Robotics and autonomous systems: serving a safer world



A foresight review drawn together by Heriot-Watt's Professor David Lane for Lloyd's Register Foundation, looks at the potential impact of robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) and how they might impact the safety and performance of the engineering and infrastructures on which modern society relies.

There are some important areas to be addressed if society is to see the safety benefits which RAS can provide.
Professor David Lane

The Foundation, funded by Lloyds Register Group Limited, works to support the safety of life and property through engineering-related research, training and education. It commissioned the report in response to the revolution already happening as a new generation of robotic and autonomous systems are being adopted across industries as smarter tools and assistants.

The review was drawn together by Professor Lane, Professor of Autonomous Systems Engineering and Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics at Heriot-Watt, along with colleagues from iTechnic Ltd, RACE UKAEA, RU Robotics Ltd and the University of Sheffield, a panel of a further 23 international experts from law, ethics, business, policy, research, engineering, economics, venture capital and 36 international respondents to an online survey.

From prototypes into applications

He said, “RAS systems have already moved from research prototypes into practical applications. They are acting and sensing in the real world, connected and collaborating in the internet of things, generating and enabled by large quantities of data and using artificial intelligence to reason, classify, control and interact with the world. Autonomous and semi-autonomous cars on our streets are just one very public example of these developments.

“In the report we found that research and development in RAS is proceeding at pace through programmes, both public and privately funded, which address much of the sensing, control, planning, embodiment, human interface, and collaboration technologies needed to realise these new and smarter tools. However, there are some important areas to be addressed if society is to see the safety benefits which RAS can provide, including issues of openness and sharing, assurance and certification, security and resilience as well as public trust, understanding and skills.”

Prof Richard Clegg, Foundation Chief Executive of the Lloyd's Register Foundation, said, “This review looks at robotics and autonomous systems through the lens of the Lloyd's Register Foundation. It shows how they are already being used to enhance safety and how these capabilities might grow. Its findings shine a light on the positive contribution robots will make to society, and makes the case for robots that serve a safer world.”