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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S001840/1
Title: Getting a grip: from the science of robotic attachment to innovation and deployment
Principal Investigator: Sareh, Dr S
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Behavioural Robotics Ltd Ultimaker GB University of Bristol
Department: School of Design
Organisation: Royal College of Art
Scheme: EPSRC Fellowship - NHFP
Starts: 29 June 2018 Ends: 28 June 2021 Value (£): 404,099
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Design Engineering Robotics & Autonomy
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Construction Manufacturing
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
10 May 2018 EPSRC UKRI CL Innovation Fellowship Interview Panel 6 - 10 and 11 May 2018 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
People who need to work at height, underground or in hazardous locations have higher health risks due to falling, exposures to toxic chemicals and radiation or other aspects of their work. To avoid these problems, mobile robotic manipulation technologies have allowed humans to operate remotely without exposure to hazardous environments, to reduce or entirely eliminate health and safety risks and enable a more acceptable work place. The use of robots can lead to higher productivity and better resource utilisation, with reduced requirements for energy and consumables, as well as less waste, and therefore better environmental outcomes. However, their applications are currently restricted due to a number of mobility (reaching to location) and functionality (acting in location) issues; the mobility mechanisms are typically designed for predefined environments while in reality a robot should interact with and navigate through an unstructured and often cluttered environment; existing robots are comprised of heavy and rigid components that can damage the surrounding environment and injure human workers; effective functionality of the robotic system at the location requires appropriate positioning and stability of the mobile manipulation platform during the mission.

An effective solution to these problems is to implement an interfacing layer between robots and environments that can enable physical entanglement (attachment) and provide live information on the state of interactions between the robot and its surroundings. Important recent work in robotic technologies for anchoring is inspired by animals and plants which have evolved effective solutions to various problems including locomotion, object manipulation, standing against fluid flows and energy management. Robotic anchoring systems with ability in stable anchoring and maintaining their attachment for an extended time in different environments will be invaluable for a wide range of industrial, medical and other applications: eg. attachment by climbing robots for inspection and maintenance of buildings including heritage locations, nuclear plants and steel bridges, disaster zones; perching by flying robots that can provide a bird's-eye view of an area of interest or object manipulation; and attachment into delicate substrates.

The emergence of advanced soft composite materials, manufacturing and communication technologies allows making robot components with properties and functionalities that were not possible in the past; most prominently our new abilities in creating components with a mechanical stiffness spectrum, e.g. similar to the structure of bones, muscles and skin in human body where a transition from rigid to soft is evident; and stiffness variability, e.g. similar to the ability of octopus in adjusting their arms' stiffness; as well as advances in robotic sensing and perception of environmental features, interaction forces, relevant data processing techniques and increased communications abilities including real-time networking between devices. These advances can be exploited to make robots that can interact with the environment in a safer and more effective way.

The purpose of the fellowship is to enable world-leading innovation in mobile robotics, leading to new insights in the science of how robots may attach themselves to the environments where they are deployed, the creation of a specialist centre of cross-disciplinary expertise, the development of working prototypes for practical application, and pathways to commercial exploitation. It will exemplify what can be achieved by combining scientific and technological exploration with design.

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