Engineers poised to develop extreme environment robotics as part of a new nationwide programme of AI and manufacturing research

Loughborough University will contribute to a new £11 million programme aimed at developing research into robotics and artificial intelligence.

The project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), is split into two categories.

The first will explore ways that technology can improve care for the elderly, while the second will focus on using autonomous (AI) machines to deal with or operate in hazardous environments.

Loughborough will receive a £500,000 share of the total funding, which has been allocated to 14 UK universities.

The money will towards exploring ‘intelligent manufacturing environments’ – the idea that humans, robots and automated procedures work seamlessly, or ‘co-exist’, to execute challenging manufacturing activities.

Through the University’s Centre for Doctoral Training in Embedded Intelligence, the project will be led by Professor Paul Conway, Dr Carmen Torres-Sanchez and Dr Niels Lohse.

A new designed training facility has been created to allow scientists to carry out the research.

Prof Conway said: “The money from the EPSRC will allow us to build on the UK’s already impressive understanding of robotics, and Loughborough is privileged to be a part of this pioneering project.

“Here, our aim is to explore how humans can work in union with robots and artificial intelligence to explore off-limits environments and gather data about hazardous sites and situations in a way we cannot currently do.

“There are also possibilities within this field to use bespoke AI to boost work place and manufacturing productivity in challenging industries.”

In the area of extreme and challenging (hazardous) environments, robotics and artificial intelligence technologies will allow for the inspection, monitoring, and maintenance of sites that are dangerous for humans to enter.

This includes hostile environments such as nuclear power plants, oil and gas sites and off-shore renewables.

It also includes hazardous urban and suburban situations involving bridges, roads and railways.

The aim will be to develop the science around image and vision computing, verification and validation, smart sensing technology and its associated connectivity with the Internet of Things, autonomous manufacturing, healthcare technology, and intelligent mobility.

Professor Philip Nelson, EPSRC Chief Executive, said: “For several decades, EPSRC has been at the forefront of supporting the UK’s research, training and innovation in robotics, automation and artificial intelligence systems, and has been instrumental in fostering interdisciplinary partnerships between academics, industry, government and other parties.

“Throughout the world, however, from the United States to South Korea, China to Japan, governments are investing billions of dollars into these new technologies.

“We are faring very well against this global competition, and we should not slow the momentum. These investments are vital for continuing the pipeline that transforms research into products and services.”

EPSRC has also announced a £6.5 million capital grant that will strengthen and consolidate its existing investments to enhance capabilities and enable collaboration across a common platform within the EPSRC UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (UK-RAS) Network.

This distributed network of capital equipment will enable the UK’s robotics and artificial intelligence researchers to accelerate the translation of fundamental research into cross-sector, enabling technologies and promote cross-sector growth.

All the schemes have are supporting Government’s Digital Strategy, established to streamline and improve digital services in the UK.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley MP said: “Britain has a proud history of digital innovation - from the earliest days of computing to Sir Tim Berners-Lee's development of the World Wide Web.

“We are already pioneers in robotics and artificial intelligence and our Digital Strategy will build on our strengths to make sure UK-based scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs continue to be at the forefront.

“Backing our thriving digital economy to expand and grow, by putting the best foundations in place to develop new technology, is a vital part of this Government's plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation.”

Universities taking part in the £11 million RAI project:

  • Loughborough University
  • Bristol Robotics Laboratory
  • University of Cambridge
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Imperial College London
  • Kings College London
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Oxford
  • Universities of Sheffield and Liverpool
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Surrey
  • University College London
  • University of Warwick 



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