The National Robotarium will be a world-leading centre of excellence for pioneering research, creating innovative solutions to global challenges using cutting-edge research, product design and industry collaboration. Bringing together academics and global companies, the facility aims to be a catalyst for entrepreneurship and is expected to deliver sustainable economic benefit to Edinburgh, the UK and beyond.
The 22.4 million pound UK and Scottish Government funded Robotarium is a collaboration between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh. The 40,000ft ² building will house three distinct research and development areas, providing bespoke facilities for Robotics & Autonomous Systems (RAS), Human & Robotics Interaction (HRI) and High Precision Manufacturing. Amongst the specialist equipment will be dedicated laser labs, an autonomous systems laboratory, and a living lab for trialling the technology in a realistic home setting.
A recent report found the manufacturing and engineering industry as the worst affected by a skills shortage. Professor Yvan Petillot sees the project as benefitting the industry’s young workers. She said, “The National Robotarium will form a centre of excellence for fundamental research and knowledge exchange to address real-world challenges and industry needs.
The cutting-edge resources provided by the new facility combined with the expertise of our researchers will put us in a highly competitive position to elevate the UK onto the global stage in robotics and AI technologies. Our existing and new students will have the opportunity to apply their knowledge by working on real-world problems through internships and industry-led group projects facilitated by the Robotarium, accelerating their skills as they actively shape the future of the field.”
In application, the Robotarium’s key areas of research will focus on hazardous environments, offshore energy, manufacturing, healthcare, human-robot interaction, assisted living and agritech. And the work on some of these projects has already begun. The living lab houses a purpose-built flat and adjacent workshop where robots are being trialled for assisted living care, whilst they develop an ‘explain-ability’ conversational agent so robots and operators can talk. And alongside European and Asian institutes, they are advancing Socially Assistive Robots (SARs), who have the capacity to perform multi-person interactions and social conversation for the first time.
As part of the UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) programme announced in November 2020, the National Robotarium will also spearhead research into ways to manage trust between humans and autonomous systems. The end-goal is to support adoption in scenarios that require human interaction, such as in self-driving cars or autonomous wheelchairs.
Hopes are high on both sides of those involved in the project. UK Government Minister for Scotland Iain Stewart stated, “The creation of the UK’s first National Robotarium in Edinburgh will place Scotland at the forefront of a technological revolution that is changing the way we work.”
Construction is underway, and the National Robotarium is expected to open in Spring 2022.