Robots for a safer world challenge

Robot and human hand touching fingers

Credit: Adam Gasson

What did the challenge do?

This challenge, with an investment of up to £112 million, focused on research and innovation in advanced robotics and autonomous systems.

It aimed to create a safer working world for humans by taking them out of extreme environments such as places that are difficult or dangerous for humans to access.

Over the past five years we’ve shown that robots can take on tasks that are:

  • dangerous
  • demanding
  • dirty
  • distant
  • dull.

Our investments have developed robotics and artificial intelligence systems that can carry out tasks in extreme environments like:

  • the freezing depths of the North Sea
  • dealing with the process of nuclear energy production and decommissioning
  • the hostile vacuum of space
  • the heat of deep mining.

The challenge also addressed new needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, such as robotic sanitising of care facilities.

Watch Andrew Tyrer, challenge director, explain more about the robots for a safer world challenge.

Video credit: UKRI
On-screen captions and an auto generated transcript is available on YouTube.

What impact has the challenge had on the UK robotics industry?

In the last five years we have supported over 200 unique organisations (178 businesses and 45 research and technology organisations and universities) and funded 162 different projects across the:

  • offshore
  • nuclear
  • space
  • mining sectors and beyond.

The challenge has invested over £112 million alongside £16 million of
co-funding from other government sources.

This was supported by over £500 million of industry matched funding into our community.

It has built a cohort of organisations all pulling in the same direction, bringing innovative products and services to market.

It has compared itself on the international stage, by:

  • carrying out a mission to the US
  • visiting NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory
  • visiting energy-based organisations in Houston
  • taking part in robotics clusters events run by Innovate UK Edge in Amsterdam and Canada
  • attending international events such as Oceanology International and the SPRINT Robotics World Conference in Rotterdam.

Research investments

Investments under this challenge included:

Four robotics research hubs

Each hub looked at a different area of robotics use cases and worked nationwide with many partners.

The leads were based at:

  • University of Surrey (FAIR-SPACE)
  • University of Birmingham (NCNR)
  • Herriot-Watt University (ORCA)
  • The University of Manchester (RAIN).

Collaborative research and development projects

Explore all the challenge’s funded projects

Project case studies

Drones to maintain offshore wind farms

BladeBUG Limited is developing a unique walking robotic device. It is designed to remotely perform detailed inspection, maintenance, and repair of wind turbine blades, offering significant health and safety benefits over rope access technicians.

The robot uses multiple legs with vacuum cups, and can be rapidly deployed and retrieved, minimising turbine losses.

Video credit: UKRI
On-screen captions and an auto generated transcript is available on YouTube.

The future of fruit packing

Wootzano, based in County Durham, has developed an entirely autonomous robotic system capable of completing delicate, dexterous tasks like fruit and vegetable packing.

With a patented electronic skin, proprietary hardware, and machine learning algorithms in fully integrated robotic packaging systems Wootzano’s technology allows its robots to have a greater sensory awareness of their environment.

This allows the robots to analyse data such as:

  • pressure
  • firmness
  • temperature
  • humidity
  • chemical signatures.

Video credit: UKRI
On-screen captions and an auto generated transcript is available on YouTube.

Exploring underground environments

Project Prometheus looked at the inspection and exploration of underground environments, which can only be accessed through 140mm to 150mm boreholes.

The robots can inspect subterranean mines underneath the rail network and other infrastructure, which humans cannot reach, are dark, lack GPS and can be partially flooded.

Assisting with nuclear decommissioning

The NCNR is reducing the need for humans to enter radioactive environments by sending drones to monitor and survey nuclear sites.

The University of Bristol, as part of the NCNR consortium, conducted the first ever drone flight over Chernobyl’s Red Forest, using radiation mapping technology to conduct an aerial survey.

This innovative technology is cheaper, safer and provides more extensive measurements than using manned aircraft.

Last updated: 25 April 2022

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.