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Robotics & Autonomous Systems Regional Dissemination & Brokerage Event NOC, Southampton – 19 September 2016

The National Oceanographic Centre (NOC) at Southampton University was an appropriate venue for the third regional RAS disseminaton and brokerage event organized by the KTN.

The purpose of the event was to present the scope of Innovate UK’s  latest Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) competition call.  Innovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) are investing up to £5 million in innovation projects to stimulate new partnerships across RAS. 

Delegates were welcomed by the event Chair : Ian Stock, KTN’s Manager for Rail & Marine, and Aidan Thorn, Business Development Manager at the NOC, who set out some of the activities and developments taking place at NOC.  

Nikos Pronios, Lead Technologist at Innovate UK set out the scope of the competition call and the application process.

Nikos explained that for this competition call Innovate UK are looking for innovators to develop new solutions to existing or emerging problems. Commercially viable RAS solutions often need to combine several different technologies to achieve the required performance. This competition aims to support and speed up this work.

The aim of this competition is to enable UK companies to explore new RAS opportunities. It will enable them to develop capabilities for application in many sectors of the UK economy. Nikos said that the commercial opportunities for RAS are many and clear. This competition call is intended to encourage RAS research projects to progress them, and that proposals should show how they can speed up the development of RAS technologies towards demonstration and commercialisation.  Projects may focus on technical feasibility, industrial research or experimental development.

A business must lead the project, and can do this either alone for projects up to £100,000, or collaboratively with another company or research institute for projects with costs of £100,000 or above.  Innovate UK expect projects to range in size from total costs of £50,000 to £500,000. 

Projects should last between 6 and 15 months. Businesses must complete the work and incur, pay and claim for all costs before the end of March 2018.  Nikos stressed, that given the timings, those wishing to undertake a 15 month project need to put in a considerable effort to sort out the IP and collaborate issues ahead of the application.

If delegates have questions on the call, its scope and application process they should contact Innovate UK either email support@innovateuk.gov.uk or call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357. 

Dan Hook, MD of Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASV) present the case study on how Innovate UK funding has helped accelerate the growth of his business to 75 employees in 6 years.  

After outlining some details of the company – 75 ASV systems across 20 vessel designs with markets in defence, oceanology, offshore support, and exports to the USA – Dan gave the attendees the benefits of his experience in proposing for and winning Innovate UK funded projects.

He stressed the relevance of having a business plan, a technical roadmap and R&D budget to guide the company’s development, and the necessity for the Innovate UK competition scope to be aligned to these.

Another key factor in ASV’s success in bidding was having identified key partners and understanding the IP issues early in the process.

Elevator pitches were made by 9 companies, setting out their capabilities, their interest in the competition call and the collaborations they were looking for.

All presentations are available to download here, along with the pitches and a webinar of the competition scope and application process.

The afternoon session aimed to explain the importance of smart specialization in developing regional policies, and to  understand existing regional strategies and collaborations. 

These topics were well illustrated by Steve Welch, KTN Director who explained what Smart Specialization is and the nature of the Smart Specialization Hub which is co-funded by BEIS, Innovate UK, HEFCE, and ERDF.

In particular the Hub is working with LEPS and similar organizations, to evidence the UK’s comparative advantage to 

  • Target inward investment 
  • Encourage local innovation and economic growth
  • Promote collaboration between regions to fill skills gaps.

Examples of collaborations between LES, Local Authorities, Academia and business were presented by 

Amanada Beable – Hants County Council

Sheldon Ryon – HotSW LEP / Plymouth City Council

David Brown – Portsmouth University

Within the South, and particularly on the South coast the marine sector is a major industry, with Marine Autonomous Systems a key sector and example of Smart Specialisation.  

Amanda Beable presented on the support being given to this industry and sector through the South Coast Marine Cluster (SCMC).

The SCMC is a collaboration of 4 LEPS, 4 City and County Councils, 7 universities and a major technology research company (QinetiQ) which aims to 

  • Encourage business growth through innovation and exporting
  • Raise awareness of the importance of the sector in the regional economy
  • Attract inward investment.

Mention was also made of a new initiative : Autonomy 2017, being set up by the Cluster to support autonomous water, land and air systems.

Sheldon Ryan looked at RAS within the HoTSW LEP regional (covering Devon and Somerset) strategy.  He outlined how its smart specialisaton strategy was helping to guide future funding, and various other initiatives, such as the Plymouth & West Peninsula City Deal were focusing on high value manufacturing, marine, digital and healthcare sectors.   He also noted the application into BES for funding of a Science & Innovation Audit which included the whole of the SW region and into S Wales.

Ian mentioned his discussion with EnterpriseM3 LEP which is coordinating a bid into BEIS for funding a similar audit under the title of  “Innovation South”.  This bid covers 6 LEP areas from Kent through to Dorset and the South Coast to Thames Valley Berkshire, and includes the many universities and research institutes in the region.  The proposal is to undertake an audit of its strengths (smart specialisms) in digital enabling technologies particularly in the 4 high tech sectors of advanced engineering, marine & maritime, bio sciences and creative industries.

David Brown outlined the South Coast Centre of Excellence created to provide a focal point for  linking the science base with industry to enable applications and solutions development particularly around Satellites in areas such as Manufacturing, the Blue Economy and .Intelligent Transport. Partners in this collaboration are  the NOC,  Southampton, Portsmouth and Brighton Universities, Marine SE, Hampshire County Council and the Satellite Applications Catapult.  He noted that similar regional centres existed in the South West, East Midlands, the North East and Scotland.

All speakers agreed that RAS is an important component within these strategies and various collaboration initiatives, and specifically indicated the marine specialism.  All presentations are available to download here.

A key feature of the day was the opportunity at breaks and lunchtime for the 59 attendees to network and potentially build consortia for bidding into the RAS competition call, and we wish all delegates good luck in their proposals.  If they have looking to build a consortia and would like help in doing this please email Ian at ian.stock@ktn-uk.org or telephone 07805 492194. 

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