The University of Loughborough is leading the launch of a national robotics research centre. The initiative is designed to help businesses collaborate in the creation of new technology.
The Made Smarter Innovation Centre for Smart, Collaborative Industrial Robotics, aggregates experts with a background in disciplines such as engineering, digital technology and robotics. It includes academics drawn from the Universities of Loughborough, Warwick, Strathclyde, Cranfield, and Bristol – all of which are noted for the quality of their research.
At the same time, the centre has built partnerships with industry sectors as diverse as energy, construction and aerospace.
The launch comes at a time of growing awareness of the implications of new technology in the workplace. While many in industry recognise the potential benefits of robotics, AI and automation, there remains deep-rooted anxieties about the future relationships between autonomous systems of manufacturing and workers’ jobs.
The lead investigator from Cranfield University, Professor Webb, said: ‘We are really excited about this new collaboration which will further enhance our existing work on close collaboration between humans and robots to put human operators at the centre of such systems, thus significantly increasing the impact of industrial robotics in the future workplace. Understanding the impact of robotics and co-working on the human operators is key to building a safe and secure workplace of the future.’
The Workers Union Says…
Just as our ancestors gazed upon Blake’s dark satanic mills with trepidation, so do the workers of today stand on the precipice of an equally momentous change.
The next couple of decades are likely to see the working practices of the long 20th century finally extinguished, as the march of the machines changes factories and offices beyond recognition. If that sounds like hyperbole, then think of the automated bots that answer web chat queries and the phone line computer voices that present a myriad of different, equally frustrating options. These are but small expressions of the changes to come, a taster session before the curtain rolls back to reveal the glinting extent of the revolution.
In 2017, accountancy giants PWC published a paper which estimated that AI, robotics and smart automation could contribute $15 trillion dollars to the global economy by 2030. However, the paper also suggested that this milestone may come at a cost for workers, with up to 30 percent of current jobs potentially automatable by the mid 2030s.
It is with some degree of cautious optimism, then, that we welcome the research centre initiative. Partnerships such as these must become a keystone of our industrial strategy to avoid a top-down approach to automation where government and industry visit the fruits of their deliberations on a largely unprepared populace. That would neither be a fair nor honest way for a society with aspirations to ‘build back better’ to face the future.
So while we cannot predict the impact of technology with forensic certainty, we can say with some justification that seismic changes are coming. The measure of our success as a nation will rest on how we use this shifting landscape to benefit society and act to ameliorate its worst effects.