Robotics

The novel physical design and development of robotic systems (for both fundamental and applied purposes), including underpinning control mechanisms, aspects of human-robot interaction and programmed automation/autonomy in such systems.

Over the current Delivery Plan, we will grow this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio. This reflects the significant opportunity for Robotics research to underpin developments across multiple sectors in the emerging industrial strategy, particularly by creating new capabilities in challenging and extreme environments; enabling healthy/independent living; ensuring safe, efficient transport; and developing next-generation manufacturing.

This strategy reflects the integral role of our research and training in enabling development of systems involving Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI), and their impact on other research areas. Support for fundamental, cross-sector research is core and opportunities will be informed by an international benchmarking exercise. We aim to ensure the UK builds on existing investments to develop leadership and strengthen opportunities, leading to long-term economic and societal returns, and to continue to work with Innovate UK, business and government.

To unlock the significant potential, over the Delivery Plan period we will:

  • Work to deliver a step-change in UK businesses’ output and productivity through accelerated deployment of next-generation RAI technologies
  • Strengthen co-ordination and collaboration with our innovation partners to avoid duplication of effort and, in particular, to seek opportunities to enhance links with international partners
  • Facilitate a community focus on underpinning, enabling research in four areas: autonomous transport; extreme and challenging (hazardous) environments; health and social care; and next-generation manufacturing
  • Develop leadership in the Robotics community to realise the area’s potential and increase UK visibility
  • Examine pressures on training capacity and take action where necessary
  • Explore emerging opportunities and challenges in nascent areas of Robotics (e.g. soft robotics) and take action to support these as required

We will encourage the community to demonstrate that Robotics' ethical, legal and regulatory implications have been considered.

Since the initial publication of this research area rationale, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund has provided £45.5M to support four hubs in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Extreme and Challenging (Hazardous) Environments. EPSRC remains committed to all of the strategic areas identified above, and encourages researchers to consider submitting proposals across the full spectrum of fundamental, enabling research: autonomous transport; extreme and challenging (hazardous) environments; health and social care; next-generation manufacturing; and agriculture.

Highlights:

Across government and business, there is recognition that significant opportunities exist for novel research to deliver disruptive technologies in both short and long term. There is potential to underpin and enable developments in, for example, the automotive, aerospace, nuclear, oil and gas, agriculture, space, manufacturing, defence, consumer and construction sectors. (Evidence source 1) The wider opportunity can be realised by a focus on key challenges, translation facilities and nurturing skills, unlocking value in other markets.

The US (Evidence source 2), Japan (Evidence source 3), Germany and, increasingly, China invest heavily in Robotics but the UK has the opportunity to differentiate itself with novel underpinning technologies that can be utilised across different sectors. These have potential to transform the UK's social, economic and industrial life (Evidence source 1-13),

The formation of the UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (UK-RAS) Network has laid the groundwork for co-ordination of academic research and increased collaboration between members of the broad Robotics community. It has successfully taken on the role of academic leadership and co-ordination, and has encouraged public engagement with Robotics.

The RAS2020 Strategy provides guidelines on how the UK can capitalise on its research and industrial base through coordinated development of assets, challenges, clusters and skills (Evidence source 1). This could be achieved through an increase in infrastructure, targeted competitions and training the next generation of researchers/innovators. Over the last Delivery Plan period, a number of high quality, targeted investments were made across EPSRC, Innovate UK, UK Research and Innovation and government in general.

Leadership in Robotics tends to focus on specific applications. Strengthening academic leadership at all career stages and in all core application areas remains important, to retain talent and ensure subject area expertise. There are four EPSRC-funded Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs) relevant to Robotics and a fifth funded with the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Application rates indicate strong interest in the area, with some of the CDTs oversubscribed at a rate of 14:1.

There are connections with other research areas, e.g.: Artificial Intelligence Technologies; Human-Computer Interaction; Image and Vision Computing; Vision, Hearing and Other Senses; Verification and Correctness; Control Engineering; Assistive Technology, Rehabilitation and Musculoskeletal Biomechanics; Clinical Technology; Manufacturing Design; Sensors and Instrumentation; Materials Engineering; and Electrical Motors and Drives/Electromagnetics.

The terms RAS (Robotics and Autonomous Systems) and RAI (Robotics and Artificial Intelligence) can be used interchangeably and capture the same breadth of opportunity. RAI, however, provides a clearer descriptor of the component parts that integrate to create new products and solutions for a modern knowledge-based economy.

This area is critical to achieving the following ambitions in the Productive, Connected, Resilient and Healthy Nation Outcomes:

P1: Introduce the next generation of innovative and disruptive technologies

Research/developments in autonomous transport, new manufacturing systems and healthcare technologies will contribute to this. 

P4: Drive business innovation through digital transformation

Research/developments in next-generation autonomous manufacturing and digital manufacturing will help drive business growth.

C3: Deliver intelligent technologies and systems

Robotics is one potential component of a number of future autonomous systems across a wide range of application areas.

R1: Achieve energy security and efficiency 

Use of Robotics in extreme and challenging environments will help make energy production more efficient.

R2: Ensure a reliable infrastructure which underpins the UK economy

Use of Robotics, coupled with autonomous systems, to provide surveying, monitoring and maintenance of infrastructure will assist this.

H3: Optimise diagnosis and treatment

Producing smaller, more precise Robotics tools, for example, will enable more accurate and effective treatments.

H4: Develop future therapeutic technologies

Robotics research will develop new assistive and rehabilitative technologies.

H5: Advance non-medicinal interventions

Companion robots, for example, can help achieve this.

  1. Robotics and Autonomous Systems Special Interest Group (RAS SIG), RAS 2020: Robotics and Autonomous Systems, (2014).
  2. A Roadmap for US Robotics: From Internet to Robotics (PDF), (2013).
  3. Headquarters for Japan's Economic Revitalization, New Robot Strategy (PDF), (2015).
  4. Sciencewise, Robotics and Autonomous Systems: What the Public Thinks (PDF), (2013).
  5. McKinsey Global Institute, Disruptive Technologies: Advances that Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global Economy, (2013).
  6. Knowledge Transfer Network, Robotics and Autonomous Systems: Challenges and Opportunities for the UK (PDF), (2015).
  7. Knowledge Transfer Network, The UK Landscape for Robotics and Autonomous Systems (PDF), (2015).
  8. EPSRC, Future Intelligent Technologies (FIT) Workshop (PDF), (2015).
  9. SPARC Robotics, Robotics 2020: Multi-Annual Roadmap for Robotics in Europe (PDF), (2015).
  10. KPMG, Connected and Autonomous Vehicles: The UK Economic Opportunity (PDF), (2015).
  11. Citi GPS, Technology at Work (PDF) and Technology at Work v2.0 (PDF), (2015 and 2016).
  12. UK-RAS Network, Manufacturing Robotics: The Next Robotic Industrial Revolution, (2016).
  13. UK-RAS Network, Surgical Robotics: The Next 25 Years - Successes, Challenges, and the Road Ahead (PDF), (2016).

Other sources:

  • A number of stakeholders (e.g. Innovate UK, the RAS SIG and EPSRC grant holders) were consulted. Feedback was solicited from industrial partners (e.g. in the Autonomous and Intelligent Systems Partnership).

Research area connections

This diagram shows the top 10 connections between Research Areas within the EPSRC research portfolio. The depth of the segment relates to value of grants and the width of the segment relates to the number of grants shared by those two Research Areas. Please click to see the related Research Area rationale.

Grow

We aim to grow this area as a proportion of the EPSRC portfolio.

Visualising our Portfolio (VoP)
Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships.

EPSRC Support by Research Area in Robotics (GoW)
Search EPSRC's research and training grants.

Contact Details

In the following table, contact information relevant to the page. The first column is for visual reference only. Data is in the right column.

Name: Dr Clara Morri
Job title: Portfolio Manager
Section / Team: Robotics
Organisation: EPSRC
Address:
Clara.Morri@epsrc.ukri.org