The development of driverless cars, robot surgeons and automated farming within the UK could transform our economy but the estimated £327 million from government needs to be better invested to beat off international competiton.

A report on the UK’s feasibility as a market leader in the robotics space says that the UK’s funding agencies must work formally together to ensure money is not being wasted on duplicate projects and that skills or resources are shared to cut time and costs are made clearer.

©iStock/Abidal

The industrial robotics market is worth over £17 billion ($25 billion) and forecast to reach £25 billion ($37 billion) in three years’ time.

Additionally, professional service robots like robotic laparoscopic surgeon arms will see a huge increase in demand, generating $3.4 billion (£2.2 billion) to $17.1 billion (£11.47 billion) within a year.

©iStock/Cowlick Creative

Britain began beefing up its robotics efforts in 2012, aware that the USA, South Korea, China, Japan, Germany and France were closing in on the market.

“By acting soon, decisively and in concert, we have the opportunity to capture the early mover advantage and establish the UK as a leader in the implementation of RAS technology," says the Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) group which is part of government body Innovate UK (formerly the Tech Strategy Board).

“Such an approach will build on UK strengths in the fields of ICT, big data and systems engineering as well as UK specific market opportunities in areas such as energy, legacy decommissioning and healthcare." 

The importance of the robotics industry came to the fore this morning when the minister for universities, science and cities, Greg Clark, promised to maximise the existing financial investments in light of the RAS’ report.

Promising to put a dedicated robotics cabinet team in place, Clark’s letter to the robotics community outlined some of the existing robotics project funded by the UK.

In light of this, Techworld has compiled a list of robotics projects funded to the tune of £327.5 million.

While private firms will have spent considerably more developing technologies, and this list is not exhaustive of all public sector spending in the area, it shines a light on projects where academic research and skills could be recycled - reducing time and cost to the tax-payer during the international robotics race. 

Driverless cars

The UK is in a unique position against the world, as there are no legal barriers stopping cars without drivers travelling on our roads. A total of £19 million was awarded to three driverless car competition winners – each a local authority - which have partnered with insurance firms, automotive manufacturers and academics to test the technology on our roads.

Chancellor George Osborne has pledged a further £100 million to get driverless cars on UK roads.

The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have joined forces with Jaguar Land Rover. Together they will spend £10 million on research for a fully driverless car.

Unmanned boats for offshore energy

Portsmouth’s UK Centre for Maritime Intelligent Systems received £4 million as part of the Defence Growth Partnership for unmanned boats.

Innovate UK and the Ministry of Defence are going to invest £5 million in a competition to create sea drones.

In addition, Bristol Robotics Institute of Technology received £4.5 million through the Local Enterprise Fund and the University of West England received £4 million for robotics research. It also received a further £12.5 million in private funding.

Drone testing for aerospace market

The UK holds 17 percent of the global aerospace market. The West Wales UAS Environment at Parc Aberporth provides the UK and government with infrastructure to develop drones, which are tested in UK and European skies.

Skills

Four new Centres of Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous systems were given £20 million last year to equip students with engineering skills.

Mobile Robotics Group

Oxford University academics have been awarded £5 million to address fundamental technical issues surrounding mobile robots.

The EPSRC sponsors a portfolio of equipment and training funding worth £40 million, which will continue to be funded in the future.

Act now to get European funding

The robotics community could get a huge boost from European investors, Clark adds. The government already secured 80 million from a total budget of 485 million. The upcoming Horizon 2020 programme is committing up to €700 million between now and 2020. But to get a piece of the budget, the robotics community and the UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) board must promote the UK within the European Commission and further afield to provide a good business case.

UKTI recently funded a trip for UK entrepreneurs to pitch in the Silicon Valley robotics cluster. None of the projects secured any funding. 

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