The UK government is backing what it calls the world’s first remotely operated offshore search-and-rescue operation as part of a wider $10 million funding project to boost robotic and automation development.

Automated drones at heart of UK tech funding

The new offshore rescue program will be primarily positioned to assist workers on offshore energy platforms who fall victim to high winds or heavy waves far from landfall. Development of the system is being led by Edinburgh-based Offshore Survival Systems. Central to the search and rescue scheme will be a network of semi-autonomous unmanned rescue vessels ready for deployment at the first word of trouble at sea.

Another beneficiary of the UK’s development push is Digital & Future Technologies, which describes itself as “a bespoke electronics development house… [helping] our end customers to implement and bring new technologies into their marketplaces.” Under the UK government-funded project, the company will develop an automated drone system that handles cargo on- and off-loading on its own. When operational, it will ensure critical healthcare supplies like personal protective equipment is delivered to hospitals rapidly, and without human intervention. 

The initiative is a direct response to painful experiences learned in battling the Covid pandemic ­ – insufficiencies UK officials want to avoid in future crises. The same reasoning was at work in selection of the other 36 business-led projects that will receive government funding to develop automated and robotic technologies.

Innovation to address Covid response shortcomings

British science minister Amanda Solloway described the push as a way for the UK to both bounce back from the pandemic by learning from shortcomings experienced in facing it, and boost the contributions of tech innovation to economic growth.

From a first-of-its-kind automated rescue service for UK offshore energy workers, to drone technology delivering for our NHS, these robotics technologies could be game changing as part of our continued efforts to tackle global challenges – from pandemic preparedness to climate change – all while cementing the UK’s status as a science superpower.

The financial backing comes from wider funds the government has said it will commit to stepping up tech development in the UK. It plans to increase current support of that research and development by 2.4% by 2027.

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