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Last week's poll: UK robotics

The Technology Strategy Board is about to publish a report outlining how the UK can improve its capability in robotics; which has been identified as a strategic sector by the government. What would be the most important implications of advanced robotics for the UK?

A fairly unequivocal thumbs-up for robotics from the 265 respondents to last week’s poll. The largest group, 45 per cent, thought a focus on robotics would enhance the UK’s expertise in remote mining and nuclear decommissioning, while 11 per cent thought it most likely to benefit the defence sector. Two groups of 10 per cent each thought it would benefit aerospace and autonomous vehicle development, while 8 per cent were concerned it could end up destroying jobs; and 16 per cent declined to pick an option.


Please continue to send us your thoughts on this poll.


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Readers' comments (10)

  • More training in the use of Robots in all areas of Manufacturing, especially Aerospace, Nuclear and Composites.

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  • It would boost competitiveness in all manufacturing sectors. China is already investing in robots.

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  • Are we talking about shop floor assembly robots controlled by program command or autonomous, decision making/task driven machines(in our own image of course). I think they are two distinct and separate spheres of robotics each with their own positive and negative sides.

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  • We're talking about both.

  • I opted for "None of the above" because they were all either too narrow in benefit or to negative in outlook. The first three are probably true but that isn't all there is. My team's work on the new in service British Army bomb disposal robot will save lives and current work on remote handling to support nuclear fusion is essential in our quest for clean(er) energy. As to destroying jobs, read this: - but also consider what we must do to prepare our young people for life in a knowledge-based economy using their brains more than their brawn in factories.

    And as service robots come of age and 'march' through the factory gates the main barriers will be our lack of robotic education, creativity and innovation as illustrated by this cool use of robotics (and it includes 3D printing, another favourite of mine): It almost makes me want to take up an extreme sport! How long before one features in a whodunit, overlooked by the felon, picked up by a curious kid, and only discovered later by the detective. Now, where's my typewriter ...?

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  • I went to university 30 years ago to study robotics for all the benefits this could bring.

    Right now I see it probably being used in the UK in the "defence" sector to create us more enemies overseas, so we can save on libraries and swimming pools to buy more ammo and have more dead heroes, which need our pity.

    In theory the medical field would benefit most, in practice they will only see the heroes harmed by friendly fire from defective warrior robots.

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  • Ralf - 30 years ago optimistic engineers underestimated the difficulty of all real-world robotic applications in unstructured environments and as a result the industry overpromised and under delivered. Consequently, saying "The robots are coming" has been a form of 'crying wolf' for the past three decades but that doesn't prove that it might not be coming true as I type.

    Regrettably there will be some horrendous developments and applications for 'warbots', 'spybots' and dubious 'leisurebots' but don't let that make you reach for your tar brush. There will be plenty of robots that are genuinely good for society, for the elderly, for the autistic and some that are just plain fun. It will be much broader than medical applications and prosthetics for war heroes (necessary though that is) – and much more than the current toys and vacuum cleaners. Please don’t allow situations with bad politics at the root rob you of your first love – robotics. Come home Ralf – the robots may need a father figure ;-)

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  • The TSB intentions are laudable but do look like a dusted-off repeat of the DTI's Advanced Robotics Programme from the late 1980's. Engineers in those times fully understood the difficulties of bringing products to a reliable working state. However the political will just didn't exist to adequately fund the projects. Oher countries such as Japan, France and Germany were busy with their AR demonstration projects as a mejans to train and develop a new generation of engineers in complex mechatronic design and development - quite a different agenda.

    So I agree with David on "none of the above". Lets hope the real benefit will be to skill-up a sufficient number of engineers in the multi-disciplinary subject of "robotics" or "RAS" so the UK can catch up.

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  • I vote for "none of the above". I have the same opinion as David Hopper that the given options are too narrow and negative. Robotics can play roles in more than those mentioned fields. I would like to see robotic and automation development in all sectors of the UK industry and to be more "peaceful" oriented.
    Robots can play a huge roles in industrial automation, to replace dangerous, risky and unsafe roles that are now still being done by human. That can also play a huge roles in theraphy and rehabilitation, for both physio and psyco-therapies.

    Robotics cannot be separated from Control Engineering, as well as the general mechatronics. Robotics research and education in HE institutions in the UK is still far behind those in other leading countries such as Japan, USA, Germany and Switzerland. The same case as for control engineering, as this field is so far always seen as a support rather than the main field itself. Due to lack of funding and narrow understanding about this areas, research in this area in the UK has been too theoretical.

    The real useful robotics development can only be done with strong applied control engineering knowledge and expertise.

    The government and public need to change this situation. Giving more support to research and development, as well as education, in robotics and control, is the only way to make the way forwards.

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  • Stop tinkering with qualification. We need a transformation in STEM Vocational Education.

    Last week NEF: The Innovation Institute launched its report “Inventing the Future: Stimulating STEM Economies”. The Institute is calling for:

    * New-style polytechnics to act as regional innovation hubs
    * Local enterprise partnerships and chambers of commerce to coordinate long term regional STEM education strategy
    * Innovation tax credits to be extended to include technical skills development and specialist capital investment in education
    * The development of differentiated technology clusters across the UK
    * Better exchange of personnel between industry and academia
    * Creating effective learning habitat using “Design for Learning”

    NEF: The Innovation Institute is calling for a revolution in education – including the reintroduction of polytechnic – to help the UK keep pace with rapid technological change across all science, technology, engineering and manufacturing based sectors. Over 100 companies took part in this study. One common theme in Inventing the Future’s case studies – which range from SME start-ups to multinationals – is the chronic shortage of workers that can combine advanced technical knowledge with project management and business development skills.

    The study reviewed over 70 college STEM provisions and highlighted that the misalignment between industry demand and courses is as much as 80% in worst case scenarios.

    NEF is also advocating the introduction of Design for Learning to create a new Learning Habitat. The approach suggested by the study will enable a real, collaborative and continuous interaction between business and educational providers. Inventing the Future: Transforming STEM Economies report can be found here:

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  • I'm a little late to this conversation, but am interested in the 8% worried about loss of jobs in the above chart.

    Thanks to David Hopper's comment for the link to the IFR post on job creation through automation. I'll read the Metra Martech study that the IFR cites more carefully later.

    I must confess I'm still a pretty skeptical over whether the economic benefits (inc. jobs) of increasingly prevalent automation will be equitably distributed.

    The TSB's strategy (understandably for something written by the private sector) is light on the politics of robots. I'd like to see more public understanding and preparation (e.g. what automation means for skills & education).

    Please excuse the self-promotion, but I've blogged a little about this here:

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