Nuclear test sites put the next generation of UK robots to the test

The UK is set to use robots on decommissioned nuclear sites and abandoned coal mines in order to test their ability to work autonomously.

The creation of the test sites is part of a broader plan by the Technology Strategy Board to improve robotics research in the UK.

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The board will have £400 million worth of funding next year, which could help the UK become the world leaders in robotics according to science minister David Willets.

"Robots have often been positioned as a thing of the future, but today's strategy-launch emphasises the fact that they are very much of the here and now," Mr Willetts is expected to say during a speech today.

As well as the testing sites, the proposal will also looks to focus on regions of the UK already known for their robotics expertise, like Bristol and Edinburgh.

Professor David Lane of Heriot-Watt University claims that technology, such as driverless cars and rail systems that can repair tracks themselves, has seen the UK at the forefront of the robotics industry, but that other countries were now catching up.

"The UK has an exceptional heritage in many of the industries where robotics can be most useful," he said.

"We need to act quickly if we don't want to be left behind," he added. "With the right course of action, we believe the UK could achieve 10% of the global market share by 2025."

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The new proposal was also welcomed by robotics expert Professor Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield.

"The UK is the lowest user of industrial robotics in the technically developed nations of Europe - well behind Spain and Italy," he said. "We have a lot of robotics talent in our universities with enormous potential to bring the UK to hi-tech glory.

"It is a massive market and we have already slipped well behind," he said.