November 21, 2016      

British science and technology agency Innovate UK has called on businesses around the country to compete for a share of £5 million ($6.24 million) to develop applications of robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) and exemplify U.K. innovation.

From July through October, the agency welcomed proposals for both physical systems — such as a next-generation robot — and digital technology, including automated decision-making systems.

The latest call for proposals is part of the U.K.’s ongoing effort to encourage development of robotics and automated systems (RAS), explained Rod Alexander, media relations specialist at Innovate UK.

The British government wants to promote work countrywide toward remotely controlled, cooperative, and automated robots — as well as “software-only” and fully autonomous systems.

“Note that we reserve the term ‘autonomous’ for systems that include artificial intelligence technologies like learning, reasoning, knowledge representation, planning, or other higher level cognition,” Alexander said.

Business takeaways:

  • Innovate UK is now reviewing proposals for hardware and software robots competing for £5 million ($6.24 million) in government funding.
  • The British agency hopes to increase coordination between academia and industry, as well as tap into growing markets for robotics and AI.
  • Service robots and business process automation are particular areas of focus and investment for U.K. innovation.

Landscape and value network

Although Innovate UK has allocated more than £30 million ($37.45 million) on RAS technologies since 2009, Alexander revealed that this is only the second RAS-specific call for proposals and competition. It is designed with three key objectives in mind.

Innovate UK logo

First, the program seeks to “enable and expedite” the creation of RAS processes, products, or services by U.K. businesses that can commercially deployed in different sectors of the global economy.

Second, it aims to connect scientific knowledge from academia with business know-how and expertise. By introducing the products to potential RAS end users, the program aims to improve the “combined capabilities” of the U.K.’s innovation “landscape and value network.”

Third, the agency plans to use the examples of U.K. innovation to “test and seed the ground for a possible subsequent RAS Catapult Centre investment.”

“We do not put many constraints on the technological theme or market areas we are welcoming proposals in,” Alexander said. “We would like to have multi-technology projects potentially addressing many markets.”

More on U.K. Innovation and Robotics:

U.K. innovation benefits from world-leading strengths

Many of the proposals likely focused on a range of “disruptive technologies” highlighted by Innovate UK, including mobile internet, automation of knowledge work, advanced robotics, and automated and autonomous vehicles.

The agency predicts that these technologies have the potential for an “annual economic impact of U.S. $9.8 trillion to 19.3 trillion in 2025.” Innovate UK also said it believes the U.K. has “world-leading strengths in the underlying science and engineering that contribute to RAS,” as well as “access to the markets that could exploit them.”

In addition, Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged £2 billion ($2.49 billion) for scientific research and development, as well as tax incentives to reassure companies worried about the U.K.’s exit from the EU.

Alexander said he is confident that the prospects for U.K. innovation in robotics and AI are strong. Although the “boundaries are blurred,” he singled out “advanced and cognitive service robotics, probably for adverse, domestic, or field environments” as an area with a great deal of growth potential over the next few years.

“RAS, combining robotics and artificial intelligence technologies, will have an impact on the future global economy, workforce, and job market,” Alexander said. “While at this point in time there is no overarching government strategy on RAS, we consider that this competition could provide one of the inputs towards the creation of such a strategy.”

“In any case, investment towards an RAS Catapult Centre and a broader investment program helping companies towards the development of products and services that they could sell in areas where it is not too late for U.K. companies to gain market share appears to be an appropriate path forward,” he added.