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Network aims to boost UK’s robotics capabilities

29 June, 2015

The work of robotics experts in the UK will be coordinated nationally for the first time following the launch of a network that will encourage academic and industry collaboration to accelerate the development and adoption of robotic and autonomous systems.

The UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS Network) is being funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – the agency that funds UK research in engineering and the physical sciences.

The network’s mission is to provide academic leadership in robotics and autonomous systems, to expand collaboration with industry, and to integrate and coordinate activities at eight EPSRC-funded RAS facilities and at centres for doctoral training across the UK.

The network’s founding members are Imperial College London, Bristol Robotics Lab, University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University, University of Leeds, University of Liverpool, Loughborough University, University of Oxford, University of Sheffield, University of Southampton, University College London, and University of Warwick.

The network is being supported by industrial partners, the Science Museum, and engineering bodies including the Royal Academy of Engineering, the IET and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. It will be expanded to include other supporters such as UK national laboratories and international collaborators from both academia and industry.

“Robotics and autonomous systems have huge growth potential for the UK as one of our ‘eight great technologies’,” says Jo Johnson, minister of state for universities and science. “To get it right we need to draw on the expertise of the UK’s research base and the ambition of industry. By working collaboratively, this network will only help to accelerate growth of a high-tech sector and pave the way for new high-value, skilled jobs – a win-win scenario for the UK.”

Johnson: huge growth potential

The network will organise activities such as the UK Robotics conference, symposia, workshops and exhibitions. It will also operate online using social media, the Web and user forums. It aims to strengthen the relationship between academics and industry by supporting interdisciplinary mobility and industrial secondment and by developing proof-of-concept projects and running design challenges.

“Robotics and autonomous systems are set to play an increasingly vital role in the growth of the UK economy across all sectors of industry, from transport and healthcare to manufacturing and unmanned systems,” says Professor Guang-Zhong Yang from Imperial College, who is chairing the new network. “This dedicated network provides a focus for the UK’s research and engineering excellence for the first time, ensuring that the UK can maintain its competitive edge in RAS innovation.”

“Robotics and autonomous systems are one of the ‘eight great technologies’ in which the UK is set to be a global leader,” adds Kedar Pandya, the EPSRC’s head of engineering. “The technology being developed at these EPSRC-funded RAS facilities will deliver a significant impact on the research landscape, and attract the kind of industrial investment that will maximise the UK’s stake in the worldwide robotics market.”

The global market for service and industrial robots is predicted to be worth $59.5bn by 2020.

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