Funding of £68 million awarded from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to the latest ground-breaking research and innovation projects in robotics and artificial intelligence systems was made last year. The awards are part of the government's £93 million of funding for the robotics and AI in extreme environments programme. The programme aims to develop robotic solutions to make a safer working environment in industries such as off-shore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining, increase productivity and open up new cross disciplinary opportunities, not currently available.

A £44.5 million investment, over three and half years, was made for the creation of four research Hubs managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)The Hubs will develop robotic solutions to enable safer working environments in the areas of off-shore energy, nuclear energy and space, opening up new cross disciplinary opportunities which are not currently available. They will be national Hubs delivering internationally-leading research and will be supported by an additional £51.6 million from commercial and international partners. The UK Space Agency is co-funding one of the Hubs.

The ISCF is a strategic element of the Government's Industrial Strategy that aims to ensure the UK continues to be one of the best places in the world for science and innovation.

Innovate UK and the Research Councils are taking a leading role in delivering this funding, operating across the country, to ensure the UK secures maximum benefit from science and innovation.

EPSRC Hubs:

National Centre for Nuclear Robotics 

Led by: Professor Rustam Stolkin, University of Birmingham

ISCF funding: £11.3 million

Project partners: Universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Essex, Lincoln, West of England, Lancaster University, Queen Mary University of London.

The University of Birmingham has secured £42 million to launch the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR). Leading a consortium of eight universities, the NCNR will tackle the major challenge of how to safely clean up nuclear waste. The UK has 4.9 million tonnes of legacy nuclear waste. Cleaning this up is the largest and most complex environmental remediation task in Europe. Much of this work must be carried out by robots because the materials are too hazardous for humans. However, the robotic solutions required just do not yet exist. The NCNR will be at the forefront of developing these technologies. Its researchers will lead the way in world-leading robotics and AI, and training the next generation of nuclear roboticists. 

The Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN) 

Led by: Professor Barry Lennox, University of Manchester

ISCF funding: £11.9 million

Project partners: Universities of Oxford, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Lancaster, Bristol and the UKAEA's RACE centre.

RAIN (Robotics and AI in Nuclear) is a collaborative research project funded by EPSRC, which forms a community hub to accelerate the development of UK robotics for the nuclear industry with a focus on demonstrating quantitative benefits against demanding use cases. RAIN brings together UK robotics experts working across new build, life extension and decommissioning, bridging fission and fusion, to address common challenges. The RAIN team is intricately linked with key nuclear partners across the industry to ensure that the research remains end-use focused with major demonstrators through the initial 3.5years.

Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets (ORCA) 

Led by: Professor David Lane, Heriot-Watt University

ISCF funding: £14.3 million

Project partners: Universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and Liverpool, Imperial College London

The ORCA Hub is an ambitious initiative that brings together internationally leading experts from 5 UK universities with over 30 industry partners. Led by the Edinburgh Centre of Robotics (Heriot-Watt University and University of Edinburgh), in collaboration with Imperial College, Oxford and Liverpool Universities, this multi-disciplinary consortium brings its unique expertise in: Subsea, Ground and Aerial robotics; as well as human-machine interaction, innovative sensors for Non Destructive Evaluation and low-cost sensor networks; and asset management and certification.

Future AI and Robotics for SPACE (FAIR-SPACE) 

Led by: Professor Yang Gao, University of Surrey

ISCF funding: £6.9 million

Project partners: Imperial College London, Universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool, Salford, and Warwick

The Future AI and Robotics for Space (FAIR-SPACE) Hub brings together leading experts from academia, industry and governments, and aims at pushing the boundary of AI robotics for future space utilization and exploration. In the immediate term, the Hub will help advance knowledge and technologies in orbital manipulation, extra-terrestrial vehicles, and robotic support for astronaut missions. These directly address technical priorities in the space sector worldwide. In the long term, the Hub will help transfer the field to a new era by achieving long-lived robotic operations in space.