A GBP1m government funding competition that will help develop Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) technology in the UK has been launched by Universities and Science Minister David Willetts.

The Technology Strategy Board’s (TSB) investment is for feasibility studies to accelerate the development of RAS concepts where robots are able to interact with each other and humans. They are able to use sensors to learn from their environment, adapting their behaviour and making choices based on their stored knowledge and experiences.

The results could lead to greater commercialisation of technology innovations, the TSB said.

Speaking at the Policy Exchange, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

“This investment will give innovative UK companies the time and space they need to develop Robotics and Autonomous Systems. This is an exciting technology area that could make a real difference to a range of sectors such as high value manufacturing and agriculture.

“We are in a global race to develop new innovations and this competition will give researchers the freedom to explore early-stage ideas which can be demonstrated to potential investors and turned into commercially successful products.”

Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board said:

“The UK has world-class strengths in the underlying science and engineering contributing to these systems and access to the markets that could exploit them so what is needed now is collaboration across multiple sectors of innovators. This will encourage new partnerships so that we find novel solutions to known problems.”

In RAS, service robots work alongside people but act autonomously or semi-autonomously of their control in a number of complex, dynamic environments, some of which are hazardous to humans. For example, Autonomous Systems are playing increasingly important roles in deep sea exploration, the maintenance of oil and gas facilities and space exploration.

The industry offers the opportunity for companies to develop and integrate a range of technologies – for example software engineering, human-machine interaction, modelling and simulation, wireless communications and microprocessors – so that autonomous service robotics can work truly effectively.

It is expected that the competition will also assist UK innovators and researchers in attracting future investment for further research and development and commercialisation from new funding mechanisms such as Horizon 2020, the EU’s new programme for research and innovation, aimed at creating new jobs and growth in Europe. The programme will run from 2014 to 2020 with a budget of EUR80bn.

The Technology Strategy Board funding is for projects that develop early-stage and novel concepts to address identifiable challenges and mitigate risks.  Technical feasibility studies are initial studies undertaken prior to embarking on a subsequent and larger R&D project.

All projects must be collaborative and led by an SME. They will last up to 12 months and each grant is envisaged to be up to GBP133K, although projects outside this range will be considered.

More info on the competition: www.innovateuk.org