Funding competition Robotics and AI: inspect, maintain and repair in extreme environments

Individuals can apply to join a 5-day collaborative workshop to develop project proposals to use robotic and AI systems to service infrastructures in challenging environments. Projects will be funded by the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £15 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) in business led collaborations. These will work to develop robotic and artificial intelligence (RAI) systems that remove humans from infrastructure inspection, maintenance and repair in extreme environments.

The challenge is to develop technologies and systems that make unmanned operation the standard approach in areas such as off-shore energy, nuclear energy, mining and space.

In this competition individuals can apply to take part, on behalf of their organisation, in a 5-day residential Innovation Lab, which will run from 10 to 14 September 2018. The attendees will work together to develop collaborative proposals for research and innovation projects.

After the Innovation Lab the developed project collaborations will have 3 weeks to finalise their proposals before submitting them for assessment.

Funding type


Project size

Your project can have total costs between £2 million and £6 million. It must start by January 2019 and be completed by March 2021.

Who can apply

To apply to attend the Innovation Lab you must:

  • commit to attending all 5 days on a residential basis at the nominated UK location (to be announced in the next few weeks)
  • show you are able to work collaboratively and have the relevant skills, expertise and experience to represent your organisation
  • describe the financial and other resources your organisation can commit
  • be from an organisation that is eligible to submit a project proposal

If you are chosen to attend the Innovation Lab you will need to sign a confidentiality agreement and return it by 7 September 2018. This is to protect existing intellectual property (IP) and to allow full disclosure of expertise and capabilities at the Innovation Lab.

We are looking for a broad range of disciplines and backgrounds, bringing together people who would not normally work together, ensuring the equality, diversity and inclusion of participants.

Your application to attend will be considered by a selection panel, consisting of the Innovation Lab director and assessors, one of whom is an occupational psychologist.

The assessment panel will look for evidence that you have:

  • an open, engaging, flexible, imaginative and creative outlook
  • the ability to develop new and highly original innovative ideas
  • the ability to work constructively with people of diverse disciplines
  • the stamina and enthusiasm needed to work with strangers intensively over 5 days away from home

Project proposals

A team of mentors will help with the assessment process on the last day of the Innovation Lab. They will use consistent assessment criteria to decide which teams will be allowed to submit final written project proposals.

The teams will submit their project proposals through the Innovation Funding Service following standard competition rules and requirements.

To be eligible to submit a final project proposal after the Innovation Lab your organisation must:

  • be a UK based business, academic, charity, public sector organisation or RTO
  • carry out its project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from the UK
  • work in collaboration with others (businesses, research base or third sector)
  • involve at least one micro, small or medium-sized enterprise (SME)

A business must lead the project. Any one business may lead on one application and partner in a further 2 applications. Academics and RTOs can collaborate in any number of applications.

The research organisations collaborating as part of a consortium may share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.

Final projects can also include non-grant claiming partners.

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole company and were awarded funding by Innovate UK, but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision. We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which will be made by 3 team members
  • communicate our decision to you in writing


We have allocated up to £15 million to fund projects developed based on Innovation Lab proposals. We expect each project to have total costs between £2 million and £6 million.

Innovate UK will pay your residential and subsistence costs, excluding alcohol. You will pay your travel costs to and from the Innovation Lab. You can discuss other costs with Innovate UK and these will be considered on a case-by-case basis. You will not be paid for Innovation Lab attendance or proposal development.

Your proposal

The aim of the Innovation Lab is to generate innovative and commercially viable new ideas.

The process and activities within the Innovation Lab may be unconventional, challenging and unexpected. By submitting an application you are agreeing to take part fully, enthusiastically and constructively.

The final project proposals created during the event can be for industrial research or experimental development.

Your final proposal must focus on solutions that:

  • aim to make unmanned operations the standard for inspecting, maintaining and repairing physical infrastructures
  • operate in infrastructure types such as off-shore energy, nuclear energy, mining and space, and ideally in more than one
  • operate safely, efficiently, over long periods of time and without maintenance
  • follow all appropriate industrial standards and system engineering principles

The proposal must:

  • quantify how the solution can be exploited
  • include testing in realistic scenarios or environments
  • address regulatory or safety issues and constraints

Specific themes

We are particularly encouraging applications from applicants who can contribute to developing the following areas:

  • improved robotic structural capabilities
  • re-formable structures
  • long-range and beyond visual line of sight (BVLoS) operations
  • electronics, sensors and photonics for extreme environments
  • AI, autonomy and situational awareness
  • mission planning and risk management
  • systems engineering, including verification and validation tools and methodologies
  • security, reliability, safety and trust
  • collaborative RAI systems
  • long endurance operations
  • modules supporting increased dexterity
  • locomotion platforms for extreme environments

Project types

Projects emerging from the Innovation Lab must follow the Innovate UK research and development competition rules.

Industrial research projects can claim funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a small business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 45% if you are a small business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business

Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

Projects we will not fund

We are not expecting to fund any fundamental research projects.

21 May 2018
Competition opens
24 May 2018
Manchester briefing event.
19 June 2018
Briefing event recording.
11 July 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
9 August 2018 11:44am
Applicants notified
10 August 2018
Applicants notified.
10 September 2018
Start of the Innovation Lab.
14 September 2018
End of the Innovation Lab.
17 September 2018
Open date for final project application.
10 October 2018
Close date for final project application.
31 October 2018
Applicants notified.

Before you start

When you start an application to attend the Innovation Lab you will be prompted to create an account. You will need an account to track the progress of your application.

As an applicant you will be responsible for:

  • collecting the information for your application
  • representing your organisation in attending the Innovation Lab if your application is successful

If more than one person is applying for the Innovation Lab from the same organisation, each person must create a separate account. Each applicant will be assessed on their own merit. We reserve the right to limit attendance at the Innovation Lab to one person per organisation.

What we will ask you

The competition is split into 2 sections. Each has the same weight for the assessment.

  1. Project details
  2. Application questions

1. Project details

For the project title enter ‘Not applicable’.

For the start date enter January 2019 and for the duration enter 12 months. For research category please enter ‘industrial research’.

The above fields are mandatory but not needed for this competition therefore you will not be scored on the answers you provide.

2. Application questions

Question 1. Background

Please outline your professional background and current job or position. Highlight 1 or 2 high points of your career.

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 2. Subject knowledge

How do you see robotics evolving over the next 10 years?

Where do you fit in the spectrum of opinions between robotics being semi-autonomous with human interaction, to being fully autonomous using solely artificial intelligence control?

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 3. Expertise and interests

How do you see your expertise and interests contributing to achieving the transformative objectives of the event?

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 4. Teamwork

What is your approach to teamwork? What do you regard as your strengths?

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 5. Communication skills

How would you explain your area of interest to individuals with different expertise to your own?

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 6. Innovation Lab

The Innovation Lab is especially suited to individuals who can step outside their own area of expertise or interest, are positively driven, enjoy creative activity and can think innovatively. It is an intensive setting requiring you to develop new approaches with individuals you may not know. How do you consider yourself suited?

Your answer can be up to 100 words long.

Question 7. Benefits to you and your organisation

What do you and your organisation hope to gain from taking part in the Innovation Lab?

Please provide:

  • details of why you want to take part and what benefit you expect for your organisation
  • details of how you will get the necessary authority to commit your organisation to a project.
  • a statement of the financial or other resource your organisation may be willing to commit to a successful project (including provision of appropriate specialised facilities if you have them)

Your answer can be up to 200 words long.

Question 8. Commitment

If selected you must attend all 5 days of the Innovation Lab without interruption.

Do you and your organisation commit to this? Please answer yes or no.

Background and further information

Innovation Lab

Taking part will be:

  • a director
  • 20 to 30 participants, who are expected to contribute fully and constructively
  • a team of mentors to help the director assess participants and provide objective advice, feedback and input
  • Innovation Lab facilitators to design the activities and schedule sessions
  • independent stakeholders with real experience of the challenge

The Innovation Lab process will include:

  • evolving a common language, terminology and concept of operations
  • sharing understanding of the challenges, and benefitting from one another’s expertise
  • taking part in break-out sessions, using creative thinking techniques
  • visiting relevant sites and environments to encourage creative thinking and problem solving
  • capturing outputs as highly innovative research project ideas
  • forming new consortia that would not otherwise have had the potential to develop

The venue will be accessible both in terms of links to public transport and personal facilities. Its facilities will help balance working and down time. All rooms will be single and have en-suite facilities. If you have particular needs please contact the Programme Manager through the Innovate UK Customer Support Service and these will be considered on a case by case basis.

Requests for dietary needs will be circulated before attendance.

At the last stage of the Innovation Lab the mentors will use specific criteria to decide which teams will submit written proposals for projects. The teams will have 3 weeks after the Innovation Lab to finalise their proposals and agree them with their organisations.

ISCF Robotics and AI wider opportunities

An Innovation Lab is an intensive way to form new ideas and collaborations. It may not be suitable for all individuals and organisations.

If you are looking for other opportunities to help us explore this challenge, you could consider:

  • future demonstrator opportunities to lead or collaborate through the Innovate UK ISCF challenges and briefing events run with the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN)
  • building on round 1 demonstrator activities which will be published on our website and through the KTN
  • a future research and design competition we expect to run this year or next for aspects of RAI in extreme environments that enhance or are independent of previous projects or competitions
  • future Open competitions in 2018/2019 and 2019/2020 for complementary projects that enhance or support the work in extreme environments
  • future missions
  • future showcase events
  • wider robotic and AI activities through UK Research and Innovation

Extra help

If you need more information, contact the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

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