UK Robotics Week hit Kensington in central London last week for a showcase event, bringing together a range of cutting-edge technologies with a day of presentations from some of the UK’s leading academic researchers.

Overseen by Professor Guang-Zhong Yang, Chair of the UK-RAS Network, the showcase also featured speeches by: Rannia Leontaridi OBE, Director of Business Growth at the Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and Director of the new Office for AI; and Professor Lynn Gladden, Executive Chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Leontaridi said that more needs to be done by the government and industry to develop a robust robotics and AI sector in the UK, including the introduction of light-touch regulation, while Gladden hailed news of renewed funding for UK-RAS, the EPSRC unit that oversees research in robotics and autonomous systems.

UK Research & Innovation (UKRI) has provided three further years of investment. “This will help support UK Robotics Week’s public engagement, thought leadership, and coordination activities,” said Gladden.

The event also included presentations from the leaders of the UK’s four academic Robotics Hubs: Professor Yang Gao, Director of the FAIR-SPACE hub at The University of Surrey, which researches robotic and AI technologies for the space sector; Professor Rustam Stolkin, Director of the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics, which focuses on technologies for safe nuclear decommissioning; Professor Barry Lennox, Director of the RAIN Hub, which also researches robotic solutions for the nuclear sector; and Professor David Lane, Director of the ORCA Hub, which develops robotics for the offshore energy sector, with a view to creating self-maintaining installations.

A US delegation from NASA, robotics research organisation TRACLabs, and the University of Texas, expressed their belief that there could be strong potential for partnership between their organisations and the Robotics Hubs. This would be good news for the four Hubs, which were founded in 2017 to help commercialise academic research in robotics and AI for hazardous environments.

Extreme environments such as space, underwater infrastructures, flooded mines, and radioactive zones present one of the strongest commercial and ethical applications of robotics, explained the presentations, as new technologies will help keep human beings out of harm’s way.

Twenty-eight universities partnered with UK-RAS to stage Robotics Week 2019, with sponsors including: the four Robotics Hubs; oilfield and gas industry services giant Schlumberger; health research group the Wellcome Trust; drive systems supplier Faulhaber; service robot provider Consequential Robotics; surgical robotics provider Intuitive – maker of the daVinci robot; Chinese industrial robot specialist Kuka, and many more.

With controversy still raging in the media over the place of robots and AI in our society, UK-RAS published a white paper at the event, Ethical Issues for Robotics and Autonomous Systems. It is currently working on a second paper, focusing on the need for education and skills in a robotics-enabled world.

Be part of a discussion and connect with like-minded leaders in your sector at our forthcoming trade event – The Sensor Show – next year.