The University of Manchester is launching a new specialist multi-disciplinary centre to explore developments in smart robotics through the lens of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous machinery.
The Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI will be based at the engineering and materials facilities at The University of Manchester which will provide a state-of-the-art home for industry-leading research in AI-powered devices and be an "interface between robotics, autonomy and AI".
The University of Manchester has built a modern reputation of excellence in AI and robotics, partly based on the legacy of seminal thought leadership begun in this field in Manchester by legendary codebreaker Alan Turing (1). The creation of the new Manchester centre also follows robotics and AI being identified by UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as the most critical drivers for 21 century economies (2).
To mark the opening of the new robotics centre, the Manchester group will host its first conference on Wednesday, Nov 23. Topics under discussion will include applications of robotics in extreme environments.
For the past decade, a specialist Manchester team led by Professor Barry Lennox has designed robots to work safely in nuclear decommissioning sites in the UK. A ground-breaking robot called Lyra that has been developed by Professor Lennox’s team - and recently deployed at the Dounreay site in Scotland, the " world’s deepest nuclear clean up site" - has been listed in Time Magazine’s Top 200 innovations of 2022 .
Other world-leading Manchester applications include foldable drones to characterise subterranean mines or for the inspection of offshore wind turbines. And Manchester leads on designing the verification technologies to ensure that we can trust these robots when working autonomously in hazardous conditions .
A conference highlight will be a joint talk by robotics expert Dr Andy Weightman and theologian Dr Scott Midson which is expected to put a spotlight on ’posthumanism’ - a future world where humans won’t be the only highly intelligent decision-makers.
Our research and innovation team are at the interface between robotics, autonomy and AI - and their knowledge is drawn from across the University’s disciplines, including biological and medical sciences - as well the humanities and even theology. This rich diversity offers Manchester a distinctive approach to designing robots and autonomous systems for real world applications, especially when combined with our novel use of AI-based knowledge.
Dr Weightman, who researches home-based rehabilitation robotics for people with neurological impairment, and Dr Midson, who researches theological and philosophical critiques of posthumanism, will discuss how interdisciplinary research can help with the special challenges of rehabilitation robotics - and, ultimately, what it means to be human "in the face of the promises and challenges of human enhancement through robotic and autonomous machines".
Delegates will also have a chance to observe a series of robots and autonomous machines being demoed at the conference.
Angelo Cangelosi , Professor of Machine Learning and Robotics at Manchester, said the University offers a world-leading position in the field of autonomous systems - a technology that will be an integral part of our future world.
Professor Cangelosi, co-Director of the Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI , said: "We are delighted to host our inaugural conference which will provide a special showcase for our diverse academic expertise to design robotics for a variety of real world applications.
"Our research and innovation team are at the interface between robotics, autonomy and AI - and their knowledge is drawn from across the University’s disciplines, including biological and medical sciences - as well the humanities and even theology.
"This rich diversity offers Manchester a distinctive approach to designing robots and autonomous systems for real world applications, especially when combined with our novel use of AI-based knowledge."
The University of Manchester’s Centre for Robotics and AI will aim to:
· design control systems with a focus on bio-inspired solutions to mechatronics, eg the use of biomimetic sensors, actuators and robot platforms;
· develop new software engineering and AI methodologies for verification in autonomous systems, with the aim to design trustworthy autonomous systems;
· research human-robot interaction, with a pioneering focus on the use of brain-inspired approaches to robot control, learning and interaction; and
· research the ethics and human-centred robotics issues, for the understanding of the impact of the use of robots and autonomous systems with individuals and society.