EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems (AIMS)

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Engineering Science


In the next decade our economy and society will be revolutionised by ubiquitous Autonomous, Intelligent Machines and Systems, which can learn, adapt, take decisions and act independently of human control. They will work for us and beside us, assist us, and interact and communicate with us. The UK has the opportunity to become a world-leader in developing these technologies for sectors as diverse as energy, transport, environment, manufacturing and aerospace. This CDT directly addresses the present need to train future leaders capable of accelerating innovation in autonomy, and promoting it to some of the UK's largest sectors. This requirement can be met by cohorts of highly-trained individuals versed in the underpinning sciences of robotics, embedded systems, machine learning, wireless networks, control, computer vision, statistics & data analysis, design and verification. These disciplines are intimately related via the application and development of mathematical models and techniques implemented on computers to make predictions, take optimal decisions, perform inference and actions that are robust in the face of uncertainties at all levels. The synthesis of a range of disciplines is absolutely essential to train individuals in all aspects of autonomy, who will then be able to credibly communicate with large technical teams, and pioneer disruptive technologies into industrial labs. This CDT is focused on student training in algorithms, devices, and data feeds inherent to autonomous, intelligent machines & systems. To create and understand these complex systems, students need to be trained to program, embed and design software, to implement established and novel algorithms efficiently and correctly and to develop and apply models and decompositions which lie at the core of approaches to control, communicate, learn from, interpret and distil the large volumes of data endemic to autonomous systems. We believe that for a training centre to achieve its full potential in the AIMS area, it must recognise and respond to the synthesis of a number of component technologies. Students belonging to this CDT will be trained in both the fundamentals of autonomous systems engineering and the latest approaches and perspectives.

The UK is faced with an increasing technology skills shortage, with a recent (2012) large-scale survey reporting that half of all key UK industries surveyed suffer from a worsening skills shortage (net.org.uk/news, June 2012). This is even more acute in high-tech industry and requires core investment in teaching highly-qualified cohorts. More specifically, the commercial potential of Autonomous Systems for the UK is tremendous, as demonstrated by the recent AAD KTN (Aerospace, Aviation & Defence Knowledge Transfer Network) study. Their research indicates "an untapped short term market value of circa £7bn per annum just for relatively low level autonomy products and services". Developing skills in designing and deploying autonomous systems will offer significant opportunities for growth to high priority sectors, as diverse as manufacturing, energy, smart buildings, intelligent transport systems, and defence. These sectors are in need of rapid change to reach targets of national importance, while still being able to compete in the global market. One of the main targets is the reduction of greenhouse gas emission (by 80% by 2050), which calls for energy-aware autonomous systems to become a cross-cutting technology in our society. Another driver of change is the growing and ageing population, which advocates the need for autonomous telecare, transport, efficient usage of public/private infrastructure, safety and security. Changing demographics, combined with strict emissions targets and budget cuts, raise unique challenges and opportunities for revolutionising key UK sectors.

Planned Impact

The UK is faced with an increasing skills shortage, with a recent (2012) large-scale survey reporting that half of all key UK industries surveyed suffer from a worsening skills shortage. This is even more acute in high-tech industry and requires core investment in teaching highly-qualified cohorts, not only the foundational theoretical underpinning in this CDT's remit, but also the acumen to bring this theory to bear on a range of real problems. This CDT will promote training in transformative research that will revolutionise and intertwine theory and practice. If we are to train a generation of researchers to lead in the use of pervasive computation we must actively promote interconnecting research areas. The CDT directly addresses the Autonomous Systems & Robotics priority area and interlinks with priorities in Digitally Connected Citizens, New Digital Ventures, and smart Energy Systems and Digital Healthcare. Furthermore, the CDT has strong links to several current EPSRC challenge themes: 1) Manufacturing the Future: Sustainable manufacturing can only be achieved via autonomy, and machine intelligence at global scale. In today's market, the UK's competitive advantage lies in training highly-skilled researchers that will be able to pioneer distributed autonomous systems into manufacturing processes. 2) Energy: Intelligence and autonomy are key to energy-efficient driving and transportation systems, smart energy grids and efficient use of sparse resources. 3) Digital Economy: Intelligent machines and systems can assist people and give them control over their lives in a number of contexts, such as assisted living, home healthcare, transportation, skill & knowledge transfer and telepresence. 4) Living with Environmental Change: Intelligent hand-held devices and participatory sensing will extend environmental monitoring to unprecedented spatial and temporal scales, building real sensor systems and citizen science platforms to monitor the environment, pollutants and biodiversity.

The CDT will allow us to bring together our collaborations with industrial partners into a unique consortium, which will underpin the student training program, from fundamentals to development, deployment and use. The CDT has secured support not only from the University, but also from a team of industrial partners, who share our vision. We have support from an impressive list of companies, from global multi-nationals and large corporations, such as BAE Systems, BP, Schlumberger & YouGov (internships, studentships and membership of the external steering group), Microsoft, Google, Honeywell, Ascending Technologies, SciSys & Man Group (internships & part of our external steering group), ABB, Infosys, QinetiQ (internships and studentships). Industry and commerce will have an active participation in the CDT programme via internships and studentships; provision of short lectures highlighting the practical application of the taught material; proposing first-year research projects; membership of the steering committee; industrial placements into Oxford. Industrial participation, at all levels, will enhance the quality of the training programme and provide access to a unique pool of CDT talent. We believe that our approach to industrial engagement places realistic requirements on both industry and students.

The benefits of the CDT will be many-fold. The students will benefit via a strong foundation in the principles & practice of autonomous & intelligent systems and subsequent research with world-leading groups. The enthusiasm shown by a range of industries indicates an appetite for engaging with the student cohort, promoting clear dissemination, impact and collaboration routes benefiting industry, academia and the UK economy.


10 25 50