A new national robotics research centre will receive a share of £25m to improve collaborative technology and help businesses unlock the full potential of automated industrial manufacturing.

The University of Strathclyde is a partner in the Made Smarter Innovation Research Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics, which aims to advance smart manufacturing by eliminating barriers and accelerating widespread use of smart collaborative robotics technology, to unlock the full potential of the UK industry in productivity, quality, and adaptability.

The centre, led by Loughborough University will bring together a team of world-class experts with experience in manufacturing, engineering, digital technology, robotics, human-factors, verification and safety, law, psychology, systems engineering, metrology, and information communications technology.

It also includes key organisations across core UK industrial sectors including aerospace, automotive, agri-food, green energy, construction, and space. Cranfield University, the University of Warwick, and the University of Bristol are other partners in the project.

The key priority areas for research and innovation in the centre are:

  • Collaboration: Robotic systems need better models of how people naturally interact with others to start truly collaborating with them and fully leverage their respective strength
  • Autonomy: Robots need to extend their sensory perception and autonomous cognition capabilities to effectively carry out increasingly complex tasks, deal with variations, and disruptive changes.
  • Responsiveness: The process of designing, verifying, validating, deploying, and operating automation needs to become more accessible for a wider range of people and organisations
  • Acceptance: The societal, cultural, and economic impact of automation needs to be better explored to inform future policy, regulations, and education requirements.

Professor Xiu Yan, of Strathclyde’s Department of Design, Manufacturing and Engineering Management, is the University’s lead investigator. He said: “Collaborative working among human operators, robots and other manufacturing machineries raises many research challenges. This distributed research centre will become a great enabler for investigating new ways of configuring and reconfiguring these ‘actors’ for different manufacturing tasks.

“It will be exciting to tackle the challenges faced by multiple sectors from both technological and legal perspectives and see the solutions we can produce. At the University of Strathclyde, we are operators of the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS), which is part of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult (HVMC) and we look forward to collaborating with our industrial partners to devise these novel solutions.” 

The research centre will create a multi-disciplinary, cross-sectorial hub, setting the national research agenda in smart, collaborative industrial robotics, and deliver the next generation of automated factories. It will focus both on fundamental research to seed new breakthrough technologies needed to make automation more responsive, collaborative, and safe as well as industry-initiated feasibility demonstration projects to raise awareness of emerging automation capabilities.

The centre is one of five university-led research centres which are being funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and Made Smarter, as part of a wider £300 million partnership between government, industry, Catapults, and academia led by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.