the local area, but the idea is to spread into schools around the UK and then expand into Europe and the rest of the world, eventually,” Kai explained. “Having said that, we’ve already sent devices to Belgium and Canada; one guy using it to work on his wheelchair and the other’s an engineering hobbyist who’s reviewing it for his blog.”
Kai’s interest in robotics began at school, when he started learning about electronics. Originally from Burslem, he attended Stoke-on-Trent College before signing up to study Robotic Engineering at Staffordshire University. “I looked around at other universities, but because Staffs was so close, and the facilities in Stafford were great, I thought it was ideal,” he said.
“I picked Robotic Engineering because it was different from the usual electronics courses. I did bits of electronics in school and college, but the course at Staffs seemed to combine everything from electronics to software to hardware and engineering, so it was really wide-ranging.”
Kai’s final year project, which was displayed at the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Science’s GradEx exhibition, also looked at robotic arm technology. It enabled an operator to control a pair of devices through the use of a sensor suit. The system, named TORA, meaning Tele-Operated Robotic Arms, had applications in a wide range of real world situations. “They’ve been using a similar system to do maintenance in fusion reactors,” Kai explained, “because you can control the arms remotely through a human machine interface.”
After graduating in 2011, Kai’s first job was electronics technician for Partner Electronics, based in Northamptonshire. After a year, he moved back to Staffordshire, to take a position at Radwell Electronics, repairing various devices for customers. He then moved to Futaba Industrial UK, in Derbyshire, focussing on boosting production efficiency for carmaker Toyota.
In 2014, Kai started Blueprint Robotics to produce and market the HEW device. To get his business concept off the ground, he applied to the Staffordshire University SPEED scheme. “I wouldn’t have got started if it wasn’t for the SPEED scheme,” he said. “It gave me an initial pot of funding to get stock to develop prototypes for the launch. We also had access to business advice and guidance such as accounting and operating as a sole trader or limited company. It’s been really helpful.”
Blueprint Robotics has since won the TMT Innovation Space Award at The Start Up Competition 2015, organised by Stoke-on-Trent City Council, Young Enterprise and BES. He’s also received business mentoring from Stoke-on-Trent based start-up support company Build a UK Business.
Kai added: “The idea for HEW came from my time at Staffs, when I did my final year project. I wanted to recreate my project in my own time but I had to buy an expensive robotic arm from Europe or China – there was no affordable version in the UK – so I thought I’d set-up my own business instead. We’re now working with a couple of secondary schools on a trial phase and we’ll be marketing it to hobbyists and enthusiasts. Anyone can use it for whatever they want. It’s really up to the end user.”