Joanna Cherry
L-R: Third-year student, Siobhan Duncan and Joanna Cherry MP.

Highly specialist robotics that aim to revolutionise offshore safety have been showcased to Edinburgh South West MP, Joanna Cherry.

The Westminster parliamentarian visited Heriot-Watt University’s Human Robot Interaction (HRI) Lab on Friday (25 October), where she met with members of ORCA - the Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets hub - to learn more about this rapidly growing sector.

ORCA is the largest academic centre in the world for research into robotics technology for offshore energy infrastructure. Its aim is to advance robotics and artificial intelligence technologies for the inspection, repair, maintenance and certification of offshore energy platforms and assets, such as wind turbines and oil rigs.

The team are a shining example of what a Scottish University, working in collaboration with international partners, can achieve. They are a national treasure.

Joanna Cherry MP

Maintaining and repairing these structures can be hazardous and carried out in unpredictable weather conditions adding to the risk.

ORCA hopes to change this by using fully autonomous vehicles to operate in dangerous environments instead of humans.

Dr Katrin Lohan, Director of the social robotics, said: “We were delighted to welcome Joanna to the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics and for the opportunity to explain how we collaborate with industry through the ORCA Hub.

“ORCA is working towards boosting safety and efficiency in hazardous offshore environments by offering cutting-edge, remote solutions to support the offshore energy industry as well as industries operating in oil and gas extraction.

“ORCA and the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics is at the very cusp of this exciting industry and is working towards ensuring that our energy sector remains globally competitive while safeguarding lives.”  

ORCA is led by Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh University via the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics (ECR).

The consortium also includes Imperial College London, the universities of Oxford and Liverpool, and more than 30 industry partners.

Throughout the year, the ORCA team carries out a series of public engagement events to share their work including most recently at the prestigious Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London – where they met Joanna for the first time.  

Joanna Cherry MP, said: “Back in July, I met with members of the ORCA team when they exhibited their work in London at a prestigious science exhibition. I was impressed that Heriot-Watt University has put itself at the cutting edge globally of research into robotics technology for offshore energy infrastructure.

“When I met with the team in London, I said not only was I keen to visit the ORCA Hub in Edinburgh but to help promote their research and work in any way that I can. Today I was even more impressed by their achievements. The team are a shining example of what a Scottish University, working in collaboration with international partners, can achieve. They are a national treasure.”

Heriot-Watt’s world-class reputation for robotics and artificial intelligence is set to be boosted in the coming years.

The University’s Edinburgh campus in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh, will host the UK’s first National Robotarium. The multi-million pound centre is set to open its doors in 2021 and will be the UK’s leading innovation hub for robotics and autonomous systems.

The ambitious project builds upon the University’s ground-breaking robotics research and is an integral part of the Data Driven Innovation (DDI) theme of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal.