Among the large robots at Odense Robotics is a group of innovators who are aiming for the opposite - to make a robot as small as possible. The idea of a robotic glove comes from Sofie Woge, who was raised and educated in Lund. After working in innovation systems in Lund, she is now taking the steps toward developing the finished product in Denmark.
Sofie Woge was educated in industrial design at Lund University, Faculty of Engineering TH, in connection with which she did a degree project at NASA in Houston. One side effect of the weightlessness in space is that astronauts’ muscles atrophy, which gave the Sofie the idea of creating a glove with built-in resistance and the ability to strengthen hands. At home again in Lund, she began to think about how she could widen the scope of the glove. Because Sofie has relatives with rheumatism, she thought of making an aid for people who have lost the ability to grab things, such as older people or those who have experienced diseases, injuries or stoke.
“Robot gloves help open and close your hand and provide the reinforcement you need,” says Sofie Woge. “You can also build strength, so you can sit at home and practice, which is good for a stroke patient, for example.”
One of the first steps Sophie took to pursue her idea was in Barcamper, a talent program organized by Lund municipality's culture incubator The Creative Plot.
“Barcamper was the first real environment in which I considered the idea of starting a company. It was important for self-confidence, and in Barcamper I went from a concept to a concrete plan.”
At the same time, Sofie Woge had a place in VentureLab at Ideon.
“The possibilities in Lund were absolutely crucial for me to pursue this venture,” says Sofie Woge. If I had not been accepted to VentureLab, I probably would have sought a “normal” job. I had just finished my degree project and knew little about entrepreneurship and enterprise. With the support of the innovation cluster found in Ideon, I could get help and develop the courage to take risks.”
Sofie partnered with Robin Gustafsson and Pontus Renmarker, started the company Tendo and gained investors. Tendo participated in the University Startup Worldcup, where one of the judges was from Invest in Odense. This led Tendo being recruited to the Odense Robotics startup hub in March 2017. Being a part of Odense Robotics means that Tendo gets office space and help with what they need most - from engine selection, sensor development, machine learning and artificial intelligence to contact networks and CE marking.
Tendo sits in a big airy room that is both an office and a workshop, together with two other startups. Here the team works with prototypes of the glove. Sofie shows the very first prototype that was made. There is a large pack of batteries on the arm and a white rail goes down over the hand.
“Once we finished the prototype we could test how strong it was and realized it was almost three times as strong as a human needs to be,” says Sofie Woge, laughing. “Now we’ve brought it down in size.”
The next prototype will be ready in spring 2018. Sofie Woge brings out a much smaller glove with a small battery pack on the arm. The fingers and the hand are partially covered with latex fabrics. The product also has sensors that capture weak movements in the hand and through the electrical components gives the user the ability to grip things.
“Many here make powerful robots. Our robot should be as small as possible, which is also a challenge.”
At the same time, the team tests the glove on different test subjects with whom they are in contact.
“We have a person who is paralyzed and has not grabbed anything in twenty years. For him a robotic glove makes a huge difference. It allows him to grab a fork or a wine glass.”
Tendo’s contract at Odense Robotics expires on 30 August, by which time the team wants to have a demo ready.
“It will be a real-life version but not adapted for mass production. But we will of course keep that in mind. We have just completed an investment round that allows us to work for at least one year.”
Sofie Woge was awarded the annual South Sweden Chamber of Commerce prize for technology promise in 2016. Tendo also received the Odense Entrepreneurship Award at the 2017 Odense Entrepreneur Festival, just two days before receiving further recognition at the Odense Investor Summit where over 130 investors worldwide listened to Tendo’s presentation.