Chris Middleton previews a new series of robotics, AI, and autonomous systems events that showcase the best of UK entrepreneurship and research.

The Robotics Summer Showcase, a government-backed three-month programme of online events that celebrate UK robotics research, industrial applications, and entrepreneurship, begins this month.

The initiative was announced by the UK-RAS Network – the dedicated robotics organisation overseen by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – and UKRI, the parent organisation of Innovate UK, which helps government invest in emerging technologies.

RAI21 Showcase

The programme kicked off with an opening ceremony on 5 May. However, events begin in earnest on 25 May, with the three-day Robotics and AI Showcase 2021 (RAI21). The virtual conference brings together expert panellists and exhibitors from over 60 organisations.

The Showcase will cover a broad range of applications, with a focus on robotics, AI, and autonomous systems for extreme environments, which have emerged as a key hotspot for the UK, via its four university-based robotics research hubs.

Robots, drones, and other autonomous, connected and/or remotely operated systems can go where humans are unable to, in order to carry out dangerous or essential work.

Technologies that have cross-cutting applications in a range of different hazardous environments are of particular interest to investors and policymakers.

Conference topics will include:

  •  Robots for safer nuclear operations and decommissioning, areas covered nationally by the RAIN Hub and the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR)
  • Robotic systems and technologies in offshore energy, which is a key focus for Scotland’s ORCA Hub
  • Robots for in-orbit and space applications, such as space exploration and satellite maintenance, areas covered by the FAIR-SPACE Hub at Surrey University
  • Robotic systems and technologies with cross-sector applications – including robotic hands, computer vision, object recognition, and autonomous guidance systems
  • Making UK manufacturing smarter with robotics and AI (RAI)
  • The Robotics Growth Partnership: perspective, vision, and next steps
  • Sharing the cost and risk of applying robotics
  • Robots to combat COVID-19, such as drones delivering essential medicines or monitoring physical environments
  • Robots for a more resilient future – robots can assist in a range of fields, including agriculture, energy, and critical infrastructure maintenance, while smart cities can help humans live together in a greener, more efficient, and sustainable way
  • Disrupting the provision of care – robots, telepresence/telexistence systems, and other technologies are identified in the Industrial Strategy as one means of helping an ageing and socially isolated population
  • Robots and AI to support first-response services.

The event is hosted by networking organisation KTN (the Knowledge Transfer Network), which connects innovators and researchers with investors, in partnership with UK-RAS, UKRI/Innovate UK, the National Robotics Network (NRN), the UK Business Angels Association (UKBAA), robotics and automation marketplace Bot-Hive, and specialist investment organisation, Elite.

UK Festival of Robotics (formerly UK Robotics Week)

Then from 19 to 25 June, the UK Festival of Robotics takes place, a week-long series of online events, competitions, and activities in celebration of robotics and intelligent systems.

The Festival, which is designed to appeal to all age groups as well as to industry, government, academia, and entrepreneurs, replaces the well-known UK Robotics Week, which has run nationwide for five years and, in pre-Covid times, culminated in a London showcase event.

The pandemic has forced organisers to rethink the strategy of live events for 2021, but also provides an important context for innovators in the fields of robotics, AI, automation, and autonomous systems.

If nothing else, the extent to which human systems and communities are vulnerable to unforeseen events has been revealed by the crisis, while all of us have been socially isolated in lockdown and have become reliant on new technologies that give us a virtual presence in each other’s lives.

The realisation has hit home that robotic factories, farms, energy installations, transport networks, and more could keep running in a global crisis, while robotic warehouses and automated supply chains could help human communities to survive.

Meanwhile, drones or autonomous vehicles could deliver medical supplies to isolated areas and help people to move around safely.

Other scheduled events in the programme this summer include Robotics at Home 2021, the fourth annual UK-RAS-hosted conference for PhDs and early-career researchers working in the fields of domestic and care/assistance robots.

Keep your eye on the UK-RAS website.

Transform Industry: Sensors & IoT

Away from the national programme, the next Transform Industry Event takes place online on 16 & 17 June, exploring sensors, robotics, automation, and the Internet of Things in Manufacturing and related sectors. For more information, go here.

• Disclosure: Chris Middleton authored a 2019 government policy report for KTN and Innovate UK on robotics for extreme environments, on the back of the UK’s Expert Missions Programme. Post Brexit, the UK is seeking international partners for ventures in robotics, AI, and autonomous systems.