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RCA Leader in Robotics Awarded EPSRC UKRI Innovation Fellowship

Dr Sina Sareh, academic leader in Robotics in the School of Design, has been awarded an EPSRC (Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council) UKRI (UK Research Innovation) Innovation Fellowship. This fellowship will provide £400,000 funding towards Dr Sareh’s research project Getting a Grip, which will focus on developing advanced robotic anchoring mechanisms.

Dr Sareh commented: ‘Getting a Grip will develop smart anchoring modules that can be integrated into robots to enhance their abilities for mobility and manipulation in unstructured environments. The module adapts effective methods to interact with the environment taking into account its properties, living and non-living contents.’

The research is inspired by the versatility of the octopus’ sucker, which can be used to grip clean or dirty surfaces, in air or under the water, and adapted to hold on to environments with varying degrees of force, from attaching to rocks underwater to withstand storm surges and waves, to delicately holding their egg capsules. Taking cues from the octopus, Getting a Grip is a sensory-physical anchoring module that can adjust the mode of interaction with the environment in response to its properties.

The development of robotic anchoring systems, with the ability for stable mooring and maintaining attachment for an extended time in different environments, is invaluable for a wide range of industrial, medical and other applications. These might include attachment by climbing robots for inspection and maintenance of buildings including heritage locations, power plants, steel bridges, and disaster zones; perching by flying robots that can provide a bird's-eye view of an area of interest or object manipulation; and attachment into delicate substrates. These smart attachments will also provide live information on the state of interactions between the robot and its surroundings.

Professor Paul Anderson, Dean of the School of Design commented ‘We are delighted that Dr Sina Sareh has received this EPSRC UKRI Innovation Fellowship award which importantly represents another step forward in building unique research in design led robotics for the School of Design. Working with a number of researchers across the RCA and with an ever growing number of external partners this award provides a fantastic opportunity to continue our research into new deformable robotics and anchoring systems.’

The support of this EPSRC UKRI Innovation Fellowship is an important step in the College’s STEAM agenda, which commits to combining advanced technologies with design approaches to create world-leading research and innovation. The design-led multidisciplinary approach developed by the RCA ensures that issues of human-robot collaboration and interaction, and broader questions of our relationship to autonomous systems, complement technological innovation. 

With the establishment of several new research centres including the Intelligent Mobility Design Centre, a new Robotics facility and the RCA Materials Science Research Centre, which is currently being developed through the Burberry Material Futures Research Group, the RCA is uniquely placed to facilitate and support this research.

Getting a Grip is also supported by industrial project partners 3M, Ultimaker, and Behavioral Robotics, and University of Bristol is an Academic Partner for the research project. The partners are providing a total of around £120,000 in-kind support to Getting a Grip.