Heriot-Watt University’s robotics evolution is an exemplar of local and global collaboration, combining research and industry partnerships with skills development to drive innovative products and processes and innovation-ready graduates, and it’s already looking forward to an exciting new phase.

The establishment of the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics (ECR) in 2014, harnessed the potential of 30 world-leading investigators from 12 cross-disciplinary groups, supported by more than 40 industrial partners. From offshore robotic solutions to conversational AI, from the bottom of the sea to the final of the Amazon Alexa Prize, its voyage has been ambitious.

Jointly run by Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, it is a remarkable investment; now in the region of £100M into research and advanced facilities that has already enabled successful spin-outs including Seebyte, Hydrason and Robotical.

In its ROBOTARIUM, some of the world’s most advanced robots are being developed in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence (RAI), Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS), and Human-Robot Interaction (HRI). The evolution from past achievement to future ambition now enters a new phase as it becomes the UK’s National ROBOTARIUM, part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

The most recent success, in November 2017, was the awarding of £14.6M by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) for the Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets Hub or ‘ORCA Hub’, to develop robotics technologies for use in extreme and hazardous offshore environments. Heriot-Watt Professor and Director of ECR, David Lane is leading the £36M consortium including the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London, the University of Oxford and the University of Liverpool, together with 31 industry partners.

An integral part of ECR is its Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) which focuses on innovation-ready postgraduates, equipped with scientific, creative, ethical and enterprise skills. The programmes include technical preparation and cohort-wide training, supported by User Partners operating in crucial market sectors for RAS including oil and gas, defence, renewable energy, healthcare, assisted living, transport, space, automotive, manufacturing, nuclear, digital media and education.

Postgraduate research training includes an innovation fund for prototyping, connection to Enterprise Fellowships from the Royal Academy of Engineering and Royal Society of Edinburgh, and the Converge Challenge business plan competition.

This challenge-based approach to innovation, adopted in ORCA, involves spiral development of industrial-use cases and regular technology demonstrations, and is now an integral part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) at the heart of the UK Government’s 2017 Industrial Strategy.

RAI/RAS is recognised as a disruptive force where new businesses lead to the next generation of wealth creation and Robotics has been identified by both the Scottish and UK Governments as a key growth area.

Through this robotics concentration, ECR has provided active policy leadership in the 2014 RAS 2020 Strategy and the RAS Sector Deal in the Industrial Strategy. Around this anchor of research innovation and enterprise training, Heriot-Watt is able to nurture the next generation of experts in the field and to reach out to future generations.


On the photo: Students Siobhan Duncan and Sabina Jedrzejczyk representing Heriot-Watt University and Edinburgh Centre for Robotics at the Scottish Parliament


This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.