A government-backed £68m robotics and AI fund has just launched

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) is aimed at businesses that can improve health and safety in extreme environments such as the deep sea

A new government-backed £68m robotics and AI fund has just launched.

The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) is aimed at businesses that can improve health and safety in extreme environments.

Recipients will use the funds to develop robots that can take on jobs in the freezing depths of the North Sea, the extreme environments in the process of nuclear energy production, the hostile vacuum of space, and the heat of deep mining.

Of the total pot, £45m will be used to set up four new research hubs based at the University of Manchester, University of Birmingham, University of Surrey and Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh and will be managed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The four excellent centres will also bag £52m of industry support from commercial and international partners, with the UK Space Agency co-funding the University of Surrey hub.

The ISCF has also pumped funds into the following:

  • The National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (£11.3m): Project partners are the universities of Bristol, Edinburgh, Essex, Lincoln, the West of England, Lancaster and Queen Mary.
  • The Robotics and Artificial Intelligence for Nuclear(£11.9m): Project partners are the universities of Oxford, Liverpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Bristol and the UK Atomic Energy Authority’s RACE centre.
  • The Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets (ORCA) (£14.3m): Project partners are the universities of Edinburgh, Oxford and Liverpool, and Imperial College London.
  • The Future AI and Robotics for Space (£6.7m): Project partners are Imperial College London, and the universities of Edinburgh, Liverpool, Salford and Warwick.

The Natural Environment Research Council also received £4.3m to fund five research projects at the National Oceanography Centre and the universities of Exeter and Southampton to develop sensors capable of working in the ocean’s extreme conditions.

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With £16.5m also going towards a collaborative research and development competition run by Innovate UK, with winners set to include more than 70 businesses, 13 universities and ten research organisations.

Claire Perry, climate change and industry minister, 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.”

Professor Philip Nelson, chief executive of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, said:

“These new Robotics Hubs will draw on the country’s research talent to nurture new developments in the field of robotics and provide the foundations on which innovative technologies can be built.

“The resulting outcomes from this research will allow us to explore environments that are too dangerous for humans to enter without risking injury or ill-health. The Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund is helping us achieve a joined up approach to research, discovery and innovation.”