Skip to main content

Oxford Robotics Institute | Projects - Mobile Autonomy, The EPSRC Program Grant

Mobile Autonomy: Enabling a Pervasive Technology of the Future

Prof. Paul Newman, Prof. Ingmar Posner, Prof. Marta Kwiatkowska, and Prof. Niki Trigoni are proud to announce they have been awarded an EPSRC Programme Grant.

Vision: To create, run and exploit the world’s leading research programme in mobile autonomy, addressing fundamental technical issues which impede large-scale commercial and societal adoption of mobile robotics.

Ambition: We need to build better robots – we need them to be cheap, work synergistically with people in large, complex and time-changing environments, and do so for long periods of time. Moreover, it is essential that they are safe and trusted. We are compelled as researchers to produce the foundational technologies that will see robots work in economically and socially important domains. These motivations drive the science in this proposal.

Strategic Aim: This is not a pure curiosity-led research programme; we are driven by both fundamental robotics questions and real world applications. The technical appendices will make this clear, posing a sequence of inter-related and co-dependent Challenges which range in nature from basic research (Technology Readiness Level 1), to more applied research questions (TRL3). Oxford has built a robotics research environment designed to host this activity. It has, via an EPSRC Equipment Grant, been equipped with first class facilities, so with this Programme Grant can attract the best researchers from around the world.

Scope: This proposal is all about endowing machines with the fundamental properties that make them viable to society: operational trust, safety, durability, scale and cost. We have a clear scope in mind: ground-based mobile robotics whose societal and industrial footprint is vast. Consequently, this programme grant impinges on, at a minimum, personal transport, security and defence, inspection, warehouse and factory automation, space exploration, built infrastructure monitoring, construction, logistics and agriculture. There are no existing Programme Grants in the mobile autonomy area; this proposal makes the case for starting one. Robotics is now named as one of the UK’s “Eight Great Technologies” and hence a first class ambitious research programme in mobile autonomy is vital. The research programme will generate the researchers and expert staff that will form the “people-backbone” of the UK’s sovereign capability in mobile autonomy. It will back up a national strategic aim with a carefully-considered and coherent program of research, which pre-empts the problems of cost, reliability, scale and trust which lurk just over the horizon.

Flagships: Flagships lie at the heart of this proposal. A Flagship is a thread of work tied to a physical robot (a self-driving car for example), a demonstration programme, and an application domain. Flagships force integration and innovation, which is essential to robotics research, making them an embodiment of our work. As is the case for a Theme, each Flagship has an individual who leads the activity. He or she works with the P.I., RA’s and Theme-leaders to deliver a continual process of integration, trials activity and technical feedback.