Tekuma Tech is taking back the controls

Female-lead, Australian tech start-up Tekuma are changing the way humans interact with technology, thanks to the first round of Australian Government funding through the Boosting Female Founders Initiative.

Co-founder Annette McClelland received $150,000 towards tooling and manufacturing for Tekuma’s patented control orb.

Designed by her husband and co-founder Michael Griffin, the unique tactile control orb completely revolutionises remote control systems for drones, robots and other devices, providing the user with a force-based, six-degrees-of-freedom controller that can be operated with as little as two fingers.

The robust system is completely portable and can be integrated into any device that needs to be controlled with more than two degrees of motion.

“We talked to bomb disposal experts at the AVALON Air Show in 2018 and found that our technology could be really useful for their robots, particularly because it is sensitive enough to allow the user to have the fidelity and dexterity to manipulate a robotic arm around a bomb, allowing them to safely disable them,” McClelland said.

“We have also been in discussion about using the technology with weapon systems that have a multi-axis control mechanism, as well as implementing our controller into multi-sensor systems controlled with a single device,” Griffin explained.

The team, initially based in Sydney, travelled to South Australia in 2018 to take part in the Venture Catalyst Space program through Uni SA’s Innovation and Collaboration Centre before formally relocating in 2020 to take advantage of South Australia’s thriving defence and space sectors.

Now established at the centre of the growing defence industry, Tekuma is looking into providing controllers to various supply chain SMEs for use in training systems, weapons control and bomb disposal.

“We came to South Australia to better access the defence and space ecosystem that exists here,” McClelland said.

“Also, the liveability in Adelaide means that we could afford to move out of our parents’ houses and buy a home where we could continue working to build the company.”

“Now we have secured desk space at the ThincLab Adelaide after taking part in the Biogen Neurohack with the University of Adelaide, we can continue to work on getting our product out there.”

The powerhouse wife and husband team developed Tekuma in 2016 after identifying a need for more user-friendly controllers for drones and other robotics and have since been working to drag joystick technology into the 21st century.

“We have tested the controller with everyone from three-year-olds to eighty-three-year-olds, as well as with people living with cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis or just limited dexterity in their hands and they’re all able to completely manipulate and control drones and other devices using our control orb.”

“A lot of the technology currently being used in this space is over thirty years old, with the joystick controller being developed during World War I over eighty years ago,” McClelland said.

“Since then people have added buttons, extra joysticks and tried to do new things by adding different features, but essentially the way users control the degrees of motion with those two joysticks hasn’t really changed.”

“We had a desire to completely reinvent and overturn that technology, freeing up the user’s other hand for whatever else they might need to operate.”

Griffin developed the now Australian-patented technology in early 2015 after struggling to control a drone and integrated camera at the same time. He developed the current system through mentorship and collaboration with John Hilton, the original Australian inventor of the Computer Aided-Design (CAD) mouse.

Tekuma has found its first repeat customer in underwater rover company UnderseaROV, after the company discovered the orb allowed them to better manipulate heavy underwater rovers. The company also supply controllers to high school robotics companies while mentoring, allowing them to more confidently master the manoeuvring of multidirectional wheeled robots.

The Boosting Female Founders Initiative helps female entrepreneurs to grow their start-ups through funding and targeted support. Applications are open until 22 April 2021 at https://business.gov.au/grants-and-programs/boosting-female-founders.

Find out more about Tekuma at www.tekuma.tech