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Secretary of State’s opening speech at Robotics and Automation Conference

Good afternoon.

This time last year, the quiet backstreets of Oxford saw something the rest of Europe had never seen before; a fully autonomous vehicle on public roads – without a single person on board.

This journey marked a milestone for Oxa, formerly Oxbotica, one of Britain’s most successful spinouts, in its mission to bring ‘universal autonomy’: the ability of any vehicle, of any size, in any place, to drive itself safely and sustainably.

Meanwhile, in the skies above Oxford, we’re planning on building highways of a different kind.

Project Skyway – with funding from our £125 million Future Flight Programme – intends to build the world’s longest and largest drone ‘superhighway,’ connecting the airspace above British towns and cities from Reading and Rugby to Coventry and Cambridge.

Not that that’s the only thing happening up there in the air; British start-up,, has just been granted permission to use its drones to inspect power lines beyond the visual line of sight.

Uniquely capable of close inspection, can cut the need for helicopters and planes, making a dangerous job safer, cheaper – and better.

Each of these 3 stories show the extraordinary pace of the ‘robotics revolution’ since the millennium.

And they show that Britain’s boldest entrepreneurs are right at the forefront.

That’s just as well. Because we need innovation now more than ever.

From the net zero transition to the impacts of an ageing society, today we find ourselves facing challenges new and old.

For centuries, Britain has been defined by its ability to answer these kinds of big questions by rethinking, reimagining, and reinventing.

And if we are to shape the world in the same in the century to come, then we must once more be bold enough to do things differently.

Whether that means using robotics to help hard-working carers to make the lives of elderly people healthier and happier or applying automation to keep wind turbines turning far out at sea.

The robots you will have seen just next door are already changing the way we interact with some of the most dangerous environments on Earth and beyond.

From navigating nuclear decommissioning and exploring outer space, the £112 million we invested in the Robotics for a Safer World programme brought together our world-leading universities to create cutting-edge R+D in clusters across every corner of our country.

And British companies are making a difference in other impactful ways, too.

In Cambridge, CMR Surgical is using robotics to improve the safety, accuracy, and repeatability of keyhole surgery.

And, having joined Britain’s ever-growing list of unicorns, its technology is already transforming care far beyond Cambridge.

It’s reducing waiting lists and speeding up recoveries everywhere from Edinburgh to India, Bangor to Brazil.

On every continent, then, British answers to those big questions are making our lives longer, healthier, and happier.

And to the scientists, entrepreneurs, and investors coming up with their own answers beyond our shores, I can tell you with confidence that Britain is open for business.

The opportunities here are extraordinary: our own statistics show that the productivity boost of robotics adoption in just 7 service sectors of our economy could be up to £150 billion in 2035 – that is just short of the current GVA of the entire UK financial services industry!

But, of course, those opportunities come with risks.

And, to tackle those risks, we’ve got to get the regulation right.

So that, rather than ‘stealing’ our jobs, robots can do the dull, dirty, or dangerous work that people cannot or do not want to do and improve the quality, safety, and productivity of the work we can and want to do.

Because my department’s mission doesn’t end with making Britain a ‘science and tech superpower’; we want to translate that superpower status into tangible benefits for the British people.

That’s regulation is right at the heart of my agenda.

Just last week, I met with the Prime Minister and CEOs from 3 of the world’s foremost AI businesses.

Together, we discussed how we can capitalise on Britain’s unique position of influence and shared a commitment to deliver on the agile approach to AI governance that we set out in our recent White Paper.

Because unlocking the potential robotics revolution requires public confidence that these technologies are being used in a safe and responsible way.

And we are determined to work domestically and internationally, as well as with many of you, to put the necessary guardrails in place.

Coming out of that meeting, I felt a renewed confidence.

That a government unafraid to look to the world beyond Whitehall to work together with industry and academia can get it right not just on regulation, but on skills and investment, too.

Whether you want to build self-driving cars, superhighways in the sky, or surgical robots in the operating room.

Together, we can make Britain the best place in the world to start and scale a safe and successful robotics business.

I wish you a safe and successful conference. Thank you very much for inviting me here to speak.

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