THE University of York is to create a £35 million research centre aimed at ensuring robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are safe.

Specialist laboratories and testing facilities will investigate everything from driverless cars to hospital robots.

The York Global Initiative for Safe Autonomy, based on the Heslington East campus, is expected to help strengthen the UK’s position as a leader in the safe introduction of advanced technology.

It will bring together industrial partners and world experts in the field, housing up to 100 researchers and support staff.

Work on the new building, which will include a rooftop lab and specialist robotics design and testing equipment, will begin in April 2020 and it will open in 2021.

Professor John McDermid said robotics and AI would change every part of our lives, removing people from harmful jobs, transforming transport, improving productivity, and delivering better social and medical care.

“But this rapid advancement comes with challenges: How do we assure their safety?” he said.

“The initiative will support research that will give developers, members of the public and regulators the justified confidence that they need in the safety of autonomous systems.”

A spokeswoman said the university already had a number of existing programmes in the field, including the York Centre for Quantum Technologies, and the new initiative would build on that expertise and establish three central research pillars: design, assurance and communications.

The UK Research Partnership Investment Fund is providing £10.5 million, with £24.5 million secured through match funding from industrial and philanthropic partners.

Acting Vice Chancellor Professor Saul Tendler said: “The investment announced today is one of the largest in research infrastructure at York.

“It represents a significant vote of confidence in the university and the region and confirms our position as one of the world’s premier institutions for inspirational and life-changing research. We are already leading the way in this hugely important area with researchers across multiple departments working together to advance the safe introduction of robotics and connected autonomous systems across the globe.”

Professor Deborah Smith, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research, said the facility would help strengthen the UK’s position as a leader in the safe introduction of advanced technology.

“Our dedicated research facility will help attract new expertise to York and create a unique environment for fundamental and applied research into the safety of next generation autonomous systems.”