The Government’s chief scientific adviser got a glimpse into the future when he saw how the University of Sheffield is helping to drive forward the UK’s robotics research during a visit today (Tuesday 11 August 2015).
During his visit, led by Director of Sheffield Robotics Professor Tony Prescott, Professor Dafforn met with academics and students to discuss the wide range of inter-disciplinary research taking place. He also got the chance to see some practical demonstrations which included watching swarm robots in action, which can help in search and rescue missions, and viewing how assistive robots can aid the elderly. The KUKA arm robot, which can be used in industry to do jobs potentially too dangerous for humans, was also shown in operation.
Professor Dafforn, who requested a visit to Sheffield Robotics after hearing about the institute, said he felt universities had a major part to play in the future development of robotics and autonomous systems.
“Robotics is transformational,” he said. “Universities are where the ideas are created. We have world class scientists in world class universities, of which Sheffield is one, and universities are playing a role in robotics research asking hard questions and answering those questions that you can’t ask in the commercial world.
“There is also a realisation that you can’t just have engineering to produce a robot, you need a range of disciplines like social sciences as well. Trying to do that in a commercial environment would be difficult but that’s also where universities come in, they bring skills together.
“I believe robotics can enhance a number of things, including productivity in the UK.”
Sheffield Robotics is leading the way in robotics research, with the only lab in the world where you can find an iCub robot with a swarm of 900 Kilobots. World-renowned academics at the University are working on studies looking at everything from cooperative robotics and swarm robotics, to robot ethics and design, human robotic interactions and how robots can help with materials handling and manufacturing.
Professor Prescott, who is also a cognitive neuroscientist and lectures in Psychology at the University, said: “The world is transforming and we are really proud of the work taking place at Sheffield Robotics which is driving forward research in this area.
“Robotics has the ability to revolutionise healthcare, manufacturing, agriculture and education which is why it is so important to the UK economy that we remain at the forefront of robotics innovation.”
Professor Mike Hounslow, Pro-Vice Chancellor for Engineering at the University of Sheffield said: “I am delighted to have welcomed Professor Dafforn to Sheffield Robotics today, where he saw first-hand the Faculty of Engineering's support for Robotics and Autonomous Systems research. I consider robotics to be crucial both to the UK economy and to The Northern Powerhouse, and the University of Sheffield is proud to lead the way in terms of developing safe, reliable, ethical and useful technologies.
"In addition the University will shortly create a new facility for 'field robotics' adjacent to its world famous Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre.”