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Humans mingle with robots at immersive event to launch UK research centre

by Stephen Brauner

The UK’s newest robotics research centre was launched with a special immersive event at The University of Manchester.

Hundreds of students, academics, and industry representatives were treated to a display of the latest robotic and autonomous systems to raise awareness of CRADLE – the Centre for Robotic Autonomy in Demanding and Long-lasting Environments.

The systems on display included MIRRAX, a reconfigurable snake robot capable of accessing narrow pipes; an X2 tracked rover commissioned by Jacobs and Digital Concepts Engineering; several aquatic robots, including the drinks can sized Jacobs MicroROV, MALLARD (an aquatic surface robot for inspecting nuclear pools) and CuttleBot (a mini cuttlefish robot); a robotic 3D printer; and Pepper, a humanoid robot that interacts with people and speaks 15 languages.

Funded by Jacobs, The University of Manchester and the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council’s Prosperity Partnership program, CRADLE focuses on researching, developing and commercialising transformative robotic technologies. Its remit also covers the societal and regulatory challenges of robotics, autonomous systems and artificial intelligence.

Professor Martin Schröder, Dean of the Faculty of Science and Engineering, told the gathering at The University of Manchester’s brand-new dedicated Engineering Campus Development that CRADLE would advance the university’s strategy of socially beneficial world-leading research and also support the North West of England’s aspiration to lead the U.K. in robotics.

“We hope and trust that this Prosperity Partnership with our good friends at Jacobs will be a catalyst for more collaboration,” he added.

For Jacobs, Vice President Greg Willetts – himself a Manchester graduate – described CRADLE as a new chapter in our long history of fruitful collaboration with the university.

“It will allow us to expand our robotics capability into new areas, enabling research into autonomous systems which are crucial to extending asset life and sustainability,” added Greg.

The launch event was hugely successful in allowing Jacobs and The University of Manchester to show how the collaboration will advance research in robotics.

Professor Barry Lennox, University of Manchester’s Centre for Robotics and AI Co-Director, said:

“CRADLE provides The University of Manchester’s recently established Centre for Robotics and AI with the opportunity to strengthen our relationship with one of the leading organisations involved in applied robotics, helping us to progress our fundamental research in this area, and enabling us deliver impact from the robotic and AI systems that we are developing.”

The CRADLE team would be delighted to hear from organisations operating in demanding and long-lasting environments who want to explore the benefits that robotics, autonomy and artificial intelligence could bring.

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