Professors Helen Hastie and Yvan Petillot appointed to lead the National Robotarium



Professor Helen Hastie and Professor Yvan Petillot have been appointed as joint academic leads of the National Robotarium.

The National Robotarium, a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, is a world-leading centre for Robotics and Artificial Intelligence based at Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus. Taking a responsible and collaborative approach, its pioneering research develops new prototypes, supports early stage product development, and drives forward productivity. Key areas of research applications include power systems, manufacturing, healthcare, human-robot interaction, assisted living and hazardous environments.

The centre is the latest partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh in the field of autonomous systems, building upon the work of the Edinburgh Centre of Robotics. It will also benefit from the talent and innovative research of students at the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems.

Professor Hastie is a professor of computer science at Heriot-Watt University with a special interest in human-robot interaction. Previously, she has worked both in industry and academia and her current work at Heriot-Watt involves collaborating with a number of industry partners in energy, manufacturing and robotics. She is the director of the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems, training the next generation of roboticists who will lead the safe deployment of robotic and autonomous systems in the real world.

Speaking on her vision for the National Robotarium, Professor Hastie said: “The National Robotarium will forge a centre of excellence for fundamental research, as well as its translation into the marketplace, leveraging the world-leading talent of the staff at the Edinburgh Centre of Robotics and the students at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems.

“There are a whole range of sectors, from healthcare to agriculture, where autonomous systems could provide valuable assistance and the research and industry-related activities of the National Robotarium will enable this.”

Professor Petillot is a professor of robotics and autonomous systems at Heriot-Watt University with a special interest in marine robotics. He is the chair of the Robotics and Autonomous Systems theme of the Scottish Research Partnership in Engineering and a former Royal Society Industry Fellow. He has a strong interest in technology transfer and engagement with industry and co-founded SeeByte Ltd in 2001, now a world leader in marine autonomy solutions. As Chief Technology Officer until 2010, he coordinated the commercial application of university research.

Commenting on why the National Robotarium will accelerate the commercial development of autonomous systems, Professor Petillot explained: “Working at the interface between academia and industry, the National Robotarium will translate world-class research into new products and markets for the benefit of the UK.

“It will become a major innovation hub, working across multiple sectors and offering our staff and students the opportunity to co-create new products and businesses to support the net-zero and circular economy of the future.” 

Professor David Lane, the inaugural academic director, will continue his association with the National Robotarium through an ongoing position on its Scientific Advisory Board.

Reacting to the news, Professor Gareth Pender, Deputy Principal for Research and Innovation, said: “I am delighted that Helen and Yvan have taken on these important roles and would like to thank David for his invaluable support during the initial phase of creating the National Robotarium. I look forward to working with him on the Scientific Advisory Board as we shape the centre’s future development.”

The National Robotarium building will open on Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus in 2022.