Rise of the machines

Posted in Articles
Move over R2D2 – robots are no longer just the stuff of sci-fi… they are in the world around us. People around the UK are using science to advance robotics and the impact they have on our lives.
Research is driving forward the field and pushing the boundaries of what robots can do. From improving the way we understand the world around us to helping clean up after natural disasters, we look at how robots are helping us develop our future.

Feeding the world

Over a billion people worldwide depend on farming for their livelihood; while almost 800 million others struggle to get enough food.

AgriRover is a robot built using technology designed for Mars rovers. It has a little arm and soil sensing equipment, to provide better information about the soil. This information means farmers can grow their crops more effectively and protect the environment at the same time.

University of Strathclyde

Intergalactic investigations

Ever wanted to explore the corners of our universe? Well, picture a robot with 24 arms; now imagine it attached to one of the world’s most powerful telescopes in a desert in Chile.

This is KMOS (K-Band Multi Object Spectrometer): a robot whose arms can be moved to sense light produced by distant galaxies.

This next-generation robot reduces the amount of research needed from years to months, and the data it gathers could help us to find out more about the beginnings of the universe, including the origins of stars and galaxies billions of light years away.



Scientists looking for new medical drugs often have to sift through hundreds of thousands of chemical compounds before they finally find a substance that has the desired medical effect.

Eve is a robot scientist created to help with this hard task, saving years of human effort. Using artificial intelligence, Eve learns which compounds have the highest chances of success, whilst removing those that are toxic to cells or risk harmful side-effects.


Engaging children with autism

Robots come in many shapes and sizes, from enormous aircraft drones to tiny nanorobots smaller than a grain of salt. But perhaps the most exciting type of robot is the humanoid: a robot that looks and behaves the same as a human.

Research has shown that people with autism benefit from the company of robotic ‘buddies’ in the classroom and some schools have introduced them. This may be because children with autism appear to show an increased preference for computers and technology. More research is needed, but it’s thought that robot buddies could eventually be sent to more schools as a way to help improve children’s’ development.

University of Birmingham

Cutting-edge surgery

Ever tried to play ‘operation’ and grabbed the wishbone… BUZZ! You touch the metal and it’s game over. If a robot were to play operation, it might have more luck.

Surgeons are using robots adapted to carry out challenging surgical operations, and potentially saving lives in the process. Their keyhole precision allows surgeons to access hard-to-reach areas using an endoscopic camera, making surgery potentially easier and safer.


Combatting dementia

Around 47 million people in the UK have dementia, and this number is set to rise in the future. Dementia can affect movement, making it difficult for people to pick up and handle objects – and this means that people with dementia may find it difficult to live alone.

Recent technology has seen the created of high-tech robotic hands. These artificial hands are becoming more and more lifelike, using software and algorithms to create natural responses and movement. Supported by Innovate UK, the Shadow Dexterous Hand offers 20 different movements, and makes decisions about how to pick up, grip and release objects all by itself. This amazing technology could allow early stage dementia patient to retain their independence for longer.


Disaster relief

Have you heard of drones? Researchers are finding out if drones could be used to both build and deliver temporary shelters for disaster victims.

After earthquakes and floods, disaster zones can become virtually unreachable on foot. Using this technology, scientists are now considering whether it’s possible to combine drone technology with 3D printing to create flying mini-factories. Whilst this work is still in its early stages, scientists hope that drones might one day be able to 3D print and deliver temporary shelters for survivors in disaster situations.


Deep sea exploration

Did you know that a stunning 95% of the world’s oceans remain unexplored? This is because it is simply too difficult, dangerous and costly for scientists to fully investigate the deep sea. But for robots, it’s a different story.


We now have robots that can survive thousands of metres under water, under pressures that would be deadly to any human being. Scientists can use these robots to study the ocean’s ecosystem in great detail. They are helping scientists to study evidence of climate change in the Arctic Ocean. The decline of sea ice is changing the Arctic’s ecosystem, and learning more about exactly how these changes are happening could tell us what climate change will do in the future.

Living the future

So looking back, robots have come so far from the movies and stories our parents watched as kids. Now we are seeing robots helping us with everything from operations to deep sea exploring. It seems like the only thing stopping us now is limits of our own imaginations – so what do you think the robots of the future will look like?