July 01, 2014      

Fearful it’s falling behind, the UK government has created its first official robotics strategy, and upped its financial commitment, to ensure the country’s robotics industry keeps pace with the countries leading the global robotics race.

The government’s Technology Strategy Board has been granted $685 million in funds for the next year, $257 million of which will be invested into robotics and autonomous systems (RAS). The UK government hopes the RAS 2020 strategy, which you can read about in detail here, will allow it to garner a 10 percent share of the global robotics market by 2025, which will then be worth an estimated $120 billion.

The RAS 2020 strategy recommends the following:

  1. Invest further in the five RAS strategy strands: coordination, assets, challenges, clusters and skills to build the UK?s RAS capability
  2. Establish the means for funding agencies to formally work together in execution, so that ideas, people and activity flow readily from basic investigation through early stage demonstration to fully trialed commercial product
  3. Establish a RAS Leadership Council to engage with senior leaders across a range of sectors in industry, academia and Government, providing independent advisory oversight of planning and execution of the strategy
  4. Further develop engagement with the EU, investors and corporate resources in the UK and overseas to fuel the development of the 5 strands
  5. Continue to consult widely on potential Assets and cross sector Grand Challenges
  6. Continue to develop dialogue with those involved in standards and regulation, such as BSI and CAA, to develop more detailed thinking
  7. Extend outreach and public engagement activities to continue changing public perceptions and improve understanding of public concerns
  8. Articulate to businesses and investors internationally (e.g. through UKTI) that the UK aims to be the best place to invest in taking RAS technologies to market

As part of the RAS 2020 strategy, farms, lakes, entire towns, abandoned mines and decommissioned nuclear facilities will become test centers the UK’s latest robots. The streets of Milton Keynes, a town just north of London, for example, has already been designated the test center for driverless cars beginning in March 2015.

Related: Why the UK’s $257M Plan Isn’t Enough

?These are exciting times for Milton Keynes that is being recognized, not only nationally but internationally, as a smart city at the cutting edge of new technology,” Cllr Rob Middleton, cabinet member responsible for Resources, Efficiency and Growth tells the Milton Keynes Citizen. ?By being one of the first to take on the challenge next year it means Milton Keynes residents can be among the first to benefit from technologies that will improve the lives of all our residents in the city now and for future generations.?

The test centers, once established, will host a series of “Grand Challenges” specific to their respective robots. “If we are going to have robots interacting with people we need to make sure they work properly, but we also need to understand how people behave around them. We need to get used to the idea of working with robots,” David Lane, chair of the Technology Strategy Board’s RAS special interest group, tells The Guardian.

David Lane, a professor at Heriot-Watt University, tells The Guardian that this new strategy is a welcomed change. “We need to provide a business environment in the UK that is geared towards helping robotic and autonomous technologies out of the lab and into the marketplace. The UK has an exceptional heritage in many of the industries where robotics can be most useful.?

According to the Technology Strategy Board, the laws governing drones and driverless vehicles will also be reconsidered to allow for more freedom during testing.

Adds professor Noel Sharkey of the University of Sheffield to the BBC, “the UK is the lowest user of industrial robotics in the technically developed nations of Europe – well behind Spain and Italy. We have a lot of robotics talent in our universities with enormous potential to bring the UK to hi-tech glory.”