Call for increased robotics and automation funding to position UK at the forefront of global ‘fourth industrial revolution’


Pioneers, inventors, academics, regulators and innovators from across the globe will attend the 40th IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA 2023) at ExCeL London from 29 May to 2 June 2023.

Kaspar Althoefer, Professor of Robotics Engineering, Head of the Centre for Advanced Robotics @ Queen Mary (ARQ), Queen Mary University of London; General Chair of ICRA 2023 said: “We are in the midst of a ‘fourth industrial revolution’, and the UK has never been in a better position to capitalise on the opportunities in and around robotics and automation.

With focused support from the scientific community, corporates, and a government that has already declared its ambitions for the UK to become a world-leading ‘science superpower’, this sector has the potential to compete at the very highest global level. With the requisite investment, the UK could accelerate adoption and innovation in robotics and automation, resulting in hugely positive outcomes across numerous sectors – from healthcare and transport to agriculture and manufacturing. In turn, the economic benefits to the UK could be game-changing.”

“Robotics and automation have come a long way since the first ICRA conference took place in Atlanta, US, in 1984. Back then, robots were predominantly used in manufacturing processes, while now we find them in operating theatres, farms, construction sites, and, of course, on Mars. The prevalence of ‘cobots’ – industrial robots designed specifically to work alongside humans in a shared workspace – in all these areas is a testament to progress thus far and an indicator of progress to come. ICRA believes that robots can contribute positively to society – and we’re excited to explore the theme ‘Embracing the future, making robots for humans’ at this year’s conference.”  

Although in its infancy, cobots are a growth industry – globally, in 2021, about 7.5% (39,000 out of more than 478,000) of industrial robots installed were cobots, an increase of 50% over 2020.1 At ICRA 2023, organisations like Kinova Robotics and Melexis will demonstrate cobot technology.  
Helge Wurdemann, Professor and Chair of Robotics at UCL (University College London); Co-General Chair of ICRA 2023, said: “Our vision for ICRA 2023 is to demonstrate how robotics and automation can contribute positively to society and work alongside us for the benefit of humankind, driving advancements across all sectors. Robots should be viewed as enablers – productivity creators and job makers. We need to invest in both skills and technology to embrace the future – which is happening now.”  

One of ICRA’s key goals is to inspire the next generation of roboticists and automation engineers. Children from three selected London schools* have been involved in practical robotic sessions in the lead up to the conference. A group of 36, 11–16-year-old students from Harris Federation state schools in Bow, Crystal Palace and Morden will take part in robotics challenges at ICRA 2023 on Wednesday 31 May, including the Give a Hand workshop, where they’ll assemble prosthetic hands for children in low-income countries who would not otherwise have access to these life changing devices. Beyond direct access to cutting-edge technology, students will also meet inspiring role models in robotics, science and innovation to encourage them to pursue a career in STEM.

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