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Major funding boost to develop healthcare and extreme environment robotics

February 28, 2017

The development of Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI) technologies to improve the way we care for the sick and elderly, and deal with hazardous environments have received a major boost with more than £17.3 million of investment.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) has announced two Programme Grants worth a total of £10.8 million for major robotics research projects.

One project, led by Imperial College London will look to make major advances in the field of surgical micro-robotics, while researchers at the University of Manchester, will develop robotics technologies capable of operating autonomously and effectively within hazardous environments such as nuclear facilities.

EPSRC is also announcing a £6.5 million capital investment that will strengthen and consolidate its existing investments to enhance capabilities and enable collaboration across a common platform within the UK-RAS Network.

This distributed network of capital equipment will enable the UK's robotics and artificial intelligence researchers to accelerate the translation of fundamental research into cross-sector, enabling technologies and promote cross-sector growth.

Culture Secretary Karen Bradley said: "Britain has a proud history of digital innovation - from the earliest days of computing to Sir Tim Berners-Lee's development of the World Wide Web.

"We are already pioneers in robotics and artificial intelligence and our Digital Strategy will build on our strengths to make sure UK-based scientists, researchers and entrepreneurs continue to be at the forefront.

"Backing our thriving digital economy to expand and grow, by putting the best foundations in place to develop new technology, is a vital part of this Government's plan to build a modern, dynamic and global trading nation."

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 faring very well against this global competition, and we should not slow the momentum. These investments are vital for continuing the pipeline that transforms research into products and services."

The capital investment, in the challenge areas of Health and Social Care and Extreme Environments, offers the opportunity to revolutionise how we care for the sick and elderly, power our homes and industries, maintain our highways and railways, and explore the world.

For example, in the vital field of Health and Social Care, new surgical tools offer a greater degree of precision and accuracy, and technological developments will allow for the care of an ageing population at home. In the area of Extreme and Challenging (Hazardous) Environments, RAI technologies allow for the inspection, monitoring, and maintenance in areas that are dangerous for humans to enter, for example, energy systems (eg oil and gas, nuclear plants, off-shore renewables, etc) and infrastructure (eg bridges, roads, and rail).

The EPSRC investment in this space includes robotics, AI, and other parts of computer science such as image and vision computing, verification and validation, smart sensing technology and its associated connectivity with the Internet of Things, autonomous manufacturing, healthcare technology, and intelligent mobility.

The Research Councils as a whole cover a wide spectrum of RAI research, with investments ranging from developing fundamental underpinning technologies through to the demonstration and application of technologies.

Successful locations of bids for capital investment include:
  • Bristol Robotics Laboratory
  • University of Cambridge
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • University of Edinburgh
  • Imperial College London
  • King's College London
  • University of Leeds
  • Loughborough University
  • University of Oxford
  • Universities of Sheffield and Liverpool
  • University of Southampton
  • University of Surrey
  • University College London
  • University of Warwick

Summaries of the Programme Grants

Micro-robotics for Surgery (EP/P012779/1)

The project will look to establish platform technologies to assist in the development of sophisticated micro-instruments integrated with imaging, sensing and robotic assistance for use in minimally invasive surgery. Areas of focus will include the establishment of platform technologies in micro-fabrication and actuation; micro-manipulation and cooperative robotic control; in vivo microscopic imaging and sensing; intra-operative vision and navigation; and endoluminal platform development.

Led by: Professor Guang-Zhong Yang, Imperial College London

EPSRC grant: £6,236,000

Organisation: Imperial College London

Robotics for Nuclear Environments (EP/P01366X/1)

The project will look to address challenges facing the nuclear industry by developing new robotics and autonomous systems technology that will be able to operate autonomously and effectively in hazardous environments. Working in partnership with the nuclear supply chain, researchers at three universities will look to overcome current issues about the power, sensing, communications and processing power limitations of smaller robots, while also developing systems able to address issues around grasping and manipulation, computer vision and perception. The research may also feed in other areas of robotics, such as space, sub-sea, mining, bomb-disposal and healthcare.

Led by: Professor Barry Lennox, University of Manchester

EPSRC grant: £4,650,000

Organisations: University of Manchester, University of Birmingham, University of the West of England (UWE)
Notes for Editors:

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

As the main funding agency for engineering and physical sciences research, our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world to Research, Discover and Innovate.

By investing £800 million a year in research and postgraduate training, we are building the knowledge and skills base needed to address the scientific and technological challenges facing the nation. Our portfolio covers a vast range of fields from healthcare technologies to structural engineering, manufacturing to mathematics, advanced materials to chemistry. The research we fund has impact across all sectors. It provides a platform for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone's health, lifestyle and culture.

We work collectively with our partners and other Research Councils on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

The EPSRC UK-RAS Network

The EPSRC UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS Network) is dedicated to robotics innovation across the UK, with a mission to provide academic leadership in Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS), expand collaboration with industry, and integrate and coordinate activities at EPSRC-funded RAS capital facilities and Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) across the country.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

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