The new £45m research centre at the University of York, which will open later this year, aims to place the city at the forefront of research to help tackle some of the biggest societal challenges.
The newly appointed director for the safe operation of robotics and autonomous systems centre told The Yorkshire Post a focus for the institute is to provide technological solutions to help vital sectors including health and social care, agriculture, construction and transport.
This includes aiding health and social care practices through a raft of advanced technology - from samples and test results and diagnosis to robotic surgery.
Professor Miles Elsden, who has previously worked in multiple government departments advising on issues across science and technology, said: “All of these sectors have challenges that robotics can help.
“Often these technologies can be developed in a bit of a vacuum - while they are technologically really interesting - what is the application?
“Here we will be looking directly at how robotics can help these crucial issues affecting society.”
“But It’s not just about the technology... it’s about the social side as well.
“How can we create these systems that people are going to want to use, that actually address social challenges - rather than just creating robots.”
The institute’s work will also focus on research to ensure robots and autonomous systems such as driverless cars, operate safely.
Professor Elsden’s previous role in government was as the Chief Scientist at the Department for Transport where he worked on issues ranging from air quality to electric and autonomous cars.
He left the civil service in 2015 to work for a US spinout Artificial Intelligence company and his own consultancy firm.
Prof Elsden said: “One of the reasons I was brought in was to do things a little bit differently - which is kind of my plan.
"I work at the interface between academia, policy and industry and I think that is very much where we want to position this new institute."
Now Prof Elsden, 52, will lead the new centre which will feature specialist laboratory and testing facilities including a quantum laser lab, a rooftop facility to test high altitude communications platforms and a pool for underwater robotic systems.
It will host around 100 people from across the university and beyond.
He said: “New robotic and autonomous technologies have the power to bring about fundamental change to many aspects of our lives.
“This is an exciting new venture that will bring together a wide range of experts and users under a single roof.
"The Institute will design, develop, test and deploy a wide range of autonomous systems, ensuring they are safe, secure and used in a way that builds trust with the people who work with and around them.”
The new building is currently taking shape on the University of Yorkshire Campus East, and is set to open fully next spring. It is just one part of the university’s development as a centre of excellence in the safe operation of the latest robotics and autonomous systems.
Prof Elsden said: “It is equally about creating a broad community from across the university, our industry and government partners and the public.
"The aim is to bring together a wide range of perspectives on the complex challenges involved in the successful, widespread deployment of connected and autonomous systems and make York an international leader in this field."
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