Heriot-Watt is leading way in robotics world - Iain Stewart

To people of a certain vintage, robots were once confined to the realms of science fiction. Whether it was R2D2’s antics in the Star Wars films or Marvin the Paranoid Android in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, they were a far-fetched notion.
Iain Aitken Stewart MPIain Aitken Stewart MP
Iain Aitken Stewart MP

How times have changed. This week, I saw for myself how robots are now science fact. No longer the product of the fevered imagination of film-makers and authors, they are transforming lives for the better in the most ingenious fashion.

Picture robots inspecting construction sites to improve safety and efficiency, crawling over hazardous locations such as offshore platforms or areas where there has been a natural disaster. They could be taking part in a search and rescue mission, using sensors to monitor a casualty and enabling doctors to advise on treatment from afar. Or they could be carrying dedicated sensors to automatically identify hazardous material like radioactive waste on nuclear sites.

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I saw these Spot robots in action when their amazing capabilities were demonstrated at the National Robotarium, hosted by Heriot- Watt University, where the UK Government has invested more than £21 million into a new state-of-the-art research centre.

This can be done through the National Robotarium’s pioneering work on telexistence technology, whereby humans experience an environment without being there through devices like microphones and cameras fitted on to robots.

As the robots surveyed the construction site of the new National Robotarium building, which will be opened next year, I marvelled at these incredible machines. Chatting to the National Robotarium’s academics I learned of the innumerable practical applications which the new technology enables.

Applications which include robotic scaffoldings that self-builds structures to help with nuclear decommissioning, humanoid robots interacting with patients to reduce anxiety in hospital waiting rooms, technology for self-driving cars or autonomous wheelchairs.

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The world of sport has not been immune from the National Robotarium’s influence. But I have to say that I was glad to be spared being put through my paces by the squash robot, recently developed to help coach the racquet sport.

The harnessing of this remarkable science and the construction of the National Robotarium’s new home on the Heriot- Watt University campus will stimulate jobs through spin-out businesses as well as create the next generation of roboticists.

Our investment in the National Robotarium is just one of the ways that the UK Government’s £300 million injection into the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal is bearing fruit.

With the Scottish Government matching our funding across the deal and working with six local authorities plus other partners, the arrangement is worth £1.3 billion and will contribute to 21,000 jobs.

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Cutting edge technology is evident throughout the amazing projects supported by the deal with the UK Government investing £270 million in five Data Driven Innovation Hubs at Edinburgh and Heriot Watt universities.

This includes research into how data can boost the recovery from the pandemic through health innovation, tourism recovery and delivering social and economic benefit.

During my day with the robots, I witnessed innovation worthy of the imaginations of George Lucas or Douglas Adams but which will make a lasting impact on the real world.

Iain Stewart is Conservative MP for Milton Keynes South and Under-Secretary of State for Scotland

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