£16 million boost for UK robotics
UK research to develop smart machines that think for themselves will receive
a £16million boost today thanks to a major partnership between the government
and industry. This research includes safe ways of monitoring in dangerous
environments such as deep sea installations and nuclear power plants,
'nursebots' that assist patients in hospitals, and aerial vehicles that can
monitor national borders or detect pollution.
Speaking at the official opening of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at the
University of the West of England, Minister for Universities and Science, David
Willetts, will announce funding for 22 exciting university-based research
projects in the UK. Led by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research
Council (EPSRC) and an eight-strong group of partners, the investment has over
£4M in support from industry. This will include access to specialist
laboratories, equipment, expertise and advice on commercialisation and
industrialisation. The partners are BAE Systems, Schlumberger, National Nuclear
Laboratory (NNL), Sellafield Ltd, Network Rail, SCISYS, DSTL and the UK Space
Robotics research and the development of intelligent autonomous systems, such
as unmanned aircraft, are vital to many major UK companies, emerging industries,
and SMEs, from advanced manufacturing to oil and gas exploration, nuclear energy
to railways and automotive, healthcare to defence.
Autonomous and intelligent systems are capable of independent action in
dynamic, unpredictable environments. They interact with each other and humans,
using sensors to learn from their environment, adapting their behaviour and
making choices based on their immediate and stored knowledge and experiences.
Mr Willetts said: "Robotics and autonomous intelligent systems are areas of
science in which the UK has world class expertise, but to reap the full benefits
for the economy and society we need to get better at applying the technology to
industry. This £16 million investment will bring together leaders from the
research base and business to develop systems for a range of important sectors,
from transport to aerospace. In addition, I have asked EPSRC, the Royal Academy
of Engineering and the Technology Strategy Board to organise a roundtable to
discuss the future of UK research in this area."
Professor David Delpy, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical
Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which is funding the projects, said: "These
technologies can help us in many practical ways, for instance, using unmanned
air or land vehicles to monitor emergency situations like disasters or to carry
out maintenance inspections. But the research will also look at how people and
systems interact and help develop further our understanding of how knowledge can
be acquired and used independently by machines that learn."
Commenting on behalf of the six industry partners, James Baker, Managing
Director of BAE Systems' Advanced Technology Centre, said: "It is vital for the
universities to work with industry to drive these technologies forward as
autonomous and intelligent systems are going to be an integral part of our
infrastructure and society in the near future. As partners we hold a shared goal
to improve the generic technology in the field so that it can transfer and
benefit many industries and sectors.
Examples of the project work to be funded:
Building vehicles with legs
The University of Bristol will look at how visual information is used to
adapt to changing terrain and environment by studying how humans behave via
head-mounted cameras. This could speed up the development of vision control for
land-based vehicles with wheels or legs.
Accessing Hazardous Environments
The University of Oxford will explore how multi-unmanned vehicles can be
coordinated to act together to perform different tasks and intelligently
navigate without access to aids like GPS. This work can have applications in
areas such as remote inspection in hostile environments, autonomous urban
driving, defence, logistics, security and space robotics.
Improving Human Autonomous Systems interaction
The University of Bath is to test different models of information gathering,
communication and decision-making between humans and autonomous systems with the
aim of improving reaction speed, safety and reliability.
The self-drive submarine
Kings College London plan to demonstrate how Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
(AUVs), performing inspection and investigation missions, can cooperate and pool
information to achieve success when communications are intermittent and external
control restricted, this could apply to space or other hostile environments. The
team will focus on finding ways to address uncertainty and changing conditions,
how plans can be modified and how sensor data is perceived and interpreted.
Improving Automated, Intelligent maintenance
Cranfield University extends research in novel sensing, e-maintenance
systems, and decision-making strategies. The integration of sensor-based in
formation in geographically dispersed and less structured environments poses
challenges in technology and cost justification which will be addressed for
rail, aerospace and industrial applications.
Novel Sensing Networks for Intelligent Monitoring
Newcastle University plan to develop a revolutionary autonomous, intelligent
condition/structural health monitoring system with specific applications for
railways and Non-Destructive Evaluation for nuclear applications.
For more information contact:
Notes to editors:
In August 2011 the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
and the industrial partners formed a strategic partnership to fund novel
research in autonomous and intelligent systems.
The partnership asked for proposals for projects of up to five years in
length were sought across a range of research to address a number of key
challenges. That targeted at least one of these areas:
- Software architectures
- Sensor exploitation
- Situational awareness
- Decision making and planning
- Information management
- Verification of autonomous systems
- Model building and learning
Universities and higher education institutes involved in the projects
- King's College London
- Queen's University Belfast
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
(EPSRC) is the UK's main agency for funding research in engineering and
the physical sciences. EPSRC invests around £800 million a year in research and
postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of
technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to
structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research
forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for
everyone's health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC works alongside other Research
Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils
work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.
Reference: PN 34/12