6 December 2017 17:00

Lancaster University and partners have been awarded £1.3M to lead a break-through robotics and AI project funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

The project ‘Collaborative Technology Hardened for Underwater and Littoral Hazardous Environments’ brings together a team which will tackle some of the complex and wide ranging challenges associated with decommissioning active nuclear processing plants.

The team includes UK multinational defence technology company QinetiQ and a number of the UK's innovative technology providers such as The Nuvia UK Ltd, Bristol Maritime Robotics and FORTIS Remote Technology.

The project will research and develop autonomous systems – or robotic devices - that exploit machine learning technologies in order to make it safer to inspect and maintain hazardous spaces.

The award is part of £68 million awarded from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) to support research and innovation projects in robotics and artificial intelligence systems.

Announced at Innovate 2017 by Climate Change and Industry Minister Claire Perry, the awards and are part of the Government’s £93 million funding for the robotics and AI in extreme environments programme through the ISCF, which was announced in the Budget of April 2017.

The programme aims to develop robotic solutions to make a safer working environment in industries such as off-shore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining, increase productivity and open up new cross disciplinary opportunities, not currently available.

Professor Plamen Angelov, Lancaster University, said: “This award is a recognition of the research into autonomous and intelligent systems that we were involved in over the last decade. Primarily we have focussed on airborne systems but we are now moving into underwater environments. We will develop and implement our recent fast and transparent deep learning methods for object recognition and scene analysis in extremely challenging environments. Using non-traditional inputs, we will also play an important role in developing the autonomy of these systems including collision detection and avoidance, decision making and coordination.”

The ISCF is a strategic element of the Government’s Industrial Strategy that aims to ensure the UK continues to be one of the best places in the world for science and innovation.

Innovate UK and the Research Councils are taking a leading role in delivering this funding, operating across the country, to ensure the UK secures maximum benefit from science and innovation.

Ruth McKernan, Chief Executive of Innovate UK, said of the ISCF investments: “These pioneering projects driven by the very best minds in UK research and industry exemplify the huge potential of what can be achieved through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and the long-term benefits for the UK economy. These are just the first competitions in robotics and AI, there will be further opportunities for businesses in the coming months.”

NERC's Chief Executive, Professor Duncan Wingham said: “These sensors will help us to better understand our oceans, helping us to manage them sustainably for the future. The projects will develop ambitious new technologies that work in hazardous and extreme environments, maintaining the UK's world-class status in marine robotics. Other industries, such as the water, aquaculture and industrial waste, are also likely to benefit from these technologies.”