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New robotics research centre to support a net zero future


A new international research centre designed to create robotics and autonomous systems that will play a key role in the climate response has been developed in partnership with the University of Manchester and Jacobs.

The Centre for Robotic Autonomy in Demanding and Long-lasting Environments (CRADLE) will research new technologies for demanding and heavily regulated industry sectors such as space, nuclear decommissioning, energy generation and urban infrastructure.

It will work to find advances such as autonomous inspection and repair systems to extend the life of water and energy networks, roads, bridges and railways, that will support the work towards net zero targets.

The new partnership makes use of the research and expertise already being delivered in this area at the University. Last year, the Centre for Robotics and AI developed a robot called Lyra to help transform nuclear infrastructure inspection. The team have also contributed to the Prometheus Underground project, which worked to build a folding drone to allow Network Rail to inspect mine workings quicker, cheaper and with less risk.

Professor Barry Lennox, University of Manchester’s Centre for Robotics and AI Co-Director, said: “CRADLE provides The University of Manchester’s recently established Centre for Robotics and AI with the opportunity to build a relationship with one of the leading organisations involved in applied robotics, helping us to progress our fundamental research in this area, and enabling us deliver impact from the robotic and AI systems that we are developing.”

The centre will be co-funded to a total value of £8.75 million over five years by The University of Manchester, American international engineering company Jacobs, and the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Prosperity Partnerships program, which fosters links between academia and industry. Further in-kind contributions will bring the total up to £10 million.

CRADLE’s research remit covers mechatronics, software and how communities and regulators will engage with future robotic systems.

The University of Manchester will support 12 PhD students in conducting research and performing prototype demonstrations in its Electrical Engineering & Electronics and Computer Science departments, the Manchester Robotics and Artificial Intelligence Centre and at Jacobs’ robotics laboratories in Warrington.

 “Securing this prestigious Prosperity Partnerships grant allows Jacobs and The University of Manchester to research the autonomous systems that industry needs to solve today’s challenges and create a more connected and sustainable world,” Karen Wiemelt, Jacobs Energy, security & technology senior vice president, said. “Robotics is already a core strength of Jacobs’ work in the energy and space sectors and this research collaboration will enable us to develop advanced technologies to help achieve Net Zero targets.”

Dr Andrew Bourne, director of partnerships at EPSRC added: “Prosperity Partnerships demonstrate how business and academia can come together to co-create and co-deliver research and innovation that address industry-driven challenges and deliver economic and societal impact. These new projects showcase the breadth of research and innovation in the UK, covering a wider range of sectors, and support the UK’s ambitions to be a science superpower and an innovation nation.”

The project is one of 19 initiatives receiving part of £149 million, funded jointly by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), which is part of UK Research and Innovation. This includes £4 million from UKRI’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC). This public funding is being matched by a further £88 million from academia and business.

All 19 projects are a significant investment in the UK’s future and are expected to make a real difference to people’s lives.

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