LONDON - Two UK universities have opened the largest robotics laboratory in Europe as the UK government announced a £16M ($25 million) boost for research.
The Bristol Robotics Lab is a partnership between UWE Bristol (University of the West of England) and the University of Bristol. It is home to 70 academics and businesses who are leading current thinking in 'nouvelle' and service robotics, intelligent autonomous systems and bio-engineering. Over £1.65 million (about $2.65 million) has been spent on the new facilities which cover 2,400 sqm, with over 300 meters of specialized laboratory space and two Flying Arenas.
"This is probably the largest robotics lab in Europe," said Libor Kral, Head of Unit Cognitive Systems for Interaction Robotics at the European Commission. Robotics is a key element for Europe, he says. "In the current framework we have over 100 project and 500 million euros for robotics enabling technology and this is the largest no-military funding project in the world for robotics." The next set of European Framework projects will concentrate more on industrial led developments and new efforts to attract industrial partners, he said.
UK Science Minister David Willetts opened the lab, which includes the CHRIS project on robot human interaction, energy autonomy, soft robots, robots that use whiskers to find their way around and small Unmanned Air Systems (UAS). He will also see the European project Mobiserv which is looking at ways of using robots in helping to care for older people, a project using robots to help reset broken bones, research that will look at the ethical, legal and social issues around robots and work in non-linear robotics control. The SYMBRION project looks at the way swarms of robots can evolve and adapt together into different organisms based on bio-inspired approaches.
He also announced £16m funding for 22 robotics projects around the UK including the Universities of Bristol, Bath, Oxford and Newcastle and the participation of BAE Systems, Schlumberger and other industrial partners.
"We are on the threshold of an exciting new era in robotics in the UK and BRL is already making significant contributions in many areas," said Professor Chris Melhuish, director of BRL. "Our interdisciplinary research focuses on key areas of robot capabilities and applications ranging from human-robot interaction, medical robotics, soft robots with artificial muscles, giving robots a sense of touch to autonomous flying robots and robots that turn biomass into energy. By bringing together researchers including biologists, electronics and mechanical engineers, surgeons, psychologists, aerodynamicists, computer scientists, mathematicians, material scientists as well as industry we are able to explore new exciting areas of research and new applications which have an impact on new businesses."
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