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Robotics Week - A Call to Arms

Last week saw the second UK Robotics Week. Coordinated by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s UK-RAS (Robotics and Autonomous Systems) Network it involved 20 universities and over 200 schools and included public lectures, open labs, hackathons, tech weekends, conferences, and a state-of-the-art robotics showcase held at the IET in London.

It’s an important time for development of robotics research in universities and industry in the UK which forms one of the eight pillars that are a strategic priority for the UK. Robotics and artificial intelligence have the potential to transform the economy.

For the first time, the UK Government has singled out robotics and AI in its blueprint for a ‘modern’ industrial strategy but while the work of the UK’s robotics community is certainly impressive it is not without its weaknesses, according to a Theme Day Report commissioned by the EPSRC UK-RAS Network, which provided an independent assessment of the quality, impact and importance of the EPSRC’s robotics portfolio.

Among its findings were the need to link the strongest teams across different fields, involving multiple institutions to promote greater collaboration, developing shared research infrastructure across academia and industry and developing much deeper international research links and joint funding opportunities.

In total 18 recommendations were made, with the intention of accelerating development and ensuring that the UK has a leadership position when it comes to the commercialisation of robotics.

The UK faces strong competition from Europe, the USA and Japan, as well as competitors from across Asia, where there is unprecedented investment in fundamental research and national infrastructure.

As the report suggests the UK’s future lies in a more coordinated effort if we are to leverage the significant strengths we already have. That means more engagement, new initiatives and greater synergistic efforts from government, academia and industry if we are to address societal needs and the industrial challenges of the future.

Neil Tyler

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