The UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, on robotics and automation:
In the long run it is technical change which determines our economic growth – we become more productive not by more back-breaking labour but by working with more knowledge in our heads and more equipment in our hands.
That knowledge and that equipment are achieved through scientific and technological advance.
The Chancellor identified eight areas that the government believes “we (Britain) already have an edge, but we could be world-leading:”
- The Data Revolution and energy-efficient computing
- Synthetic Biology: Harnessing the $100 billion Bioeconomy
- Regenerative Medicine
- Energy Storage and the stockpiling of electricity
- Advanced Materials and Nano-technology
- Robotics and Autonomous Systems
- Opportunities to be a world leader in satellites and commercial applications of Space technology
Speaking specifically on robotics and autonomous systems the Chancellor said:
And we should work on Robotics and Autonomous Systems – a seventh critical technology.
Robots acting independently of human control – which can learn, adapt and take decisions – will revolutionise our economy and society over the next 20 years.
Our wider manufacturing industry has so far been a slow adopter of industrial robotics – the UK has 25 robots per 10,000 employees in non-automotive sectors; whilst Japan leads the world with 235 robots per 10,000 employees.
Our researchers have some distinctive leads which we can exploit.
NASA’s Mars Rover vehicle is largely controlled from Earth with a 7 minute delay as instructions travel to Mars. The European Mars Rover vehicle, due to land in 2018, is more autonomous and is mainly British technology.
In the Bristol Robotics Laboratory they are developing self-powering robots which collect dead flies and other detritus and place it in a back pack container of bacteria which converts this into electric power.
The UK can lead in developing these technologies for sectors as diverse as defence, healthcare, manufacturing, transport, entertainment and education.
Here are some examples. One of the world’s first fully autonomous cars has been developed at Oxford with close involvement of the car industry.
At the University of Hertfordshire they are making breakthroughs in helping profoundly autistic children who find it easier to interact with a humanoid robot than a human.
The market for medical robotics is growing around 50% annually worldwide. The UK has a strong track record in pioneering medical and surgical robotics.
They can enable operations to be done remotely.
They can replace hands and arms. Exo-skeletons give movement for severely disabled people with controls linked directly to the brain.
The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council funds some of this research.
It is also a key strand of the Technology Strategy Board’s support for advanced manufacturing.
There is a small budget to encourage SMEs to shift to robotic manufacturing techniques but they need to be able to try out these techniques at demonstration facilities.
David Willetts has convened a series of meetings so academia and industry and government can develop a strategy for future investment decisions.
Timelines relating to the ‘Eight Great Technologies” can be found here:
What do you think?