A NEW £45 million centre is set to be opened in York aimed at boosting public confidence in new technologies such as AI.

The University of York will launch the Institute for Safe Autonomy, a ‘living lab’ that provides research and development space for autonomous systems - the big networks that make up the Internet, operating on the ground, underwater and in the air.

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The facility, the first UK research institute to focus on the safety of autonomous systems combines a range of experimental laboratories in robotics, advanced communications and quantum communications.

It aims to provide research that demonstrates how to minimise the risks associated with these technologies, while exploring their potential to deliver impactful solutions for the benefit of society, the economy and the planet.

Prof Miles Elsden, director of the Institute for Safe Autonomy, said: “Safety assurance is key to underpinning public trust in these new technologies and is one of the key barriers to the take-up of autonomous technology, such as AI, in many sectors.

“To do this right we need to consider a whole range of ethical, legal, regulatory and legislative dimensions as well as risk management and harm minimisation, which are the very areas we are focusing on here at the Institute for Safe Autonomy.

“These technologies are already a big part of our daily lives, whether it's part of your mobile phone, Smart TV, or vacuum cleaner, and yet there is a significant number of people that are wary of their development, and we have to ask why that is and how we can address those concerns by evidencing how safe they are for everyday use.”

York Press: The University of York will launch the Institute for Safe AutonomyThe University of York will launch the Institute for Safe Autonomy (Image: Alex Holland)

The purpose-built facility provides collaborative work and test spaces for more than 100 researchers across a variety of disciplines, including computer science, engineering, physics, law, management and philosophy. Its safety experts work in partnership with academia, industry, government and civil society to research safe, ethical, real-world applications for autonomous systems.

Researchers at the institute are working on a range of projects, including how robots might be safely integrated into triage procedures in emergency hospital departments; how robots can be used in social care for basic domestic tasks; the safety assurances of out-of-line-sight drone use, and the security of long-range underwater quantum communications.

The institute is also home to a new £1.5 million solar farm project, which aims to enable the Institute to become energy self-sufficient by 2025, generating approximately 170 MWh of power annually.

Funded through the UK Research Partnership Investment Fund (UKRPIF) and constructed by Siemens, the solar farm will enhance the Institute’s research capabilities to develop and use autonomous robots and drones to independently inspect and maintain solar arrays .

The institute will provide work space for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) from both here in the UK and internationally, operating in the field of autonomous systems.

The Institute will be officially opened on Tuesday, February 20 by Dr Ruth Boumphrey, chief executive of Lloyd’s Register Foundation.