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The University of Southampton

Southampton based hub to lead UK research on Trustworthy Autonomous Systems

Published: 4 June 2020
Robotic arm

A Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub, based at the University of Southampton, will spearhead work to ensure that autonomous systems such as driverless cars and robots are trustworthy by default and can ultimately benefit society and industry.

Autonomous systems are technologies that gain information about their environment, learn, adapt and make decisions, with little or no human control. They can include automated software and ‘smart’ devices as well as self-driving cars, drones and robots.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is investing £33 million from the Strategic Priorities Fund to support the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems programme, which originated through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Big Ideas initiative. EPSRC will manage the programme, with £12 million allocated to support the Hub .

Based at Southampton with King’s College London and the University of Nottingham as partners, the Hub is the first element of the programme, which will bring together the UK’s world-leading expertise in areas ranging from computing and robotics to social sciences and the humanities. Fully integrated technical and social sciences and humanities research will allow the huge potential industrial and societal benefits of autonomous systems to be unlocked.

The project, led by Southampton’s Professor Sarvapali Ramchurn , will establish a collaborative platform for the UK to deliver world-leading best practices for the design, regulation and operation of autonomous systems that are socially beneficial. The Hub will build a community that is coherent, connected and best placed to deliver the fundamental research needed to make autonomous systems trustworthy in principle, and trusted in practice by individuals, society and government.

Professor Ramchurn said: “Whether it’s a self-driving car doing the school runs or a virus tracing app alerting us to potential infections, autonomous systems of all types will increasingly test our trust in their design, regulation, and operation.

“We will need to work across disciplines and sectors, and take an inclusive approach, to ensure that autonomous systems are trustworthy by design and trusted by individuals and the wider society. Our international partnerships will also ensure that the programme will have a global impact and position the UK as a world leader in this area.”

Professor Mark Spearing , Vice President, Research and Enterprise at the University of Southampton comments: “We’re very pleased that our University will host the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Hub, which places our world-leading expertise in artificial intelligence and autonomous systems at the heart of this significant UK national research initiative. It is vital that the technologies and systems we create, going forward, are trusted and trustworthy and this collaborative Hub, involving major university and industry partners, will play a key role in making that happen for the benefit of all for years to come.”

Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi said: “Technologies like these have enormous potential to transform the way we work and travel. This new programme is therefore essential in increasing people’s confidence and ensuring innovations such as automated cars can become a key part of our everyday lives.”

The Hub will also provide a focal point for new market and society-led research as well as engaging a broad range of end-users, international collaborators and investors. It will explore methods of engagement and cooperation with the public, government, public and third sector organisations and industry to help define best practices, assurance processes, and formulate policy.

Over 60 Hub partners will contribute across a range of sectors and include AXA, BAE Systems, the BBC, Boeing, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), IBM, JP Morgan, Microsoft Research, QinetiQ, Shell, Siemens, Thales and Unilever.

The Trustworthy Autonomous Systems programme will consider fundamental research questions that cut across a range of application areas including Financial Services, Defence and Security, Internet of Things at home and the workplace, Healthcare, Autonomous Vehicles, Industry X.0, and Creative Industries. The nodes will each focus on a specific area of fundamental multidisciplinary research to address key challenges in the adoption of autonomous systems, such as trust, security and resilience. Funding for the nodes will be allocated later this year.

Dr Anna Angus-Smyth, Head of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at EPSRC, said: “Autonomous systems are already in use in certain industries but there is more to be done to increase their trustworthiness. This will reduce barriers to their adoption by society and industry and the wider realisation of their possibilities.

“By convening expertise from across the UK’s research and innovation sector and conducting vital new research, the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems programme aims to break down these barriers and unlock this enormous potential by ensuring these systems are safe, reliable, resilient and operate in line with human values.”

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