Report urges free access to robotics resources

High-end robotics resources should be available to everyone in the UK if the workforce is to have the right skills for 2030, a new report says.

free access to robotics
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

The robotics white paper, published by the EPSRC UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Network (UK-RAS), highlights how robotics and autonomous systems are central to the 4th industrial revolution and the need to prepare the UK’s workforce to work with these technologies.

The report outlines how some of the biggest issues facing the workforce include a lack of practical experience of robotics and technical skills at all education levels; limited management understanding of emerging technologies; failure to address diversity and inclusion; and an education system struggling to provide the skills required by employers.

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The white paper, co-authored by Professor Tony Prescott, Professor of Cognitive Robotics at Sheffield University, suggests that free access to robotics resources could be delivered by creating a national public repository containing physical and digital resources.

“Over three quarters of the 2030 workforce are already in work, but UK firms are already reporting that they are struggling to find workers with basic digital skills, and this is only going to get worse if action isn’t taken,” said Prof. Prescott.

So-called Robotics Learning Factories have been successful in Germany, the US and Scandinavia and similar services could be established in the UK as open and shared learning facilities to give people experience of emerging technologies in realistic settings.

MIT’s Fablabs gives the public access to the university’s fabrication technology. Due to its success, the model has since been replicated by over 120 learning factories worldwide.

In Germany, Robotics Learning Factories have served industry by providing skilled workers in the bespoke specialisms of local manufacturers whilst simultaneously providing testing grounds for the latest technologies.

The new white paper highlights how such facilities in the UK could be linked to local mini-hubs situated in libraries or other public buildings. Mini-hubs could span all educational levels, be supported by industry and provide accessible learning experiences for all that accurately reflect emerging work settings.

Co-author Richard Waterstone, MD of Sheffield University spin-out Cyberselves, said: “Much of the current digital skills gap in the UK can be traced to a lack of access to cutting-edge technological resources among the current working population and those still in education.

“We believe that our recommendation to develop and make freely available a public repository of high-level resources through Robotics Learning Factories linked digitally to smaller mini-hubs would be both scalable and affordable, and go a long way to address the digital skills gap in the UK.”