Robots for a safer world: Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund

An overview of government's programme to develop safer and more productive technologies for working in extreme environments.

What is the robots for a safer world challenge?

The robots for a safer world challenge is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

Government will invest £93 million to develop new technologies and systems that can be deployed in extreme environments, for industries such as nuclear energy, offshore energy, deep mining and space.

By investing in this area, we should create a safer work for people, improve productivity and support advances in industry and public services.

The fund will support research and innovation to stimulate the development of robotics and artificial intelligence systems. It should allow the UK to access new opportunities in a global market that’s estimated to be worth between $1.7 and $4.5 trillion by 2025.

Innovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will deliver the challenge on behalf of UK Research and Innovation.

Robots for a Safer World challenge

The funding is in 2 areas:

  • collaborative research and development (CR&D) and demonstrator projects
  • research hubs for robotics

CR&D and demonstrator projects

Innovate UK will run funding competitions for businesses to lead collaborative research and development projects in robotics and AI systems development. It will also run demonstrator feasibility studies.

Any business may be eligible to apply to lead a project, so long as they are based in the UK, carry out their project and exploit the results here.

All projects must involve at least one small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) and can be carried out alone or in collaboration with other businesses, research organisations or the third sector.

CR&D projects could look at:

  • innovative materials or systems, for example, actuators, sensors and telecommunications
  • improved robotic capabilities, such as structural and radiation tolerance
  • improved machine vision systems
  • improved situational awareness, navigation, localisation and mapping
  • more energy-efficient devices and systems
  • miniaturised systems, for example, sensors, components and integrated sub-systems
  • systems engineering including verification and validation tools and methodologies
  • mission planning and risk management

Demonstrator projects should focus on the technical feasibility of individual technologies, systems or subsystems in extreme environments.

Funded projects

The first competition in this area provided £16.5 million for CR&D projects and £3 million for demonstrators, to support collaborations between businesses, universities and research organisations.

One of the projects to receive funding is led by Thurn Group. The project will use autonomous vessels to survey ice retreat and better understand the threats of the surviving ice. This will make it easier to plot when it’s safe for people to use shipping routes, or install or make changes to offshore infrastructure.

Robotics challenge - Thurn Group

Another project, led by Perceptual Robotics, focuses on using integrated drones in the maintenance of offshore wind farms.

It will use drones to inspect and assess blade faults, meaning that people won’t need to navigate potentially dangerous seas or oceans. This will also reduce costs and time.

Robotics challenge - Perceptual Robotics

Research hubs for robotics

£44.5 million from government and £52 million from industry and commercial partners is being invested to set up 4 research hubs for robotics.

The hubs will lead investigations into offshore energy, nuclear energy and space. They should open up new opportunities for cross-disciplinary research to create new advances in robotics and allow us to explore environments that are too dangerous for humans to enter without risking injury or ill-health.

They will span the University of Manchester, University of Birmingham, Heriot-Watt University and University of Surrey. The University of Surrey hub is being co-funded by the UK Space Agency.

The programme is being managed by the EPSRC.

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Published 18 April 2018
Last updated 14 August 2018 + show all updates
  1. Removed section on ocean sensor research projects, which are being funded through a different Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund area.
  2. First published.