£11m robotics hub announced for University of Birmingham

The University of Birmingham is to receive more than £11m to help it establish a new National Centre for Nuclear Robotics.

The new centre will aim to develop advanced robotics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies for nuclear industry applications to help deal with nuclear waste, and alleviate the need to send humans into hazardous environments.

It will also help to maintain and monitor the UK’s existing nuclear power stations, and facilitate the safe building and operation of new-build nuclear power-plants.

The centre is one of four projects around the country to receive funding as part of a £68m investment from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for robotics and artificial intelligence projects aimed at improving safety in extreme environments.

The NCNR will be led by Professor Rustam Stolkin and partnering Birmingham in the venture will be the universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Essex, Lincoln, West of England, Lancaster University, Queen Mary University of London.

Climate Change and Industry Minister Claire Perry set out the funding at a speech to the Innovate UK Conference in Birmingham.

In addition to Birmingham, the three other new research hubs are being based at the University of Manchester, University of Surrey and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.

As well as receiving government investment, the four hubs will be supported by £52m of industry support from commercial and international partners, and the UK Space Agency is co-funding the University of Surrey hub.

The Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear (RAIN) Hub at the University of Manchester involves robotics and nuclear engineering experts across the UK and international partners from the US, Italy and Japan.

The project, which is being supported by £11.9m of ISCF funding, will undertake world-leading research and develop innovative technologies to address the challenges facing the nuclear industry, from decommissioning and waste management to fusion, plant life extension and new build.

Partner universities are Oxford, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Lancaster, Bristol and the UKAEA’s RACE centre.

The Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets (ORCA) Hub at Heriot-Watt University will received £14.3m to help develop robotics and AI technologies for use in extreme and unpredictable environments. The Hub will create robot-assisted asset inspection and maintenance technologies that are capable of making autonomous and semi-autonomous decisions and interventions across aerial, topside and marine domains.

Partner universities will be Edinburgh, Oxford and Liverpool, Imperial College London.

The aim of Future AI and Robotics for Space (FAIR-SPACE) at the University of Surrey is to go beyond the-state-of-the-art in robotic sensing and perception, mobility and manipulation, on-board and on-ground autonomous capabilities, and human-robot interaction, to enable space robots to perform more complex tasks on long-duration missions with minimal dependence on ground crew.

The project has received £6.7m of ISCF funding and partner universities are Edinburgh, Liverpool, Salford and Warwick, plus Imperial College London.

Ms Perry said:

“Britain leads the world in innovation and technology and through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, we are making £68m available to projects in robotics and artificial intelligence with applications in clean renewable energy generation to ensure the UK is the place new technology is nurtured.

“Next week, I will be at the COP23 conference in Germany, and it will be abundantly clear there that, if we want to truly make a difference to our climate as well as take advantage of the economic opportunities of our transition to a low carbon economy, it will come down to continued innovation.”

Originally published on The Business Desk.

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