A new research centre at the Culham research site in Oxfordshire is set to recruit 200 engineers over the next three years to help develop robotics and remote handling equipment.
The £15 million Remote Applications in Challenging Environments (Race) centre researches robotics for use in fields such as nuclear operation and decommissioning, deep-sea oil and gas extraction and intelligent mobility.
Race is currently using temporary offices at Culham and expects its dedicated building, which will include control systems, hardware and environmental testing facilities, to be opened during the second half of next year.
The centre employs 80 people and is looking to recruit an extra 200 engineers within the next three years. Race’s core business is remote handling systems for the Joint European Torus (Jet) at Culham, the world’s largest experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor, and research connected to its successor, the Iter fusion reactor being built in the south of France.
The centre also conducts higher-risk, long-term work, and plans to operate a membership scheme that will allow companies access to equipment and expertise when its new building is complete.
Rob Buckingham, director of Race, said: “Everyone is looking for the next, better, set of smart tools. It’s about enabling people to work more efficiently, whether that’s in a nuclear power plant or a car plant. In manufacturing there are lots of people who want more flexible robotic solutions. In the energy industry, there are applications such as getting people to oil and gas rigs or windfarms.
“Jet is ongoing and there are plans to do more remote handling. Iter is taking off. On the fission side, there are decommissioning liabilities, as well as new build and the operation of existing plants.”
The extra engineering positions will initially be sustained through the work supporting fusion research, which builds on several decades of remote handling experience at Culham. Buckingham said a pipeline of work would be established by working with industry on a broad set of potential applications for remote handling technology in areas such as cars, unmanned aerial vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles, agricultural machinery and hospitals.
According to a study published by consultancy McKinsey last year, the global value of the robotics and autonomous systems market is expected to be between £1.2 trilion and £4 trillion per year by 2025.
Race is part of the government’s £250 million Robotics and Autonomous Systems strategy, which was published in July.