'Significant moment' as building work starts at Heriot-Watt's pioneering National Robotarium

Construction has started on the National Robotarium – a pioneering research facility in Edinburgh focused on robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) – in what is being hailed as a “significant moment”.

It is also intended that the National Robotarium will help the UK’s economic recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: contributed.

The forthcoming facility at Heriot-Watt University’s Edinburgh campus is scheduled to open in spring 2022 and those behind the £22.4 million project say it will be the largest and most advanced centre of its type in the UK.

Robertson Construction, the project’s main contractor, has been working in partnership with the university to safely start work on the building despite lockdown restrictions.

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David Cairns, managing director of Robertson Construction Central East, said the start on site “marks a significant moment in the delivery of a facility which will be a centre of excellence to pioneering research”.

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The building will span 40,000 square feet and house three distinct research and development areas, providing bespoke facilities for robotics and autonomous systems, human and robotics interaction, and high precision manufacturing.

There will be dedicated laser labs, an autonomous systems laboratory, and a living lab for trialling technology in a realistic home setting – in a bid to help people live independently for longer. There will also be a “partner suite” dedicated to industry, academic and government collaboration.

Mr Cairns said: “The National Robotarium building is designed to be as innovative as the research taking place within its walls. The commitment to sustainability and the wellbeing of its staff and students mean the facility will be equipped with state-of-the-art technology for energy efficiency and production and will boast considerable green space.

“The building will be certified to ‘Fitwel’ standards, meaning its design meets strict criteria for supporting occupants’ health, wellbeing and productivity.”

Also hailing the start of building work at the site was Michael Matheson, cabinet secretary for transport, infrastructure and connectivity. He said: “This project will ensure that innovation can play an intrinsic part in the recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.”

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The Robotarium is a collaboration between Heriot-Watt University and the University of Edinburgh, and it is supported by £21m from the UK government, and £1.4m from the Scottish government as part of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.

Mr Matheson added: “Across Scotland we have so far committed more than £1.9 billion over the next ten to 20 years to City Region and Growth Deals and additional investments. We are investing £300m over 15 years to the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal across transport, housing, culture, innovation and skills as we work towards a fairer and more inclusive economy.”

Professor Helen Hastie and Professor Yvan Petillot are joint academic leads of the Robotarium. Prof Hastie said it will serve as a centre of excellence for fundamental research and knowledge exchange to address real-world challenges and industry needs.

She added: “The new building will facilitate a collaborative approach that is at the heart of the National Robotarium’s ethos, helping to accelerate research from laboratory to market and paving the way for the UK to take a leadership role in AI and robotics technology.”

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