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UK government announces new funding for robot development

The £34m package will go towards research around autonomous technologies to improve safety and public trust

The UK government has announced new funding for research around autonomous systems which will range from care robots to automated personal shoppers.

The £34m programme will aim to provide developers, policy makers and regulators with access to experts, as well as the latest information and guidelines around the technology. Areas covered by the research will include the design of the systems to improve resilience against cyber attacks.

The government’s vision is that “care robots” can, in the future, fulfil helping elderly people in tasks such as delivering food and ensuring they take medication at the right time.

“It’s vital that we meet the needs of this ageing society, and through cutting-edge research like this we will ensure that as technology advances, the UK leads the way in designing and adopting it, growing our status as a global science superpower,” said science minister Chris Skidmore.

The announcement on research geared at robot development follows previous government investment in Chiron, a prototype of a robot designed by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory to support older adults with mobility and other age-related impairments.

While robots can significantly improve people’s quality of life, the trust issue has to be addressed, according to professor of assistive robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, Praminda Caleb-Solly.

“Assistive robots can provide essential support for those who need help carrying out everyday tasks, so they can maintain their independence for as long as possible,” she said. “But making sure we can trust these robots by reducing the risks associated with this technology is essential.”

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Local authorities across the UK have been looking at assistive technologies, ranging from collaborative robots to voice assistants, to support the delivery of adult social care services and reduce pressure on resources. One of them, Hampshire County Council, currently has more than 10,000 people using technology-enabled care, and generated £8m in savings in the first five years of its care transformation strategy.

Lack of trust is also an issue in the transport sector, where the programme is expected to bring a “substantial impact”. The government expects self-driving cars alone could create 320,000 UK jobs and deliver £51bn in economic benefits.

The programme will aim to “tear down public trust barriers” by ensuring ethical and legal considerations are incorporated into autonomous systems so they are “as safe as possible” for consumers.

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