Robotics facility opens at Leeds

A new Government-backed centre is set to put Leeds at the forefront of UK robot design and construction

The £4.3 million Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems is now open at the University of Leeds’ School of Mechanical Engineering.

The centre has the most advanced suite of robot building equipment in the UK, offering the latest 3D printing and high-precision assembly technologies.

Dr Rob Richardson, Director of the facility, said: “Leeds already has a great track record in robotics for surgical applications, patient rehabilitation, prosthetics, and exploration, but the new facility will revolutionise our ability to turn new concepts into reality.

“We’ll be able to make robots that are smaller, more intricate, more flexible and more integrated than ever before.”

The facility is being funded as a resource not only for researchers but also for industry, and forging partnerships with companies interested in developing state-of-the-art robotics is a key objective. 

“Robotics has been identified by the Government as one of the areas where the UK can develop a technological edge and this facility puts Leeds and the  North of England at the heart of that effort. Our vision is to build a world-leading centre for robotics and autonomous systems,” Dr Richardson added. 

The new equipment includes one of the world’s largest multi-material 3D printers, capable of making objects with both rigid and soft parts. 

Another machine allows researchers to print electronic circuits onto robots in three dimensions, rather than relying on conventional flat circuit boards. Electronic test and measurement equipment will enable the creation of a new generation of miniature microwave and ultrasound sensors for surgical robots.   

The facility is also equipped with a 3D visualisation studio that allows robot builders to inspect digital models of robot designs in fine detail. Researchers are developing a new micro-assembly station that uses remote motion-sensing equipment to translate hand movements into very precise actions by a robot arm, allowing users to build mechanisms too small for the unaided human hand.

The EPSRC is spending £2.6 million on equipment as part of a £85-million nationwide investment in capital equipment to support research into robotics and autonomous systems, advanced materials and energy storage. The University has invested a further £1.2 million in equipment and lab improvements and industry will contribute £0.5 million, resulting in a total investment of £4.3 million.