A software company working with a ‘world-leading’ Edinburgh-based centre for robotics is set to create bomb disposal and nuclear decommissioning technologies ‘designed to save lives’.

Cyberselves, a robotics software company working with Resolve Robotics and the National Robotarium  – a partnership between Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh University – have been awarded government funding to develop ‘telexistence’ technologies that will remove humans from hazardous environments.

Telexistence and other immersive technologies find ways to physically remove humans from dangerous situations such as nuclear decommissioning and bomb disposal by using a robot as a ‘surrogate self’.

The technologies will make it possible for humans to operate in remote environments via a robot without risk. It will also allow them to experience touch through warmth and vibrations.

The new ‘TEL-SUBSEA’ project, part of an £800,000 programme, will develop underwater solutions for bomb disposal and nuclear decommissioning.

Emergent technologies – such as cloud robotics, Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – allow humans to telepresence remotely into a robot, be immersed in a remote environment or situation and to receive haptic feedback to enhance the level of immersion. Haptic feedback creates an experience of touch by applying motion, vibration, temperature or force to the user.

Designed to help save lives and reduce human exposure to risk, the collaborative team will create a robot-agnostic, low-latency communication system that addresses the current challenges of telepresence: haptics, robotics, and telecoms.

While immediate work will focus on bomb disposal and nuclear decommissioning, wider potential applications include offshore wind production and space exploration.

Nicola Armstrong, Dstl Telexistence Lead, said:  “We are excited to explore the range and potential of the technologies with innovators and stakeholders from across government as well as the defence and security sector, identifying future applications in harsh or hazardous environments.”

Emily Tithecott, DASA Associate Delivery Manager, said: “This competition gives us a real buzz, we are seeing more Government departments teaming together to fund innovations and this ensures many different sectors benefit from the adapted technologies.

“The funded projects will develop ideas in the latest remote operating, including: kinematic mapping, virtual reality, haptics, robotics, and telepresence.”

Cyberselves’ co-founder and CTO, Daniel Camilleri, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for Cyberselves to draw together many exciting new technologies and help realise the true potential of telepresence and robotics for working alongside humans and keeping us safe by helping us to do the jobs that place us at risk. That we can do this with partners that are neighbours here in Scotland and the North of England is a testament to the strength of innovative, cutting-edge talent that’s here, right on our doorstep.”

Professor Yvan Petillot from the National Robotarium, based at Heriot-Watt University, said: “As a world-leading facility that promotes removing humans from hazardous work environments, this collaboration will draw upon the world-class talent of the staff at Heriot-Watt University in marine robotics and computer vision.

“The National Robotarium is a centre of excellence for fundamental research and knowledge exchange to address real-world challenges and industry needs. We will accelerate research from laboratory to market, paving the way for the UK to take a leadership role in telexistence technologies. Our academic team will integrate new solutions for underwater telepresence and manipulation on small to medium ROVs for remote intervention.”

Andrew Ludar-Smith, technical director at Resolve Robotics, said: “Resolve Robotics are collaborating with Cyberselves to enable the teleoperation of our Micro ROV, an ultra-small, underwater, remotely operated vehicle. The end result will be a robust and immersive end-user experience, creating a virtual human presence within hazardous and confined environments. Our combined technologies will enable a transformative improvement in remote intervention.”

While there have been significant advancements in robotics in recent years due to improved sensor technologies and AI, human-machine interface technologies have remained largely unchanged since the 1980s.

The project is one of eleven in the programme managed by DASA, run on behalf of the Ministry of Defence’s Chief Scientific Adviser and the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA), and managed by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl).

The National Robotarium is a partnership between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh and is funded by the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

The National Robotarium building will open on Heriot-Watt’s Edinburgh campus in 2022.

For more information visit: https://www.hw.ac.uk/uk/research/the-national-robotarium.htm