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

UK businesses can apply for grant funding to work on robotics and artificial intelligence (RAI) technologies and systems for extreme and challenging environments.

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections

Description

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.

This is the second part of a 2-phase competition. It is open only to proposals for research and innovation projects that have been formulated and approved for development and submission during the first phase, the Innovation Lab.

If your project’s total costs or duration fall outside of our eligibility criteria, email support@innovateuk.ukri.org at least 10 days before the competition closes.

Funding type

Grant

Project size

We expect total project costs to be between £2 million and £6 million. Projects must start by January 2019 and be completed by March 2021.

Who can apply

Only applicants who were successful in the first phase, and attended the Innovation Lab, are eligible to apply.

The only exception is if permission has been given by the ISCF Robotics Challenge Director or his nominated deputy before you submit your proposal.

Permission will only be granted where:

  • there is a demonstrable lack of available resource or expertise from other Innovation Lab participants or
  • a commercial conflict with other participants has been identified and agreed

Any additional project participants must be approved before you submit your proposal. You can email requests to support@innovateuk.ukri.org until 28 September 2018.

To be eligible to submit a final project proposal you must:

  • be a UK based business,
  • carry out the 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)

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

This competition provides state aid funding under the General Block Exemption Regulation. It is your responsibility to make sure that your organisation is eligible to receive state aid.

Multiple applications

Any one business can lead on one application and collaborate in a further 2 applications. If a business is not leading an application, they can be a collaborator in up to 3 applications.

A research organisation cannot lead on an application but can be a collaborator in any number of applications.

Partners with no funding

Projects can include partners that do not receive any funding (for example, non-UK businesses). Their costs will count towards the total project costs but they will not count as collaborators. The same restrictions and exceptions apply for adding partners who did not participate in the Innovation Lab.

Failure to exploit

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

Previous projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, you are required to submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until the documents have been received.

Funding

We have allocated up to £15 million to fund innovation projects developed and approved for subsequent submission at the Innovation Lab. This will be awarded under state aid article 25, which is aid for research and development (R&D) projects.

For industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or 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 micro or small business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business

The universities and research organisations in your consortium can 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.

This competition provides state aid funding under the General Block Exemption Regulation. A UK business must be eligible to receive state aid. If you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information please see our general guidance.

Your proposal

The aim of this competition is to develop innovative robotic and artificial intelligence (RAI) systems that remove humans from infrastructure inspection, maintenance and repair in extreme environments, and have high commercial potential.

Your project’s proposal can be for industrial research or experimental development. It 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

Your 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

Your project should focus on one or more of 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

We will fund industrial research projects and experimental development projects.

Please see the general guidance to help you decide which category your project fits in.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund any fundamental research or feasibility study projects.

21 September 2018
Recording of briefing event.
24 September 2018
Competition opens
10 October 2018 3:00pm
Competition closes
5 November 2018 1:55pm
Applicants notified

Before you start

Please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

When you start an application you will be prompted to create an account as the lead applicant or sign in as a representative of your organisation. You will need an account to track the progress of your application.

As the lead applicant you will be responsible for:

  • collecting the information for your application
  • representing your organisation in leading the project if your application is successful

You will be able to invite colleagues and other organisations that meet the eligibility criteria to collaborate in the application (and in the project if your application is successful). You should read the restrictions on non-Innovation Lab participants in the eligibility section.

Collaborating organisations can be other businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Application details.
  2. Application questions.
  3. Finances.

1. Application details

Explain your project. This section is not scored, but we will use it to decide whether the project fits with the scope of the competition. If it does not, it will be immediately rejected.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date and duration.

Project summary

Describe your project briefly, and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign experts to assess your application. List any organisations you have named as collaborators. Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Public description

Describe your project in detail, and in a way that you are happy to see published. Please do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your project funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your project. Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

Scope

Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition.

If your project has major changes or deviations from what was approved for submission at the Innovation Lab, and is deemed not to be in scope, it will be immediately rejected and will not be sent for assessment. We will give you feedback on why. Your answer can be up to 400 words long.

2. Application questions

Your answers to these questions will be scored by the assessors. You will receive feedback from the assessors for each question.

Your answer to each question can be up to 750 words long. Do not include any URLs in your answers unless we have explicitly requested a link to a video.

Question 1. Need or challenge

What is the business need, citizen challenge, technological challenge or market opportunity behind your innovation?

Describe or explain:

  • the main motivation for the project
  • the business need, technological challenge or market opportunity
  • the nearest current state-of-the-art, including those near market or in development, and its limitations
  • any work you have already done to respond to this need, for example if the project is focused on developing an existing capability or building a new one
  • the wider economic, social, environmental, cultural or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity, such as incoming regulations. Our Horizons tool can help with this

Question 2. Approach and innovation

What approach will you take and where will the focus of the innovation be?

Describe or explain:

  • how you will respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • how you will improve on the nearest current state-of-the-art identified
  • whether the innovation will focus on the application of existing technologies in new areas, the development of new technologies for existing areas or a totally disruptive approach
  • the freedom you have to operate
  • how this project fits with your current product, service lines or offerings
  • how it will make you more competitive
  • the nature of the outputs you expect from the project (for example, report, demonstrator, know-how, new process, product or service design) and how these will help you to target the need, challenge or opportunity identified

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 10MB and up to 2 pages long to support your answer. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 3. Team and resources

Who is in the project team and what are their roles?

Describe or explain:

  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the project and how you will access them
  • the details of any vital external parties, including sub-contractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the project
  • the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • any organisations who have been permitted to join the consortium and who were not present at the Innovation Lab

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 10MB and with up to 4 pages. long to support your answer. A fifth page can be added if additional resource has been agreed since the Innovation Lab. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 4. Market awareness

What does the market you are targeting look like?

Describe or explain:

  • the markets (domestic, international or both) you will be targeting in the project and any other potential markets
  • the size of the target markets for the project outcomes, backed up by references where available
  • the structure and dynamics of the target markets, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • the target markets’ main supply or value chains and business models, and any barriers to entry that exist
  • the current UK position in targeting these markets
  • the size and main features of any other markets not already listed

If your project is highly innovative, where the market may be unexplored, describe or explain:

  • what the market’s size might to be
  • how your project will try to explore the market’s potential

Question 5. Outcomes and route to market

How are you going to grow your business and increase your productivity into the long term as a result of the project?

Describe or explain:

  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • your target customers or end users, and the value to them, for example, why they would use or buy your product
  • your route to market
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation, including increased revenues or cost reduction
  • how the innovation will affect your productivity and growth, in both the short and the long term
  • how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, patenting, designs or changes to your business model
  • your strategy for targeting the other markets you have identified during or after the project

If there is any research organisation activity in the project, describe:

  • your plans to spread the project’s research outputs over a reasonable timescale
  • how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities

Question 6. Wider impacts

What impact might this project have outside the project team?

Describe, and where possible measure:

  • the economic benefits from the project to external parties, including customers, others in the supply chain, broader industry and the UK economy, such as productivity increases and import substitution
  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected environmental impacts, either positive or negative
  • any expected regional impacts of the project

Describe any expected social impacts, either positive or negative on, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion or exclusion
  • jobs, such as safeguarding, creating, changing or displacing them
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity

Question 7. Project management

How will you manage the project effectively?

Describe or explain:

  • the main work packages of the project, indicating the relevant research category, the lead partner assigned to each and the total cost of each one
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms that will be used for a successful and innovative project outcome.
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

You can upload a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 10MB and up to 2 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 8. Risks

What are the main risks for this project?

Describe or explain:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks, providing a risk register if appropriate
  • how these risks will be mitigated
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, such as resources, expertise, data sets
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how will you manage this?

You can upload a risk register as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 10MB and up to 2 pages long. The font must be legible at 100% zoom.

Question 9. Added value

What impact would an injection of public funding have on the businesses involved?

Describe or explain:

  • if this project could go ahead in any form without public funding and if so, the difference the public funding would make, such as faster to market, more partners and reduced risk
  • the likely impact of the project on the businesses of the partners involved
  • why you are not able to wholly fund the project from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding, and what would happen if the application is unsuccessful
  • how this project would change the nature of R&D activity the partners would undertake, and the related spend

Question 10. Costs and value for money

How much will the project cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

Describe or explain:

  • the total project cost and the grant being requested in terms of the project goals
  • how the partners will finance their contributions to the project
  • how this project represents value for money for you and the taxpayer
  • how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise
  • the balance of costs and grant across the project partners
  • any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the project, in particular if they have been introduced since the Innovation Lab

3. Finances

The finances section asks each organisation in your project to complete their own project costs, organisational details and funding details.

Academics will need to complete and upload a Je-S form. For full details on what costs you can claim please see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

The award for this competition is supported through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) and must align with one or more of the following objectives of the ISCF Strategy:

  • increased UK business investment in R&D and improved R&D capability and capacity
  • increased multi- and inter-disciplinary research around the challenge areas
  • increased business-academic engagement on innovation activities relating to the challenge areas
  • increased collaboration between younger, smaller companies and larger, more established companies up the value chain
  • increased overseas investment in R&D in the UK

In particular the vison for robotics and AI in extreme environments are projects that will:

  • develop robotic solutions to make a safer working environment in industries such as offshore energy, nuclear energy, space and deep mining
  • increase productivity
  • open up new cross-disciplinary opportunities

Extra help

If you want help to find a project collaborator, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at support@innovateuk.ukri.org.

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