In 2012, the UK Government identified Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) as one of the Eight Great Technologies that will contribute to improved international competitiveness, productivity and economic growth. Under this initiative, the government through EPSRC made a £25 million capital investment in establishing eight RAS centres for excellence across the UK. These centres together with the Centres for Doctoral Training form the EPSRC UK-RAS Network, chaired by Imperial College London.

Advanced Robotics @ Queen Mary

Principal Investigator - Professor Kaspar Althoefer

The Centre for Advanced Robotics @ Queen Mary (ARQ) is a research centre within the two Queen Mary’s engineering schools: The School of Electronic Engineering and Computer Science (EECS) and The School of Engineering and Material Science (SEMS). The Centre has also strong links with research groups in medical and life sciences at Queen Mary. Having been founded in 2016, ARQ aims to bring a wide range of robotics-related activities under one roof, increasing visibility, facilitating collaboration, public engagement and moving towards critical mass.

In line with the strategic plan of QMUL, ARQ is expected to grow significantly over the next five years. Being a member of the UK RAS network is an important step for QMUL’s robotics activities to become more visible and to foster collaboration with other UK players in academia and industry. ARQ aims at conducting robotics research of the highest level and at generating disruptive innovations in all areas related to robotics. An important objective of the Centre is to actively pursue collaborative activities with partners in the UK and internationally in the areas of robotics and autonomous systems.

Centre for Intelligent Autonomous Manufacturing Systems, Queen’s University Belfast

Principal Investigator – Prof Sean McLoone

The Centre for Intelligent Autonomous Manufacturing Systems (i-AMS) at Queen’s is a multi-disciplinary team of researchers spanning the disciplines of Electrical/Electronic/Mechanical/Aerospace Engineering, Computer Science, Applied Mathematics, Statistics, and Psychology, working together to develop innovative technologies and solutions to address the challenges of Industry 4.0.

We believe that cooperative multi-robot and autonomous systems will play a central role in delivering underpinning flexible manufacturing systems. Here the vision is of robots as co-workers, with robots and humans working cooperatively and interactively to achieve common tasks, and of autonomous systems that are resilient and can adapt seamlessly as tasks and operating conditions change.

In i-AMS we recognise that tackling this challenge requires an interdisciplinary approach involving the integration of advanced data analytics, machine learning, intelligent system and autonomous robotics concepts with new design, digital manufacturing, human-robot interaction, and control paradigms.

Our facilities have been extended through a £5M Innovate UK investment to create a factory research test bed with state of the art industrial scale equipment to further investigate digital and autonomous manufacturing. Equipment includes: Range of augmented reality and VR systems, Digital Manufacturing software tools,  Cobots; Universal and Baxtor Robots; Industrial robots, Exechon Parallel Kinematic machines, 5-axis CNC milling and turning machines, Laser Process Manufacturing Lab, Metrology systems, self-driving vehicles (SDV’s)

Our research programme is centred around the following themes:

(1) Virtual sensing, prognostics, energy reduction & virtual factory simulations

(2) Flexible automation and cobotics

(3) Autonomous and intelligent decision making

Adaptive Systems Research Group, University of Hertfordshire

Principle Investigator: Professor Kerstin Dautenhahn

The Adaptive Systems Research Group in Hertfordshire is a strongly multidisciplinary group of 7 faculty members, as well as students and research staff of the University of Hertfordshire who carry out research in the field of Adaptive Systems. The group is coordinated by Prof. Kerstin Dautenhahn and has recently been awarded EPSRC capital funding for creating a national infrastructure for robotics, the Robot House 2.0. Since 2008 the group has developed the University of Hertfordshire Robot House (RH), a typical British home situated in a residential area off-campus, transformed into a smart home including a number of autonomous robots. The RH is currently being upgraded to RH2.0 which, once completed, will be open for use by industry and other academic institutions. The RH2.0 enables the development and testing of smart home and robotics technology in a real-life environment with state of the art equipment. It allows industry, in particular smaller or start-up companies, to utilize a facility that will ultimately lead to better products that are aimed at the home environment. Better products will benefit users of those products, which may range from older people, users who require physical and/or cognitive assistance, users of everyday products used in a home environment, to co-worker scenarios that provide assistance through human-robot collaboration.

The Adaptive Systems Research group studies a wide variety of topics related to autonomous systems and robotics including:

  • Development and evaluation of new robot technology for robot-assisted therapy for children with autism and other impairments in social and communicative behaviour
  • Development of human-adaptive algorithms for using robots in a therapeutic or personal assistance context, utilising physiological sensing, such as Electromyography and Electroencephalography, to provide a more intuitive and human-aware interaction, and serious Games to provide an interactive front-end for the physical interaction with robots
  • Neuro-ethology and biologically inspired approaches to robot models of embodied cognition, affect, and interaction, investigating basic research issues around adaptation, development and evolution, and applications in autonomous robotics and social robotics in health and wellbeing
  • Development and evaluation of Robot Home Companions, in the context of smart home and ambient intelligence, providing physical, cognitive and social assistance to support independent living
  • Developing socially acceptable human-robot interaction, e.g. concerning human-robot proxemics or robot visual communicative signals, this includes e.g. the development of new robot designs and evaluation methodologies for human-robot interaction, as well as the study of trust and trustworthiness in human-robot interaction
  • Developmental robotics and biologically inspired research on human-robot interaction, e.g. investigating the role of motor resonance, the development of robot language emerging from social interaction, and the development of computational architectures for interaction histories and episodic memory for robot
  • Principled approaches to the understanding of perception, cognition, decision-making based on information theory, modeling of biologically plausible models for decision-makin
  • Operational models for intrinsic motivation for robots, task-free self-organized learning, decision-making under bounded constraints and rationality

Edinburgh Centre for Robotics 

Principal Investigators - Professor David Lane and Professor Sethu Vijayakumar
 

EdinburghThe Centre is a collaborative venture between University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University. The underlying theme running throughout the centre's research is interaction. The robotics infrastructure includes the Atlas robot, the PR2 robot, the Baxter bimanual manipulation platform and several prosthetics platforms, movement monitoring devices and immersive work cell setups, as well as UAVs, marine technology and immersive virtual reality systems. Funded through the EPSRC Capital bid, the ROBOTARIUM comprises four integrated and interconnected components. It is available to researchers inside and outside the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics as well as industry as a national UK facility. 

 The key research themes of the Centre include:

  • Environment Interactions dealing with physical interactions between a robot and the environment. It includes studies of contact dynamics, switching control, compliant manipulation, sensor performance/processing, active sensing, and abstraction to world modelling and planning.
  • Multi-Robot Interactions involving autonomous sensing and decision making for collaborative interactions between multiple, decentralised robotic systems with heterogeneous scales, mobility, processing capabilities and affordances to effectively collaborate and achieve complex tasks
  • People Interactions dealing with interactions between robots and people in smart spaces that transcend the physical and virtual divide by including factors such as human perception mechanisms, shared control in mixed human-robot teams, affective computing and natural multi-modal interfaces.
  • Self Interactions dealing with robotic introspection for condition monitoring, prognostics and health management, and long term persistent autonomy including validation and verification.
  • Enablers involving architectural system design, linked to novel embodiment using soft materials, micro and nano-sensors, and embedded multi-core computing.

The Hamlyn Centre, Imperial College London

Principal Investigators - Professor Guang-Zhong Yang

Funded by the EPSRC, the Micro-Engineering Facility for Medical Robotics at the Hamlyn Centre is focussed on the development of miniaturised robots for surgery, and targeted therapy with micro-instruments and smart actuators with integrated sensing and imaging, supported by advances in materials, micro-fabrication and micro-machining, as well as rapid prototyping technologies. With recent emphasis clinically on improved surveillance and earlier diagnosis, an increasing proportion of procedures performed will aim to target smaller lesions that are more suitable to minimally invasive procedures. This has called for the development of miniaturised robots for surgery, and targeted therapy with micro-instruments and smart actuators with integrated sensing and imaging, supported by advances in materials, micro-fabrication and micro-machining, as well as rapid prototyping technologies.

The new facility has a range of equipment in the following areas:

  • Multi-material, precision 3D rapid prototyping with materials ranging from thermoplastics, photopolymers, to metal with direct metal laser sintering;
  • Micro-machining and fabrication equipment including micro-lathe, laser profiling and fabrication platforms;
  • Micro-assembly platforms with associated microscopes and 3D imaging systems;
  • Fibre-optics and ablation laser required for robotically assisted in-vivo cellular-level optical imaging, tissue characterisation and ablation.

Intelligent Robotics Lab @ University of Birmingham

Principal Investigators - Professor Jeremy L Wyatt, Professor Ales 
Leonardis, Professor Duc Pham

The Intelligent Robotics Laboratory at the University of Birmingham performs research at the interface of AI and robotics. We develop generic technologies for autonomous robotics. We specialise in robot vision, robot task planning, and robot manipulation.The group has eight faculty and thirty researchers. The laboratory is part of an interdisciplinary centre for Computational Neuroscience and Cognitive Robotics, incorporating researchers in motor, perceptual and cognitive neuroscience.

Our facilities include an advanced platform for dexterous bi-manual manipulation, a fleet of mobile robots, and multiple advanced robot manipulators. We work with the Manufacturing Technology Centre on early stage technology transfer. We have raised £20m in external research funding. Key research areas include:

  • Robot task planning
  • Robot vision
  • Machine learning applied to robotics
  • Robot manipulation
  • Micro-manipulation
  • Parallel robotic systems
  • Robotics for manufacturing
  • Human-robot collaboration

Intelligent Robotics Lab @ University of Essex

Principal Investigators – Professor Huosheng Hu and Professor Klaus McDonald-Maier

The School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering at the University of Essex has a strong research base in Robotics and was ranked 7th in the UK as per the Witty Review. A key research theme in the school is Artificial intelligence (AI) which deals with intelligent behaviour, learning and adaptation in machines, which is closely related and has greatly contributed to robotics. The main contribution of AI in Robotics at Essex include perception, reasoning, learning, decision making and control and human-robot interaction including Brain-Robot interfacing.

The Essex Robotics group concerns with the development of various kinds of intelligent robots that will be used in environments coexisting with humans, including autonomous driving, domestic assistance, healthcare robots, manufacturing, search and rescue operations. These robotic systems are mobile, autonomous, interactive and intelligent, and will be useful assistants or companions for people in different ages, situations, activities and environments in order to improve the quality of life.

Our Robotics Laboratory offers dedicated space for autonomous robots, including a ground level robot workshop and a Robot Arena with over one hundred square meters in area and a six metre high ceiling to accommodate flying robots. It has one of the world's largest powered lab floors for long-duration experiments with mobile robots.

We have continuously invested over £3 million in equipping this state-of-the-art facility with robotic systems which include:

  • Thirty wheeled mobile robots;
  • Eight flying robots;
  • Three robotic fish;
  • Three intelligent wheelchairs;
  • Two humanoid robots: Pepper and Nao
  • One Baxter robot with two 7 DOFs arms
  • One robotic hand with five fingers.

A VICON optic motion tracking system with nine infrared cameras is fixed on the ceiling and provides reliable location information so that the performance of the developed robots and navigation algorithms can be accurately evaluated. More detail for our robotics group can be seen here.

Lancaster Intelligent, Robotic and Autonomous Systems Research (LIRA)

Principal Investigators - Professor Plamen Angelov, p.angelov@lancaster.ac.uk

Lancaster Intelligent Robotic and Autonomous Systems (LIRA) Centre is being formed around the autonomous and intelligent systems research at the School of Computing and Communications, SCC (large projects with aerospace and defence industry – BAE, Thales, QinetiQ - during the last decade on sense and avoid, re-routing, ISTAR and on board real-time video processing for object detection and tracking, civil aviation safety and maintenance as well as intelligent transport through RRUKA) and the Engineering Department with its strong track record in nuclear decommissioning research through the Engineering Decommissioning Academic Hub (EDAH) working closely with Sellafield and NNL. It is an expansion of the Intelligent Robotic Systems Lab established in 2005. Lancaster’s active research in productivity (Lancaster University Management School), human-computer interaction (SCC) and the link between robot learning and psychology (Psychology Department) is also being incorporated into the Centre’s research.

Lancaster was recently awarded three large projects: two through the EPSRC Nuclear Robotics Hubs and one through InnovateUK involving QinetiQ, Nuvia, Bristol Maritime Robotics Ltd and Fortis Mechanical Design Ltd. These are multimillion projects bringing over £1M to Lancaster in total add to the on-going projects in RAS area on intelligent computer vision agents optimising safety and train dwell times as well as on the link between learning in robots and children.

More recently, Lancaster University invested significantly in the related Digital Health, Data Science and Industry 4.0 areas (establishing a joint Centre with TWI, making several high profile appointments and investing millions in the Digital Innovation Hub). These initiatives are closely related to RAS and the Centre and are on-going.

Lancaster University is a co-founder of the Northern Robotics Network (NRN) and the N8 RAS group. It has well-equipped labs including various mobile robots (like Pioneer), industrial robots (BROKK), various UAVs, etc.

Some recent projects on this topic:

Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems, University of Lincoln

Principal Investigators - Professor Tom Duckett

The Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS) is based in the School of Computer Science at the University of Lincoln. L-CAS specialises in technologies for perception, learning, decision-making, control and interaction in autonomous systems, especially mobile robots and robotic manipulators, and the integration of these capabilities in application domains including agri-food, healthcare, intelligent transportation, logistics, nuclear robotics, and service robotics.

We participate in a large number of collaborative research projects with other academic and industry partners, funded by EPSRC, Innovate UK and Horizon 2020, among others. We also collaborate closely with the University of Lincoln’s Research Institutes in Agri-Food Technology and Health, and the National Centre for Food Manufacturing, which are focussed on delivering real-world impact in those domains.

Our facilities include dedicated robotics research labs, a demonstration farm, an experimental food factory, a fleet of diverse mobile and social robots, advanced compliant robotic manipulators, a swarm of micro robots, and state-of-the-art agricultural robots.

National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems, University of Leeds

Principal Investigators - Dr Robert Richardson
 

The EPSRC Capital investment in RAS has helped to create the National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems at the University of Leeds. At the heart of the facility is a complementary suite of state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment including ultra-high-precision milling and turning capabilities and advanced multi-material 3D printers. The new equipment, combined with the extensive existing facilities at the University of Leeds, supportsdiverse research strands associated with the development (design and manufacture) of next-generation physical robots that are more flexible, adaptive and capable than existing systems.  The Centre uses a small research facility (SRF) model that allows academics and industrialists easy access to the facilities. The key application sectors addressed by the Centre include:

  • Surgical technologies for health and well-being - Lengthening life by facilitating safer and less invasive surgical procedures that improve recovery time and reduce post-operative complications;
  • Rehabilitation and prosthetics for health and wellbeing - Improving quality of life through restorative and assistive devices. Focus on small scale subsystems of larger devices;
  • Exploration robotics for safety and security - Protecting life by developing robots that allow humans to stay out of harms. Includes urban search & rescue, surveillance for military and counter-terrorism applications and repair / inspection in industrial contexts.  

Mobile Robotics, University of Oxford

Principal Investigators - Professor Paul Newman

The Oxford Mobile Robotics Group (MRG) is all about Mobile Autonomy. The group was founded in 2003  and is lead by Professor Paul Newman and  Professor Ingmar Posner. We are a vibrant and innovative research team.  We research many aspects of mobile autonomy with a particular emphasis on navigation, perception and understanding of large workspaces. 

We need to build better robots - we need them to be cheap, work synergistically with people in large, complex and time-changing environments, and do so for long periods of time. Moreover, it is essential that they are safe and trusted. We are compelled as researchers to produce the foundational technologies that will see robots work in economically and socially important domains. These motivations drive everything we do

The Oxford Mobile Robotics Group holds a world-leading position in navigation, mapping, and scene interpretation. It is the only group in the UK that specialises in large-scale mobile autonomy - both indoors and outdoors. Since its formation ten years ago, the group has received in excess of £20M of funding and grown to forty members. The group has a superb and diverse relationship with a broad range of industrial partners, for example, Nissan, BAE, MIRA, SciSys, Transport Catapult, Guidance Navigation Ltd. This interaction forms the backbone of the group’s impact strategy.

Robotics for Extreme Environments at the University of Manchester

Principle Investigators: Professor Barry Lennox and Dr Simon Watson

The Robotics Group at the University of Manchester conducts research into the use of mobile robots in extreme environments. The primary focus of the work is aimed at nuclear decommissioning, but there is also research on robots for the energy sector (offshore wind and substation inspections). The group brings together the Schools of Electrical and Electronic Engineering (EEE), Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering (MACE) and Computer Science (CS).

With access to the Dalton Cumbrian Facility, a state-of-the-art nuclear research base in Cumbria, the group has formed strong industrial collaborations with companies such as Sellafield Ltd and the National Nuclear Laboratory. This enables robotic systems to be developed, and research topics guided, with clear end-user engagement.

Key research areas include:

• Novel Platform Design
• Communications and Localisation in Harsh Environments
• Sensing and Navigation
• Multi-Level Control (from Fault Tolerance to Swarming)
• Effects of Radiation Damage on Electronics

Sheffield Robotics and The University of Liverpool

Principal Investigators - Professor Tony Prescott, Dr. Michale Jump
     

A joint facility has been established between Sheffield Robotics and The University of Liverpool, focussing on Human-Machine Co-operation in Robotics and Autonomous Systems. More specifically, it supports research in autonomous systems that will lead directly to improvements in core technologies important to the UK economy. The interdisciplinary nature of the facility enables a broad range of innovative research to be carried out.

Infrastructure includes a VICON motion capture facility, an observation suite for human-robot interaction experiments, an iCub robot, a KUKA lightweight arm and 3-finger Schunk gripping hand, a variety of air- and ground-based mobile platforms, humanoid robots, and one of the largest robotic swarms in the world. Sheffield Robotics also has a dedicated centre for field robotics, with space for testing and developing larger systems for outdoor and hazardous environments. These facilities are also available for use by external academics and industry.

Key research areas include:

  • Unmanned ground and air vehicles, including control and coordination of multiple platforms
  • Biologically inspired robotics, including cognitive neuroscience, swarm and reconfigurable robotics
  • Service robotics, particularly in the area of assistive technologies and systems
  • Societal research, including tackling the needs arising from an ageing population, and robot ethics
  • Materials handling, including multi-agent co-operation, flexible adaptive manipulation, and sensorimotor control
  • Human-robot interaction, including haptics, virtual reality, teleprescence, natural language, behaviour, and social intelligence
  • Systems verification and safety of autonomous systems and decision-making
  • Field robotics for outdoor and hazardous environments, including: agriculture, mining, search and rescue, space, infrastructure, and nuclear materials handling

The Rolls-Royce UTC in Manufacturing and On-Wing Technology, University of Nottingham

Principal Investigators - Professor Dragos Axinte, Professor Svetan Rachev

University of Nottingham conducts research in key areas of innovative design of robotics for in-situ repair/maintenance of high-value industrial assets as well as automation of production lines utilising intelligent robotic systems and algorithms. We have developed slender multi-degree of freedom continuum robots able to perform in-situ aero-engine repairs, walking machine tools able to perform high precision machining repairs of nuclear equipment, teleoperated robotics systems for repair and maintenance of high-value assets within the Rolls-Royce UTC in Manufacturing and On-Wing Technology.

Our work also extends to the development of methods and strategies to integrate robots into production lines to improve process outputs on high-value industries such as aerospace assemblies.

University of Southampton

Principal Investigators - Professor James Scanlan
 

The Autonomy USRG, led by Prof. Jim Scanlan from the University of Southampton undertakes cutting edge research into autonomous systems in sensing, computing, communications and platforms in order to provide world class, cost effective capabilities for society to develop and maintain a low carbon economy, for earth science and other applications operating at all elevations from sub-sea, surface, land, air and space.

 

University College London

Principal Investigators - Professor Mandayam Srinivasan
 

The UCL EPSRC RAS capital facility is focused on robotic teleoperation for multiple scales to enable exploration, manipulation and assembly tasks in new worlds beyond human capabilities. At one end of the spectrum, the team will work on devices which allow operators to manipulate micro- and nano-scale objects as if they were holding and touching them in their hands, a technology which will be useful for a broad range of applications ranging from material science to microbiology and nanomedicine. For human scale interactions, the team will develop robotic healthcare tools, allowing medical interventions such as endoscopy, laparoscopy and ultrasound scans to be carried out remotely. On larger scales suitable for heavy industry and civil engineering, the team will develop new ways of controlling large robotic arms such as those needed for the remote inspection of difficult and hard to reach spaces.

Key research areas include:

  • Large-scale robotic manufacturing, remote inspection and making
  • Virtual Reality and haptic interaction and tactile sensing
  • Human scale telemanipulation and robotic surgery
  • Micro-nano robotic manipulation
  • Robotic telepresence (see video here)

University of Salford Autonomous Systems and Robotics Research Centre

Principal Investigator - Professor Samia Nefti-Meziani

The Autonomous Systems and Robotics Research Centre’s activities originate in 1987 when the University of Salford was chosen as the site of the United Kingdom's National Advanced Robotics Research Centre. Since then Salford has been at the forefront of robotics research both nationally and internationally. The centre has very close links with other research institutes and strong and historic links with industry, particularly through the industrial advisory board of the Northern Robotics Network, of which Prof Nefti-Meziani is a founder member.   

The centre has made fundamental contributions in low-cost robotics and pioneered their use in many sectors with prototypes being provided to research and commercial centres nationally and internationally including USAF, NASA, BNFL. It has developed haptics for cyber-physical systems, telepresence technologies including force augmentation exoskeletons, haptic gloves, soft sensors, dextrous and novel end-effectors for food, nuclear, agriculture and aerospace. The Centre has delivered projects in sectors including Nuclear, Food, Rail, Agriculture, Aerospace & Defence, Healthcare and Automotive through numerous commercial and research projects funded by EU, EPSRC, InnovateUK and RGF. Examples include the EU FP7 Marie Currie ITN in Advanced Robotics in manufacturing (SMART-E, €4m), building the first European Humanoid platform RobotCub (€8.5m), EU FP6 Novel Processing Methods for the Production and Distribution of High-Quality and Safe Foods (NovelQ €11.3m) and Growing Autonomous System Mission Management Applications (GAMMA, RGF, £9m) which covered the nuclear and defence sectors, Centre for Food Robotics and Automation (CenFRA, Yorkshire Forward, £5m) and Aerospace Supply Chain Excellence 2 (ASCEII, ERDF, £16m) projects and the DEFRA funded Grail Robot project which developed a low cost high speed industrial manipulator. Other recent funding includes projects with the Medical Research Council, InnovateUK on Nuclear Decommissioning and the recently announced EPSRC Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Hub on Future AI and Robotics for Space (FAIRSPACE). The centre’s other key research areas include Actuators, Autonomous systems, Biomimetics, Soft robotics, End effectors, Automation, physical Human-Robot Interaction (pHRI), and Healthcare and Rehabilitation robotics.

The Centre’s facilities include five large dedicated robotics/automation labs. Additional facilities include, the Energy House which is a full-scale terraced house in a fully controllable environmental chamber allowing testing of RAI technologies for the construction sector in harsh environments e.g. façades maintenance and installation for increasing energy efficiency. The living lab, in partnership with Salford Royal Hospital and Salix Homes, which provides access to 200 patients homes for testing healthcare and assistive technologies. The multi-million-pound world class OCTAVE which offers a fully immersive 3D environment and advanced dynamic masonry and tunnel test facilities used to simulate highway and railways for the development of robotic technology for infrastructure build, maintenance and repair.

University of Warwick

Principal Investigators - Professor Lord Kumar Bhattacharyya
 

Robotics and Autonomous Systems: The Smart and Connected Vehicle, this EPSRC RAS Capital facility is to create an interactive drive in, driver-in-the-loop simulator, integrated with hardware-in-theloop, infotainment and communication simulation, a multi-sensory virtual environment, realworld environment and modular autonomous systems workbench; supported by high performance computing and data storage.  This scalable, configurable and compatible collaborative research platform will significantly advance the creation and usability of autonomous systems.  It will provide a capacity for research in virtual whole system level design, validation, verification and test of new sensors, technologies and systems. Technology innovations from research within the simulation environment will enable the intelligent vehicle with  increasing levels of driver assistance and active safety, provided by all-round sensing and electronic actuation.  Vehicles will learn driver behaviour, optimise to the driver to reduce emissions and fuel consumption, assist monotonous tasks and react to hazards, increasing vehicle safety.