Government invests £150m to kickstart UK robotics industry

Government's "Great Challenge" hopes to make UK a world-beater in the robotics market by 2025

The Government is investing a substantial amount of money into ensuring the UK robotics industry keeps pace with the rest of the globe.

A proposal by the Technology Strategy Board apes the "Grand Challenges" US policy of the 1980s, which saw researchers aiming towards a goal 10 or 20 years in the future.

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The UK's goal will be the creation of successful autonomous robots able to complete specific tasks rather than models that are designed as an "all-in-one" solution.

Test models could be sent to clear up abandoned mines and decommissioned nuclear testing sites in order to evaluate their effectiveness.

The Technology Strategy Board has been granted 400 million in funds for the next year, 150 million of which will be invested into robotics and autonomous systems.

Seeing the UK take the lead in world robot innovation will be one of the project's main aims, and the country's robotics centres in Bristol and Edinburgh will receive more funding as part of it.

Germany, Japan, Korea and the US are the most dominant forces in the RAS market, which is predicted to be worth around 70bn by 2025. The UK is already leading in other types of technology, including driverless cars, repair robots and assistance mechanisms.

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However, a change of strategy is needed, according to Professor David Lane of Heriot-Watt University, to create a business environment that would commercialise robot technology before other nations.

"We need to provide a business environment in the UK that is geared towards helping robotic and autonomous technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace," he said. "The UK has an exceptional heritage in many of the industries where robotics can be most useful."

Professor Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield told the BBC that the new plan was "great news".

"The UK is the lowest user of industrial robotics in the technically developed nations of Europe - well behind Spain and Italy," he said. "We have a lot of robotics talent in our universities with enormous potential to bring the UK to hi-tech glory."

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