Autonomous systems are self-contained systems that can act independently of human control or in collaboration with humans, by sensing, reasoning and adapting to a given situation or environment. They are already being developed and deployed across industrial sectors in specific, controlled conditions.
When autonomous systems are used in an uncontrolled environment, where there is a high level of interaction with people and a much larger number of variables, the resulting potential for unexpected and/or undesirable results is significant. These unanticipated events could have a very significant harmful and negative impact, directly affect the acceptability of these systems, and compromise widespread deployment of autonomous systems in the UK.
For society to use and benefit from autonomous systems people need to trust them, and the systems themselves need to be demonstrably trustworthy. This means that the autonomous systems need to function as expected for their purpose. They need to be designed and tested to ensure that they work consistently.
Not only do they need to be appropriately developed, taking into consideration the legal, ethical and social contexts, but they need to be subject to meaningful and appropriate oversight. Trust will only be enabled through technical advances conducted in specific societal circumstances (if those technical applications are embedded in legal, organisational, and social contexts in which they are demonstrably trustworthy).
The UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) programme of which this call is a part is a £33.7 million investment on fundamental research into key challenges around the adoption and deployment of autonomous systems. By focusing on key aspects such as safety, security, reliability, acceptability and trust, this programme will ultimately enable autonomous systems to be legitimately, and more effectively, adopted across society and industrial sectors.
The UKRI TAS programme will convene key stakeholder groups to drive forward cross-disciplinary fundamental research into the design, development, curation, verification and validation of autonomous systems to enable trust, and to ensure that they are safe, reliable, resilient, legal and ethical. This is an essential step to de-risk the technology for the short and long-term benefit of society.
The TAS programme is currently being delivered through two interconnected parts:
- a central Hub that will lead on the delivery of the objectives of the programme,
- several research Nodes, each focusing on one aspect of research (trust, security, governance and regulations, resilience, functionality, and verification) required to making autonomous systems trustworthy.
Read more about the TAS programme research nodes.
This investment has the following objectives:
- coordination and collaboration – building a connected and multidisciplinary UK research community tackling the challenges of trustworthy autonomous systems
- creativity and multi-disciplinarity – undertaking recognised world leading fundamental research in the area, with benefits to real world applications and adoption of autonomous systems
- advocacy and engagement – putting in place a clear single point of contact for TAS expertise and engagement with key stakeholders.
Grant additional conditions (GACs)
Please note that due to the nature of this funding stream, there will be specific spending requirements, monitoring and evaluation. These aspects will be reflected as grant additional conditions for successful proposals (see below).
Grants will be subject to the standard UK Research and Innovation grant conditions. However, due to the nature of this funding, the following grant additional conditions will apply to any successful proposal. Note that these conditions may be amended, or further conditions may be added to those below before the grants are awarded.
GAC 1 – start date of the grant
Notwithstanding RGC 5.2 Starting Procedures, this grant has a fixed start date of 1 January 2022 – no slippage of this date will be permitted. Expenditure may be incurred prior to the start of the grant and be subsequently charged to the grant, provided that it does not precede the date of the offer letter.
GAC 2 – naming and branding
In addition to RGC 12.4 Publication and Acknowledgement of Support, the Grant Holder must make reference to the UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) programme and UKRI funding and include the UKRI logo and relevant branding on all online or printed materials (including press releases, posters, exhibition materials and other publications) related to activities funded by this grant. References to the Strategic Priorities Fund must be included.
GAC 3 – collaboration and collaboration agreements
This grant is awarded on the condition that it will remain aligned to the TAS programme and will work in strategic partnership with the Nodes and the Hub to deliver the objectives of the investments.
A formal Collaboration Agreement must be in place with the basis of collaboration between any organisations involved in the grant. This Agreement should include the following:
- the allocation of resources throughout the project
- ownership of intellectual property
- rights to exploitation.
It is the responsibility of the Research Organisations to put such an agreement in place before the research begins. The terms of collaboration agreements must not conflict with the UKRI terms and conditions. Arrangements for collaboration and/or exploitation must not prevent the future progression of research and the dissemination of research results in accordance with academic custom and practice.
The EPSRC contact must be informed within three months of the start of the grant, that the collaboration agreement is in place and has been signed by all partners and/or the progress made (unless some alternative timeline has been agreed with EPSRC beforehand). If sufficient progress has not been made within three months of the start of the grant, EPSRC reserves the right to enact RGC 23.
GAC 4 – expenditure
At the start of the grant the financial spend profile will be agreed by UKRI. In addition to any reporting requirements set out in GAC 4, the Grant Holder must immediately notify the UKRI Project Officer(s) of any accumulation, slippage or variation in expenditure greater than 5% of the annual profiled funding. We reserve the right to re-profile the grant if required.
Any deviation from the agreed allocation of funding and profiled costs must be negotiated and approved through written consent by UKRI. The approval of profile changes should not be assumed and will be dependent on spend across all associated grants.
At the end of the grant period a breakdown of the expenditure should be submitted along with the final expenditure statement.
GAC 5 – grant extensions
No slippage or grant extensions (beyond exceptional circumstances in line with the Equality Act 2010) will be allowed. UKRI/EPSRC will not be responsible for any cost overrun incurred during the course of this grant. The Research Organisation(s) will be required to make up any shortfall from alternative sources.
GAC 6 – monitoring and reporting
In addition to the requirements set out in the standard UKRI grant condition RGC 7.4.3, the Grant Holder is responsible for providing bi-annual progress reports against non-financial performance metrics. These will be in accordance with the arrangements specified in the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems business case.
UKRI will put in place a monitoring and evaluation plan for the Trustworthy Autonomous Systems programme of which this grant is a part. The grant holders will be required to supply UKRI with information requested to facilitate monitoring and evaluation of the TAS programme.
GAC 7 – governance
UKRI will establish an external Strategic Advisory Board to advise UKRI on the management of the TAS Programme and the progress of the programme against the objectives. Members of all parts of the TAS programme may be invited to join the Strategic Advisory Board sessions as appropriate.
GAC 8 – review of the project and assurance reviews
In addition to the requirements set out in standard UKRI grant conditions RGC 7.4 and RGC 7.5, EPSRC reserves the right to instigate a review of all or part of the grant at any stage during the lifetime of the award, as well as after the grant has finished. EPSRC will give the grant team(s) due notice of any review and will provide details of the Terms of Reference and documentation required. An unsatisfactory outcome of the review may result in a reduction or termination of the grant funding.
How to prepare a proposal
Repeatedly unsuccessful applications
Use of animals
Responsible research and innovation
Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
Conflicts of interest
Equality Impact Assessment