Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) is the largest co-located multi-disciplinary robotics research centre in the UK. It is a collaborative partnership between UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol and home to over 300 academics, industry practitioners, and researchers from all over the world. Together, they are world leaders in current thinking on adaptive robotics, intelligent autonomous systems, and robotics with “humans in the loop”.
BRL maintains strong national and international links with both industry and other research institutes and has an enviable track record of successful research and innovation. The lab’s Bristol Technology Solutions initiative is involved in multiple innovative applications of robotics for commercial and industrial exploitation and includes a Technology Business Incubator and the Robotics Innovation Facility (RIFBristol).
Iain Gray, former Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board, comments, “Bristol Robotics Laboratory [is] home to truly world-leading research efforts, while also providing an incubator environment for innovative, early-stage robotics companies. An excellent example of a seamless melding of lab-based research and commercial development, all under one roof”.
The BRL Robotics Hardware Incubator is a core element of UWE’s new University Enterprise Zone (UEZ) and was formed to support graduates, startups, and early-stage businesses focused on robotics and automation-related hardware and devices. It provides desk space, fabrication facilities, and BRL technical support. The Incubator has supported over 25 startups, creating 135 jobs and raising over £15m in funds for its residents.
Early clients included Silas Adekunle, founder of Reach Robotics, and Samantha Payne, co-founder of Open Bionics. Both companies later moved into Future Space and have been hugely successful in raising significant investment funds.
Located adjacent to the Hardware Incubator is RIFBristol, providing robotics and automation consultancy services to organisations in the private and public sectors. Its team of engineers helps a range of clients including entrepreneurs, startups, SMEs, and larger corporations to overcome innovation challenges. The RIFBristol workspace is equipped with cutting-edge hardware used for consultancy and research, including training, prototyping, and testing of new products and services.
Through its SABRE Programme, RIFBristol offers SMEs free workshops that teach participants to operate robots and derisk hardware purchases. It also provides intensive support (from 5 days to 12 weeks) with dedicated access to engineers and hardware. Since 2013, RIFBristol has helped over 620 organisations and their staff, including over 400 SMEs.
BRL works closely with trade associations and industry networks and hosts a variety of national and international robotics conferences and competitions. It also coordinates the West of England Robotics Network (WoERN) consisting of SMEs, large corporations and research centres.
Professor Chris Melhuish, Director of BRL, says, “The unique partnership between UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol, incorporating some of robotics most highly esteemed academics and researchers, has enabled Bristol Robotics Laboratory to offer industrial partners ranging from local startups to international corporations the very best robotics and smart automative support”.