University to push boundaries with the opening of smart robotics campus

Robots learning at the University of Manchester

A specialist multi-disciplinary centre focused on smart robotics through the lens of artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomous machinery is to be set up by the University of Manchester.

The Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI will open at the state-of-the-art Engineering and Materials campus and will providing a home for industry-leading research and innovation in AI-powered robotics.

The university has built a reputation of excellence in AI and robotics, partly based on the legacy of pioneering thought leadership begun in this field in Manchester by legendary codebreaker Alan Turing.

To mark the opening of the new robotics centre, the Manchester engineering campus will host its first conference this Wednesday (November 23). How humans and super smart robots will live and work together will be one of the topics being discussed by leading experts.

The concept of ‘posthumanism’ – a future world where humans won’t be the only highly intelligent decision-makers – will be one of the themes forming part of the programme for the inaugural conference.

Conference highlights will include a joint talk by robotics expert Dr Andy Weightman and theologian Dr Scott Midson which is expected to put a spotlight on how the future of human-robot relationships might look.

Other topics will include applications of robotics in extreme environments. For the past decade, a pioneering Manchester team led by Prof Barry Lennox has developed robots to work safely in nuclear decommissioning sites in the UK.

A robot called Lyra that has been developed by Prof 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 pioneering 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.

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.

Prof Cangelosi, co-Director of the Manchester Centre for Robotics and AI, said: “Our inaugural conference 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 as 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.