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The TSB & UKTI Robotics Mission: What’s it all about?

ITProPortal has been in California with the inaugural Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) Mission, as organised by the Technology Strategy Board and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

The objective: to bring together the UK and US RAS sectors in order to share knowledge and contacts, with the ultimate aim of facilitating expansion into the Bay Area for the UK firms.

With over 20 company visits and events in San Diego, Silicon Valley and San Francisco, this is a big opportunity for the eight assembled UK robotics startups, picked for the trip due to their triumph in a competition run by the TSB.

Robotic hands, battling robot toys and UAVs with a honey bee wing design – that's the kind of innovative tech we're dealing with, and the startups have been keen to showcase their wares to the Silicon Valley community at every step of the way.

The group took a tour of the University of California San Diego robotics department where UK Minister for Science and Innovation, David Willets, gave a keynote in which he championed the UK robotics industry and outlined a five-stage action plan for UK RAS development, which combined industry coordination, harnessing of existing assets and skills, and use of tech clusters to further develop the UK RAS sector. Rich Walker of the Shadow Robot Company also spoke to the group.

Somewhere along the way we encountered this colourful character. Developed by PhD students, the bot helps young children learn through touchscreen games. In tests, the robot face was found to produce more child engagement than a mere screen. With bulging class sizes, busy parents and lifestyles increasingly exposed to tech at every turn, it's unsurprising that robots are being developed for educational purposes, and two of the Robotics Mission startups, Reach Robotics and Agilic, in fact offer educational robotic creations of their own.

Read more: A robot you can print out of paper? The future's here, and it's weird

Willets said of the robotics mission: "The Brits, we can hold our own but equally I think the Americans have got to recognise that there's some real capacity back in the UK and I'm sure they'll want to link up with us as a result."

"In this world of rapidly moving high tech you can't be insular, you can't be isolated. If you're going to try to make significant advances in IT and robotics you've got to know what's happening on the West Coast."

"The challenge for us is to create the environment in the UK where they want to stay," he added, refuting the proposition that firms might simply leave the UK for Silicon Valley.

The mission continues.