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£35m facility will focus on safety of robotic systems

13 August, 2019

The University of York in the UK is to establish a £35m research facility aimed at ensuring the safety of robotics and other systems that use artificial intelligence. The York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy will house specialist laboratories and testing facilities – bringing together industrial partners and experts in the field. The UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) will provide £10.5m of the funding, with the rest coming through match funding from industrial and philanthropic partners.

The facility represents one the biggest investments made to date in the university’s research infrastructure. It will house up to 100 researchers and support staff and will include specialist robotics design and testing equipment. Work on the new building will start in April 2020, with the facility due to open in 2021.

According to Professor John McDermid, director of the University’s Assuring Autonomy programme: “The world is experiencing an unprecedented period of technological advancement. Robotics and AI will change every part of our lives. They will remove people from harmful jobs, transform transport, improve productivity, and deliver better social and medical care. But this rapid advancement comes with challenges: how do we assure their safety? The York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy will support research that will give developers, members of the public and regulators the justified confidence that they need in the safety of autonomous systems.”

Professor Deborah Smith, the university’s pro-vice-chancellor for research, predicts that the initiative “will contribute significantly to the national industrial strategy, enabling us to establish a world-class facility and help strengthen the UK’s position as a leader in the safe introduction of advanced technology. Our dedicated research facility will help attract new expertise to York and create a unique environment for fundamental and applied research into the safety of next generation autonomous systems.”

The York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy will house laboratories and test facilities

The York initiative is one of 11 projects being funded in the sixth round of UKRPIF, Research England’s flagship capital investment scheme.

•  The UK government is funding a £3m extension to the Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (Race) research facility at Culham Science Centre, near Oxford. The extension will allow Race to expand its workforce by more than 50%, to around 250, and increase its collaboration with academic and industry partners on the latest robotics equipment and testing facilities. Since opening in 2016, the Race facility has conducted r&d into the use of robotics in extreme industrial environments where it is difficult for people to work. It also supports companies developing their own autonomous systems. Race is a key centre for implementing the government’s Robotics & Autonomous Systems strategy, which aims to equip the UK to compete in this emerging global industry.

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