Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Robotics

The novel physical design and development of robotic systems, for both fundamental and applied purposes.

Partners involved:
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

This area encompasses the novel physical design and development of robotic systems for both fundamental and applied purposes, including underpinning control mechanisms, aspects of human-robot interaction, and programmed automation/autonomy in such systems.

There is significant opportunity for robotics research to underpin developments across multiple sectors in the emerging industrial strategy, particularly by:

  • creating new capabilities in challenging and extreme environments
  • enabling healthy or independent living
  • ensuring safe, efficient transport
  • developing next-generation manufacturing.

This strategy reflects the integral role of our research and training in enabling development of systems involving Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI), and their impact on other research areas.

Support for fundamental, cross-sector research is core. We aim to ensure the UK builds on existing investments to develop leadership and strengthen opportunities, leading to long term economic and societal returns, and to continue to work with Innovate UK, business and government.

To unlock the significant potential, we will:

  • work to deliver a step change in UK businesses’ output and productivity through accelerated deployment of next generation RAI technologies
  • strengthen coordination and collaboration with our innovation partners to avoid duplication of effort and, in particular, to seek opportunities to enhance links with international partners
  • facilitate a community focus on underpinning, enabling research in autonomous transport, extreme and challenging (hazardous) environments, health and social care, and next generation manufacturing
  • develop leadership in the robotics community to realise the area’s potential and increase UK visibility
  • examine pressures on training capacity and take action where necessary
  • explore emerging opportunities and challenges in nascent areas of robotics (for example, soft robotics) and take action to support these as required.

We will encourage the community to demonstrate that the ethical, legal and regulatory implications of robotics have been considered.

Since the initial publication of this research area rationale, the UKRI Challenge Fund has provided £45.5 million to support four hubs in robotics and artificial intelligence for extreme and challenging (hazardous) environments.

The four hubs are:

  • The National Centre for Nuclear Robotics – a consortium of eight universities developing cutting-edge technology to solve the problem of nuclear waste
  • The Future AI and Robotics for Space Hub – advancing the capabilities needed to enable space robots to perform complex tasks on long-duration missions with little or no human intervention
  • The Robotics and AI in Nuclear Hub – developing the advanced robotics and artificial intelligence that will be essential for future nuclear operations
  • The Offshore Robotics for the Certification of Assets Hub – developing robotic systems and artificial intelligence solutions to assist asset integrity management for the offshore energy sector.

EPSRC remains committed to all of the strategic areas identified, and encourages researchers to consider submitting proposals across the full spectrum of fundamental, enabling research:

  • autonomous transport
  • extreme and challenging (hazardous) environments
  • health and social care
  • next generation manufacturing
  • agriculture.

Why we're doing it

Across government and business, there is recognition that significant opportunities exist for novel research to deliver disruptive technologies in both short and long term. There is potential to underpin and enable developments in, for example, the automotive, aerospace, nuclear, renewable energy, oil and gas, agriculture, space, manufacturing, defence, consumer and construction sectors. The wider opportunity can be realised by a focus on key challenges, translation facilities and nurturing skills, unlocking value in other markets.

The US, Japan, Germany and, increasingly, China invest heavily in robotics, but the UK has the opportunity to differentiate itself with novel underpinning technologies that can be utilised across different sectors. These have potential to transform the UK’s social, economic and industrial life.

The formation of the UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems (UK-RAS) Network has laid the groundwork for coordination of academic research and increased collaboration between members of the broad robotics community. It has successfully taken on the role of academic leadership and coordination, and has encouraged public engagement with robotics.

The RAS2020 strategy provides guidelines on how the UK can capitalise on its research and industrial base through coordinated development of assets, challenges, clusters and skills. This could be achieved through an increase in infrastructure, targeted competitions and training the next generation of researchers and innovators.

Leadership in this research area tends to focus on specific applications. Strengthening academic leadership at all career stages and in all core application areas remains important, to retain talent and ensure subject area expertise.

There are four centres for doctoral training funded by EPSRC (CDTs) relevant to robotics and a fifth funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC). Application rates indicate strong interest in the area, with some of the CDTs oversubscribed at a rate of 14:1.

There are connections with other research areas, including:

View evidence sources used to inform our research strategies.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Visualising our portfolio (VoP) is a tool for users to visually interact with the EPSRC portfolio and data relationships. Find out more about research area connections and funding for Robotics.

Find previously funded projects on Grants on the Web.

Who to contact

Last updated: 20 April 2023

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