York to establish new £35m research facility for safety of robotics and autonomous systems

Posted on 16 July 2019

The University of York is to establish a £35m flagship research facility to address global challenges in assuring the safety of robotics and other systems that use artificial intelligence.

The York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy will be based on Campus East and will house specialist laboratories and testing facilities – bringing together industrial partners and world-leading experts in the field.

AI has the potential to transform the way we live, travel and work – from driverless cars and remotely monitored ships to assistive robots in the home and in hospitals.

World-class capabilities

The new facility will provide world-class capabilities for testing and evaluation, and will lead activities in research, education and training, innovation, ethics and public engagement.

The University already has a number of existing programmes in this field, including the Assuring Autonomy International Programme in partnership with the Lloyd’s Register Foundation, and the York Centre for Quantum Technologies.

The York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy will build on that expertise and establish three central research pillars: design, assurance, and communications.

UK Research Partnership Investment Fund

It is one of 11 projects being funded through Round 6 of Research England’s flagship capital investment scheme, the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF).

The UKRPIF fund is providing £10.5m for the York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy with £24.5m secured through match funding from industrial and philanthropic partners.

York's Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Saul Tendler said: "The investment announced today is one of the largest in research infrastructure at York.

“It represents a significant vote of confidence in the University and the region and confirms our position as one of the world’s premier institutions for inspirational and life-changing research.

“We are already leading the way in this hugely important area with researchers across multiple departments working together to advance the safe introduction of robotics and connected autonomous systems across the globe.”

Industrial strategy

Professor Deborah Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, added: “The York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy will contribute significantly to the national Industrial Strategy, enabling us to establish a world-class facility and help strengthen the UK’s position as a leader in the safe introduction of advanced technology.

“Our dedicated research facility will help attract new expertise to York and create a unique environment for fundamental and applied research into the safety of next generation autonomous systems."

The new facility will house up to 100 researchers and support staff and includes a rooftop lab and specialist robotics design and testing equipment. Work on the new building will begin in April 2020 and will open in 2021.

Professor John McDermid, Director of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme at the University, added: “The world is experiencing an unprecedented period of technological advancement. Robotics and AI will change every part of our lives.

“They will remove people from harmful jobs, transform transport, improve productivity, and deliver better social and medical care.

“But this rapid advancement comes with challenges: How do we assure their safety? The York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy will support research that will give developers, members of the public and regulators the justified confidence that they need in the safety of autonomous systems.”

Notes to editors:

  • Research England is a public body that shapes healthy, dynamic research and knowledge exchange in universities. It distributes over £2.2bn every year to universities, primarily in England but also in the rest of the UK; it works to understand their strategies, capabilities and capacity; and it supports and challenges universities to create new knowledge, strengthen the economy, and enrich society. Research England is part of UK Research and Innovation alongside the seven Research Councils and Innovate UK. 
  • Research England administers the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF), with the funding bodies from the devolved administrations. Established in 2012, UKRPIF supports investment in higher education research facilities and, including the newly awarded Round 6 projects, has allocated £900m to 54 research facilities and centres and attracted over £2bn of co-investment from more than 240 businesses, charities and philanthropic donors. Read more about UKRPIF.
  • Read more about the Assuring Autonomy International Programme.
  • Read more about the York Centre for Quantum Technologies.