Government Boosts Robotics and AI Funding

Government Boosts Robotics and AI Funding
29th April 2017 Pentag Gears

The government has announced the first projects and sectors set to benefit from its Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, which will see £1 billion invested in cutting-edge technology.

Among the sectors set to receive a financial boost through the fund is the robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) industry, which is being awarded £93 million over four years to find ways of making industry and public services more efficient.

The money is also set to be used for projects developing AI and robotics technology that can be utilised in the extreme environments experienced in a range of sectors, including deep mining, nuclear power, offshore energy and space.

There is also a focus on moving the UK towards becoming a low-carbon economy, with funding earmarked for developing efficient, affordable and low-carbon batteries for use in electric vehicles, as well as to help businesses embrace a low-carbon future and make changes that can benefit their organisation and the environment.

Within manufacturing, the government will be providing £26 million for research and development activities specifically looking at composite materials that are affordable and lightweight. The idea is that these new materials will be suitable for use in the automotive, aerospace and other advanced manufacturing industries.

Chancellor Philip Hammond commented: “As we leave the EU, we are determined to help Britain’s innovators compete with the best and seize the opportunities ahead.”

He added that this round of funding will help “advance our position as a global leader in developing cutting-edge technologies”.

Innovate UK, the government’s innovation department, has already supported a range of projects within the energy and engineering sectors.

One that’s been highlighted is the development of snake-arm robots by OC Robotics, which can be utilised in the nuclear energy sector, as well as within aerospace.

At the end of last year, the company showcased its LaserSnake 2 – a snake-arm robot integrated with laser cutting technology – that was utilised in decommissioning work at Sellafield in a world-first active deployment in a cell.

This is just one example of a project that’s been funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund so far.

Dr Ruth McKernan, chief executive of Innovate UK, said that announcing the new wave of challenges gives “businesses the green light to start finding solutions to some of our major societal and industrial challenges”.

She added that these projects also ensure that the full economic impact of discoveries and work within the UK’s “world-class science base” is felt.

The news that the nuclear energy sector is set to benefit from some of this funding could be welcome after a report published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers last month suggested that leaving the EU could put decommissioning plans in danger, as well as stall the development of new nuclear reactors in the UK.

When the UK exits the EU, it would also leave the Euratom treaty, which is a research programme to support development within the nuclear sector to enhance safety, security and radiation protection.

The report stressed that leaving this treaty shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought and that new measures for accountability and control need to be introduced to the UK’s nuclear sector.

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