The Edinburgh Centre for Robotics (ECR), a joint initiative between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, has received nearly £1 million to develop Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI) technologies that could revolutionise the delivery of healthcare and emergency response.
ECR, which focuses on autonomous robot interaction with environments, people, systems and each other, applies theoretical methods to real-world problems, using robots to solve vital commercial and societal needs.
The funds, which have been awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), are part of an overall £6.5 million capital investment to enhance capabilities and enable collaboration within the UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network.
The funding will allow ECR to develop four new robots, including a TIAGO service robot that could become an integral part of the care package provided in future homes and care facilities.
Researchers will investigate how robots like this can be integrated into different aspects of the healthcare system, supporting healthcare professionals and family carers with physical and cognitive support.
Professor David Lane from Heriot-Watt University, said: “The Edinburgh Centre for Robotics is a unique collaboration designed to test the feasibility of applying robotic solutions to many real-world scenarios and challenges. This funding provides a further boost to our available technology capital.
“Part of this investment will support our research into affordable, robot-assisted surgical and diagnostic devices that can benefit the NHS, as well as be used as solutions for global health challenges.
We use our living labs in the ROBOTARIUM and the real world to turn these research ideas into economic success stories. Robots are set to revolutionise our economy and society over the next 20 years as they start to work for us and beside us, assisting us and interacting with us.
Professor Sethu Vijayakumar, Professor of Robotics at the University of Edinburgh and Co-Director of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, said: “This award will enable us to further address many of the challenges facing industry and society today.
“We will be investigating how Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) can reduce cost and operator risk and improve productivity when applied to the inspection, repair and maintenance of critical infrastructure such as nuclear, offshore energy and space.
“To enable this, new robotic platforms such as the ANYmal quadruped inspection robot, designed to operate in extreme environments, are set to join the hardware platform line-up at Edinburgh, which already includes the NASA Valkyrie humanoid.
“The funding will also enable the creation of living labs at ROBOTARIUM East at the University of Edinburgh, with mock-ups for hospital and collaborative manufacturing automation.”
Professor Philip Nelson, Chief Executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), 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 punching above our weight against this global competition, but we cannot afford to slow the momentum. These investments are vital for continuing the pipeline that transforms research into products and services.”
The latest funding announcement follows news that scientists at Heriot-Watt University are part of a consortium of experts delivering a human-robotics hybrid solution for the maintenance and operation of off-shore wind farms. The team will receive a share of a £4 million grant to create remote inspection and repair technologies.
2017 marks the launch of Heriot-Watt University's Year of Robotics which is showcasing the university's contribution to the development of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for future generations. The university has a calendar of events planned that will span schools, the public, academia, industry collaborators, funders and policymakers.