Construction has started on a world-leading research facility for robotics and artificial intelligence, the largest and most advanced of its type in the UK.
Based at Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh campus, the National Robotarium is supported by £21 million from the UK Government, and £1.4 million from the Scottish Government as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.
Expected to open in Spring 2022, it will create innovative solutions to global challenges using cutting-edge research, product design and industry collaboration. Bringing together academics and global companies, the facility will provide a catalyst for entrepreneurship and is expected to deliver sustainable economic benefit to Edinburgh, the UK and beyond. Key areas of research application will include hazardous environments, offshore energy, manufacturing, construction, healthcare, human-robot interaction, assisted living and agritech.
Professor Helen Hastie and Professor Yvan Petillot are joint academic leads of the National Robotarium.
Professor Hastie said: “As a world-leading facility that will promote entrepreneurship and drive forward early-stage product development, the National Robotarium will play a significant role in supporting the UK’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By drawing upon the world-class talent of the staff at Heriot-Watt and our collaborative partner, the University of Edinburgh, alongside students at the Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems, the National Robotarium will form a centre of excellence for fundamental research and knowledge exchange to address real-world challenges and industry needs.”
Professor Petillot added: “The cutting-edge resources provided by the new facility combined with the expertise of our researchers will put us in a highly competitive position to elevate the UK onto the global stage in robotics and AI technologies.
Funded as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal, the National Robotarium is a collaboration between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh.
UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart said: “The creation of the UK’s first National Robotarium in Edinburgh will place Scotland at the forefront of a technological revolution that is changing the way we work.
“This exciting new facility, supported by £21 million from the UK Government, will create opportunities for Scotland’s entrepreneurs and innovators, and bring jobs and prosperity to the entire region.
“The UK Government has now committed more than £1.5 billion to City Region and Growth Deals which will help communities to build back better from the pandemic.”
Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity said: “Across Scotland we have so far committed more than £1.9 billion over the next 10 to 20 years to City Region and Growth Deals and additional investments. We are investing £300 million over 15 years to the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal across transport, housing, culture, innovation and skills as we work towards a fairer and more inclusive economy.
“It’s great to see construction now beginning on the National Robotarium. This project will ensure that innovation can play an intrinsic part in the recovery from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.”
Innovative design means the cutting-edge resources will be matched by the building itself, with a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. In winter, the intelligent façade will provide solar heat and recycle warm air. An ecological zone will integrate sustainable urban drainage systems, while a solar PV array will be installed on the roof. EV charging spaces will also be available.
The National Robotarium will be home to numerous research projects aimed at addressing a wide range of global challenges. As part of the UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) programme, in November 2020 it was announced that the National Robotarium will spearhead research into ways to manage trust between humans and autonomous systems to support adoption in scenarios that require human interaction, such as in self-driving cars or autonomous wheelchairs.
David Cairns, managing director at the project’s main contractor, Robertson Construction Central East, said: “The National Robotarium building is designed to be as innovative as the research taking place within its walls. The commitment to sustainability and the wellbeing of its staff and students mean the facility will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology for energy efficiency and production and will boast considerable green space. The building will be certified to ‘Fitwel’ standards, meaning its design meets strict criteria for supporting occupants’ health, wellbeing and productivity.”
The National Robotarium forms part of the City Deal’s Data Driven Innovation (DDI) theme which aims to establish the region as the data capital of Europe.