EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Future Autonomous and Robotic Systems - FARSCOPE

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Aerospace Engineering

Abstract

The global Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) market was $25.5bn in 2001 and is growing. The market potential for future robotics and autonomous systems is of huge value to the UK. The need for expansion in this important sector is well recognised, as evidenced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer's announcement of £35m investment in the sector in 2012, the highlighting of this sector in the 2012 BIS Foresight report 'Technology and Innovation Futures' and the identification of robotics and autonomous systems by the Minister for Universities and Science in 2013 as one of the "8 great technologies" that will drive future growth.

This expansion will be fuelled by a step change in RAS capability, the key to which is their increased adaptability. For example, a home care robot must adapt safely to its owner's unpredictable behaviour; micro air vehicles will be sent into damaged buildings without knowing the layout or obstructions; a high value manufacturing robot will need to manufacture small batches of different components. The key to achieving increased adaptability is that the innovators who develop them must, themselves, be very adaptable people.

FARSCOPE, the Future Autonomous and Robotic Systems Centre for PhD Education, aims to meet the need for a new generation of innovators who will drive the robotics and autonomous systems sector in the coming decade and beyond. The Centre will train over 50 students in the essential RAS technical underpinning skills, the ability to integrate RAS knowledge and technologies to address real-world problems, and the understanding of wider implications and applications of RAS and the ability to innovate within, and beyond, this sector.

FARSCOPE will be delivered by a partnership between the University of Bristol (UoB) and the University of the West of England (UWE). It will bring together the dedicated 3000 square metre Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), one of the largest robotics laboratories in Europe, with a trainin and supervising team drawn from UoB and UWE offering a wide breadth of experience and depth of expertise in autonomous systems and related topics.

The FARSCOPE centre will exploit the strengths of BRL, including medical and healthcare robotics, energy autonomous robotics, safe human-robot interactions, soft robotics, unconventional computing, experimental psychology, biomimicry, machine vision including vision-based navigation and medical imaging and an extensive aerial robotics portfolio including unmanned air vehicles and autonomous flight control. Throughout the four-year training programme industry and stakeholder partners will actively engage with the CDT, helping to deliver the programme and sharing both their domain expertise and their commercial experience with FARSCOPE students. This includes regular seminar series, industrial placements, group 'grand challenge' project, enterprise training and the three-year individual research project. Engaged partners include BAE Systems, DSTL, Blue Bear Systems, SciSys, National Composites Centre, Rolls Royce, Toshiba, NHS SouthWest and OC Robotics. FARSCOPE also has commitment from a range of international partners from across Europe, the Americas and Asia who are offering student exchange placements and who will enhance the global perspective of the programme.

Planned Impact

Rapid growth in the already burgeoning Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) market has been estimated from many sources. This growth is driven by socio-economic needs and enabled by advances in algorithms and technologies converging on robotics. The market potential for applications of robotics and autonomous systems is, therefore, of huge value to the UK. There are four major areas where FARSCOPE will strive to fulfil and deliver on the impact agenda.

1. Training: A coherent strategy for impact must observe the value of the 'innovation pipeline'; from training of world-class researchers to novel products in the 'shop window'. The FARSCOPE training programme described in the Case for Support will produce researchers who will be able to advance knowledge, expertise and skills in the many associated aspects of academic pursuit in the field. Crucially, they will be guided by its industrial partners and BRL's Industrial Advisory Group, so that they are grounded in the real-world context of the many robotics and autonomous systems application domains. This means pursuing research excellence while embracing the challenges set within the context of a range of real-world factors.

2. Economic and Social Exploitation: The elevated position of advanced robotics, in the commercial 'value chain', makes it imperative that we create graduates from our Centre who are acutely aware of this potential. BRL is centrally engaged in its regional SME and business ecology, as evidenced by its recent industry workshop and 'open lab' events, which attracted some 60 and 280 industrial delegates respectively. BRL is also a key contributor to regional economic innovation. BRL has engaged two business managers and allocated some dedicated space to specifically support work on RAS related industrial engagement and innovation and, importantly, technology incubation. BRL will be creating an EU-funded Robotics Innovation Facilities to help coordinating a EUR 20m a programme to specifically promote and encourage direct links between academia and industry with a focus on SMEs. All of these high-impact BRL activities will be fed directly into the FARSCOPE programme.

A critical mass of key industrial and end-user partnerships across a diverse array of sectors have given their support to the FARSCOPE centre. All have indicated their interest in engaging through the FARSCOPE mechanisms identified in the Case for Support. These demonstrate the impact of the FARSCOPE centre in engaging existing, and forming new, strategic partnerships in the RAS field.

3. Fostering links with other Research Institutions and Academic Dissemination: It is essential that FARSCOPE CDT students learn to share best practice with other RAS research centres, both in the UK and beyond. In addition to attendance and presentation at academic conferences nationally and overseas, FARSCOPE will use the following mechanisms to engage with the academic community. BRL has very many strong links with the UK, EU and global RAS research community. We will use these as a basis for cementing existing links and fostering new ones.

4. Engaging the Public: FARSCOPE will train and then encourage its student cohorts to engage with the general public, to educate about the potential of these new technologies, to participate in debates on ethics, safety and legality of autonomous systems, and to enthuse future generations to work in this exciting area. UWE and the University of Bristol, BRL's two supporting institutions, host the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement. In addition, UWE's Science Communication Unit is internationally renowned for its diverse and innovative activities, which engage the public with science. FARSCOPE students will receive guidance and training in public engagement in order to act as worthy RAS research 'ambassadors'.

Publications

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