UK robotics industry races to embrace the future

Britain aiming to be at forefront

of brave new world.

The robotics industry is starting to fulfil its sci-fi potential, with the dawn of a generation known as Industry 4.0. Right now this has contributed to the explosion in popularity of unmanned aerial vehicles, known as UAVs or drones, and points to future developments such as personal assistant robots or the widespread use of autonomous vehicles. The worldwide robotics market is predicted to reach $237 billion worldwide by 2022, more than seven times its value of $31 billion in 2016.

Brian Foster is head of industry finance at Siemens financial services in the UK. Currently he sees untapped potential for the domestic robotics industry:

“The UK currently trails behind Japan, Germany, the USA and many other nations in the uptake of industrial robots. This is in stark contrast to the strength of the UK’s automotive and aerospace industries.

"The UK is the second-largest aerospace manufacturer in the world and UK car production reached its highest level in seventeen years in 2016.”

Optimism for future development has been spurred by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, a government programme. Launched in 2017, the scheme focuses on a wide array of areas. This includes up to £93 million invested towards businesses and researchers in utilising robots to decrease workplace risk, and collaborative programmes to develop AI and control systems for driverless cars. According to the UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems Special Interest Group, the UK could take a 10% market share of the global robotics industry within the next few years.

Foster believes the UK should utilize robotics in areas where it is already leading development: “Healthcare, for example, is becoming a extremely important area of development in the use of robotics and AI. There are a number of innovative robotics companies already operating in the UK and the development of bionic limbs is currently being pioneered by a British robotics company who use 3D body scanning and printing to create bionic hands that are advanced, lightweight and low-cost.”

Robotics requires an extensive amount of R&D, using custom made equipment made to extremely high specification. Foster explains the financing necessary for this sector, a so-called ‘Finance 4.0’: “Appropriate financing techniques are critical to a company’s ability to sustainably invest in the new fourth-generation of digitalised technology and automation equipment. Finance 4.0 covers a range of requirements from the acquisition of a single digitalised piece of technology, right through to financing a whole new factory. These financing methods can help make the upgrade to digitalised technology affordable and potentially cost neutral or better for the manufacturer.”

Robotics are at the forefront of technologies that will captivate the coming decades, encompassing any one of a range of inventions with the potential to impact as much or more as the smartphone has over the last ten years. Foster has some final advice for companies looking to make a success from this revolution:

“The benefits of development in the robotics sector are significant and far-reaching, meaning that manufacturers are racing to keep up with multiple and continuous technological trends and advancements. Companies that delay investment and fail to embrace the opportunities available to them, risk being left behind by the competition.”