New robotics research centre to advance understanding in UK manufacturing

Date posted: December 23, 2021
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A new national robotics research centre will receive a share of £25m to improve collaborative technology and help businesses unlock the full potential of automated industrial manufacturing.

The Made Smarter Innovation Research Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics led by Loughborough University aims to advance smart manufacturing by eliminating barriers and accelerating widespread use of smart collaborative robotics technology to unlock the full potential of the UK industry in productivity, quality, and adaptability.

The centre will bring together a team of world-class experts from Loughborough University, Cranfield University, the University of Strathclyde, the University of Warwick, and the University of Bristol, with experience in manufacturing, engineering, digital technology, robotics, human-factors, verification and safety, law, psychology, systems engineering, metrology, and ICT.

It also comprises of key organisations across core UK industrial sectors including aerospace, automotive, agri-food, green energy, construction, and space.

Project lead Dr Niels Lohse, of Loughborough’s Wolfson School of Mechanical, Electrical and Manufacturing Engineering, said:

“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for greater responsiveness and resilience. With disruptions to supply chains and workforce availability, collaborative robot sales more than doubled, but the UK remains significantly behind other highly industrialised nations.

“While there is a huge appetite for the benefits of industrial automation, its full potential remains untapped. The perceived and actual high initial investment cost for specialised, automation equipment is a significant barrier for wider adoption.

“Bringing the automation community together will be essential for addressing the unique challenges faced by UK industry to unlock the full potential of their highly skilled workforce through automation and digital technology.”

The research centre will create a multi-disciplinary, cross-sectorial hub setting the national research agenda in smart, collaborative industrial robotics, and deliver the next generation of automated factories.

It will focus both on fundamental research to seed new breakthrough technologies needed to make automation more responsive, collaborative, and safe as well as industry-initiated feasibility demonstration projects to raise awareness of emerging automation capabilities.

It is one of five university-led research centres which are being funded by UKRI and Made Smarter as part of a wider £300 million partnership between government, industry, Catapults, and academia led by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Innovation Strategy.

The key priority areas for research and innovation in the centre are:

    • Collaboration: Robotic systems need better models of how people naturally interact with others to start truly collaborating with them and fully leverage their respective strength.
    • Autonomy: Robots need to extend their sensory perception and autonomous cognition capabilities to effectively carry out increasingly complex tasks, deal with variations, and disruptive changes.
    • Responsiveness: The process of designing, verifying, validating, deploying, and operating automation needs to become more accessible for a wider range of people and organisations.
    • Acceptance: The societal, cultural, and economic impact of automation needs to be better explored to inform future policy, regulations, and education requirements.

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