Lloyd's Register Foundation and the University of York are to spearhead a £12m programme looking at the safety of robotics and autonomous systems (RAS).
RAS are likely to become pervasive, including driverless cars, the use of autonomous systems in hospitals and the maritime sector (for shipping and oil and gas platforms), and the use of robots in manufacturing and food supply chains.
A 2016 report from the International Federation of Robotics revealed that the number of industrial robots deployed worldwide will increase to around 2.6 million units by 2019. That's about one million units more than in the record-breaking year of 2015.
There is an urgent need to work with industry, regulators and research teams around the world to address key challenges in assuring safety and compliance with standards and regulations.
Whilst safety, assurance and regulation are well understood in many domains, some of the organisations pushing the technological boundaries of RAS are not familiar with established safety engineering practices. Understanding this new technology and developing an appropriate and flexible regulatory framework remains a key challenge, in particular to enable the public to have full confidence in the systems.
Using RAS will bring benefits, but it is not without risks. In 2016, a Lloyd's Register Foundation Foresight review of robotics and autonomous systems identified that one of the biggest obstacles to gaining the benefits of RAS was that of assuring and regulating RAS, in particular safety.
The £12m investment announced today will fund the Assuring Autonomy International Programme (AAIP) based at the University of York. Professor John McDermid, who is a world leader in systems and software safety engineering, will lead the programme.
"The next generation of robotics and autonomous systems holds significant promise and opportunity for commerce and society as a whole, said Professor McDermid.
"But it is essential for all of us that the systems are dependable and safe. The University of York is leading this programme, focusing on assurance of RAS so that the benefits can be realised, without unacceptable risk. The programme will build on York's 30 years of pioneering research and training in this sector."
Professor Richard Clegg, Foundation Chief Executive, Lloyd's Register Foundation, added: "Robotics and autonomous systems are going to make a big impact on the sectors we serve as a charity and key to uptake and application is going to be their assurance of safety and regulation. That is why establishing this programme with York is so important towards our purpose of working together for a safer world."
To launch the programme, £10m has been pledged by Lloyd's Register Foundation together with £2m from the University. The programme will start in January 2018, and is funded for an initial five years.
The funding announcement has been welcomed by Rolls-Royce.
Kevin Daffey, Director of Engineering & Technology – Marine, at Rolls-Royce said: "Rolls-Royce is at the forefront of innovation and experience in the marine sector. Our advances in intelligence awareness systems and machine learning are already making existing ships safer and more efficient.
"They are also essential in making the widespread global uptake of autonomous ships a reality. Equally important is the continued development of robust regulatory frameworks to ensure the highest standards of marine safety and performance alongside public trust of emerging technologies.
"The University of York is recognised as an international leader in the field of safety critical systems research and the Assuring Autonomy International Programme comes at a critical time in the development of robotic and autonomous systems.
"We look forward to working closely with the Programme as it works to advance standards, research and training in the safety of autonomous systems."