New centre to boost research into robots

A GROUNDBREAKING new robotics centre which academics say could make “significant technological advances”, is set to be launched tonight by Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam universities.

The Sheffield Centre for Robotics (SCentRo) will combine expertise from both universities in a bid to boost research into the creation of animal-like robots; self-driving cars; robots for the “farms of the future” and robots that can intelligently communicate with humans.

A public exhibition revealing the centre’s work will be held tomorrow, with devices on display including “Shrewbot” – an animal-like robot that can seek out and identify objects with its artificial whiskers – a firefighter-assisting “Guardian” robot, the “Grail” robotic arm and the “tactile helmet”, which will help firefighters find their way around smoke-filled buildings.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

It is hoped that experts at SCentRo will make technological advances that will include robots with flexible, safe bodies and human-like sensory and learning capabilities, enabling them to work more closely with people.

This could enable robots to be used for dangerous tasks such as mine clearance, or else roles in the service industry, such as hospital porter robots.

Prof Tony Prescott from Sheffield University’s department of psychology, who will be directing SCentRo, said: “We don’t want robots to replace humans, but to perform complementary functions by undertaking dirty or dangerous jobs, such as going into burning buildings, decommissioning nuclear power sites or tending crops.

“We hope that by uniting the different disciplines and expertise, from engineering through to psychology, SCentRo will help drive robotic technology forward in a way that will be useful to people.”

Jacques Penders, head of Sheffield Hallam’s centre for automation and robotic research, added: “Robotics once was an exclusive engineering domain. However, present day robotics is an inclusive area of research and requires experts from very different fields to work together.

“SCentRo is founded by experts from the required disciplines and thus has the basics for developing robots for the future.”