EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Future Autonomous Robotic Systems (FARSCOPE-TU: Towards Ubiquity)

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

Abstract

FARSCOPE-TU (Towards Ubiquity) will train a new generation of "T-shaped roboticists" in the priority area of Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS). T-shaping means graduates will combine the depth of individual PhD research experience with broad awareness of the priority area, including technical tools and topics spanning multiple disciplines. Breadth will be enhanced by strong understanding of the industrial and societal context in which future RAS will operate. These graduates will meet the need for future innovators in RAS, evidenced by industrial partner demand and growing research investment, to deliver potential UK global leadership in the RAS area. That need spans many applications and technologies, so FARSCOPE-TU adopts a broad and ambitious vision of RAS ubiquity, motivating the research challenge to make RAS that are significantly more interactive with their environments.
The FARSCOPE-TU training experience has been carefully designed to support T-shaping by bringing in students from many disciplines and upskilling them through an integrated programme of individual research and cohort activities, which mix together throughout the four years of study. The FARSCOPE-TU research challenge necessitates multidisciplinary thinking, as the enabling technologies of computer science and engineering interface with questions of psychology, biology, policy, ethics, law and more. Students from this diverse range of backgrounds will be recruited, with reskilling supported through fundamental training and peer learning at the outset. The first year will be organized as a formal programme of study, equivalent to a Masters degree. The remaining three years will focus on PhD research, punctuated by mandatory cohort-based training to refresh first year content and all subject to annual progress monitoring. Topics will include responsible innovation, enterprise, public engagement, and industrial context.
FARSCOPE-TU has formed partnerships with 19 organizations who share its vision, have helped co-create the training programme, and span technologies and applications that align with the CDT's broad interpretation of RAS. Partner engagement will be central to covering industrial context training. Partners and the FARSCOPE-TU team have also co-created a flexible programme of engagement mechanisms, designed to support a diverse set of partner sizes and interests, to allow collaborations to evolve, and to be responsive to potential new partners. The programme includes mentoring, mutual training by and for partners, collaboration on research and industry projects, sponsorship and leveraged funding opportunities. Partners have committed £2.5M in leverage to support FARSCOPE-TU including 15 studentships from the hosts and 12 sponsored places from industry.
FARSCOPE-TU will promote equality, diversity and inclusion both internally and, since the vision includes robots interacting with society, in its research. For example, FARSCOPE-TU could consider how training data bias would affect equality of interaction between humans and home assistance robots. FARSCOPE-TU will instigate a high-profile Single Equality Scheme named "Inclusive Robotics" that combines operational initiatives, including explicit targets, with events and training, linked to responsible innovation and human interaction.
FARSCOPE-TU will deliver a joint PhD award, badged by partners University of Bristol and University of the West of England. The CDT will be run through their established Bristol Robotics Lab partnership, providing over 4,500sqm dedicated RAS laboratory space and a community of over 50 supervisors. BRL's existing FARSCOPE CDT provides the security of a strong track record, with 46 students recruited in four cohorts so far and an approved joint programme. FARSCOPE-TU builds on that experience with a revised first year to support diverse intake and early partner engagement, enhanced contextual training, the new T-shape concept and the wider ubiquity vision.

Planned Impact

FARSCOPE-TU will deliver a step change in UK capabilities in robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) by elevating technologies from niche to ubiquity. It meets the critical need for advanced RAS, placing the UK in prime position to capture a significant proportion of the estimated $18bn global market in advanced service robotics. FARSCOPE-TU will provide an advanced training network in RAS, pump priming a generation of professional and adaptable engineers and leaders who can integrate fundamental and applied innovation, thereby making impact across all the "four nations" in EPSRC's Delivery Plan. Specifically, it will have significant immediate and ongoing impact in the following six areas:
1. Training: The FARSCOPE-TU coherent strategy will deliver five cohorts trained in state-of-the-art RAS research, enterprise, responsible innovation and communication. Our students will be trained with wide knowledge of all robotics, and deep specialist skills in core domains, all within the context of the 'innovation pipeline', meeting the need for 'can-do' research engineers, unafraid to tackle new and emergent technical challenges. Students will graduate as future thought leaders, ready for deployment across UK research and industrial innovation.
2. Partner and industrial impact: The FARSCOPE-TU programme has been designed in collaboration with our industrial and end-user partners, including: DSTL; Thales; Atkins; Toshiba; Roke Manor Research; Network Rail; BT; National Nuclear Lab; AECOM; RNTNE Hospital; Designability; Bristol Heart Inst.; FiveAI; Ordnance Survey; TVS; Shadow Robot Co.; React AI; RACE (part of UKAEA) and Aimsun. Partners will deliver context and application-oriented training direct to the students throughout the course, ensuring graduates are perfectly placed to transition into their businesses and deliver rapid impact.
3. RAS community: FARSCOPE-TU will act as multidisciplinary centre in robotics and autonomous systems for the whole RAS community, provide an inclusive model for future research and training centres and bring new opportunities for networking between other centres. These include joint annual conference with other RAS CDTs and training exchanges. FARSCOPE-TU will generate significant international exposure within and beyond the RAS community, including major robotics events such as ICRA and IROS, and will interface directly with the UK-RAS network.
4. Societal Impact: FARSCOPE-TU will promote an informed debate on the adoption of autonomous robotics in society, cutting through hype and fear while promoting the highest levels of ethics and safety. All students will design and deliver public engagement events to schools and the public, generating knock-on impact in two ways: greater STEM uptake enhances future economic potential, and greater awareness makes people better users of robots, amplifying societal benefits.
5. Economic impact: FARSCOPE-TU will not only train cohorts in fundamental and applied research but will also demonstrate how to bridge the "technology valley of death" between lower and higher TRL. This will enable students to exploit their ideas in technology incubators (incl. BRL incubator, SetSquared and EngineShed) and through IP protection. FARSCOPE-TU's vision of ubiquitous robotics will extend its impact across all UK industrial and social sectors, from energy suppliers, transport and agriculture to healthcare, aging and human-machine interaction. It will pump-prime ubiquitous UK robotics, inspiring and enabling myriad new businesses and economic and social impact opportunities.
6. Long-term Impact: FARSCOPE-TU will have long-term impact beyond the funded lifetime of the Centre through a network for alumni, enabling knowledge exchange and networking between current and past students, and with partners and research groups. FARSCOPE-TU will have significant positive impact on the 80-strong non-CDT postgraduate student body in BRL, extending best-practice in supervision and training.

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