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Racing Robotics

3 July 2014 by Jenn Granger

Anyone else think robots are kind of awesome and terrifying in equal measure? For instance, do I want a robot friend? Kinda. Do I think that same robot friend would eventually try and destroy me? Definitely. But in reality (and not in my crazy brain) the robotics race is really getting started, and the UK is determined not to get left behind.


New plans have been released discussing how we’re going to turn old factories, farms, lakes and airfields into test areas for robots and drones; this is so they can be tested in real-world situations and different areas to make sure they do all the things they need to do. Like work properly, and not kill anyone.

This is all part of the UK’s first official robotics strategy (aka master plan to create our robot overlords) and ‘increase our income from autonomous systems (RAS)’. This may sound like a whole load of boring but refers to machines that don’t need human operators for certain tasks, which I’m pretty sure is where the Terminator’s ancestors began.

Tasks that the ‘bot boot-camps will test may include: a deep-water search for an aircraft black box, the dismantling of equipment in a nuclear plant, smart route-finding to parking places, or things like moving a sick patient around in their home. So, whilst apparently a whopping 70% of EU citizens think that robots are going to steal our jobs, these are things that we need doing and probably can’t do ourselves – until we reach the next stage of evolution at least. The Commission says that the industry supports 3.6 jobs for every industrial robot in use, and that the robotics market will help rustle up around 2 million jobs over the next eight years. Others don’t agree though, and it’s true that some robots are already being used in jobs that humans could do; for example, robo-receptionists in Japan.

The potential for using robots in certain areas – or for certain tasks (rather than complete jobs) is undeniable, especially in those where humans can’t work, but there are also massive safety and legal implications. To make progress, regulators will need to move with the times (letting drones fly in civilian airspace etc.), but it sounds like this brave new world could become a reality sooner than we thought. Let the race begin.

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