Multi-strand strategy aims to improve UK robotics technology

Farms and mines could be used as test beds to help Britain evolve its robotics expertise into markets worth up to $6.4tn per year by 2025.

This is the conclusion of a report published today looking at stimulating growth in Britain’s robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) sector.

The strategy was developed for the government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills by the Technology Strategy Board’s RAS Special Interest Group (SIG), in consultation with EPSRC and the UK robotics industry.

It suggests that the UK is in an excellent position to become a world leader in an industry estimated to be worth between $1.9 – $6.4tn per year by 2025 in terms of its global economic impact.

A key recommendation of the strategy is to develop existing UK assets, such as decommissioned nuclear sites, farms, factories, mines and whole towns, for use as robotics test beds. With the right regulatory framework, this would reportedly present an opportunity to attract robotics developers and investors from around the world.

The strategy was officially announced by David Willetts, minister of universities and science who said in a statement: ‘In order to capitalise on the robotics opportunity, the strategy – which has been developed to inform future government resourcing and organisation, and to guide future policy – identifies five core strands of activity that it recommends as the focus for UK investment and action going forward.’

Those core strands comprise:

  • RAS Grand Challenges – Grand Challenges, whereby teams compete to build RAS demonstrators, should be focused on real scenarios in vertical markets that stimulate collaboration, identify what is possible, and excite the public. Using RAS Assets as staging grounds, the competitions will also help to establish regulation
  • RAS Clusters – Investing in areas of emerging robotics growth, such as Edinburgh and Bristol, in order to foster ‘clusters’ that will help stimulate innovation across industry, academia and finance and provide support networks throughout the RAS supply chain
  • RAS Skills – Because robotics generates so much interest it has the potential to attract the brightest and best to STEM subjects that are critical to a knowledge economy. All actions should be designed with skills development in mind; engaging with schools, apprentices, graduates and the general public
  • RAS Assets – Make UK the RAS destination of choice for international research, innovation and market exploration by developing tangible assets for the RAS community. For example, turning UK wasteland and decommissioned assets into valuable robotics technology test beds. Alongside this, providing intangible assets such as a flexible legal and regulatory environment, pervasive software skills, and a willingness to try new ideas
  • RAS Coordination – Aligning investment in research, business and regulation so that UK efforts form a cohesive, coherent innovation pipeline, shaping a common and competitive approach in different industry sectors.

Prof David Lane FREng, chair of the Robotics and Autonomous Systems SIG said, ‘The UK is a substantial contributor to some of the world’s best research in the field of robotics and autonomous systems, but countries such as Japan, Korea and the USA have had greater success in developing companies to exploit those opportunities. We need to provide a business environment in the UK that is geared towards helping robotic and autonomous technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace.

‘The UK has an exceptional heritage in many of the industries where robotics can be most useful, and our world-leading research base makes us ideally placed to exploit the opportunities arising in these fields, but we need to act quickly if we don’t want to be left behind.

‘With the right course of action, we believe the UK could achieve 10 per cent of the global market share by 2025.’

The full strategy is available here.