OXFORDSHIRE could lead the way in the research into robots when a new £15.6m centre is built.

Greg Clark, Minster for Universities, Science and Cities, was at the Culham Science Centre yesterday to mark the start of the building work on the Remote Application in Challenging Environment (RACE) building. 

The Robotics and Remote Handling Centre will create up to 300 new jobs over the next five years.

It will have cutting-edge facilities to train engineers to use robotic arms.

Scientists at the complex’s fusion energy project, Joint European Torus (JET), have been using the remote controls for 20 years – but the technology also has applications in deep space and deep sea exploration.

RACE director Rob Buckingham said he was pleased with the investment, especially at a time when funding is hard to come by.

He said: “The funding is to kick start the industry, which is all about developing the technology to work in challenging environments.

“A lot of the research is nuclear-based, but we also develop tools for space and mining environments.

“Oxfordshire is a leading light in the robotics industry and this new centre will only go further to highlight the depth and breadth of scientific and research talent in the region.”

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The RACE project was announced as part of the City Deal investment into hi-tech research laboratories and businesses in Oxfordshire, with the Government investing £7.8 million.

Mr Clark said: “The visit to Oxfordshire has been a real pleasure.

“We have an international lead in the robotics and remote systems industry, especially with regards to nuclear technology. The nuclear research in this area is world renowned and in order to lead the world we need to keep investing.

“Because the industry involves challenging environments in which humans cannot work, nuclear research requires robotics in order to become advanced in nuclear.

“Space is another environment where robotics can be useful as the satellite industry is expanding along with deep sea operations.”

Mr Clark went on to say that the manufacturing industry would benefit massively from the advancements of robotics.

The Minister was also at Abingdon and Witney College in Abingdon yesterday to sign the £108.6m Oxfordshire Growth Deal which was announced last July.

It brings together various investments across the county including funding already announced for the Headington transport improvements, the Science Vale cycle network and the car park expansion at Didcot Parkway Station.

Abingdon and Witney College will get £4m as part of the deal.

Assistant Principal Jacqui Canton said: “We already provide first calls training across Oxfordshire, but this will allow us to take our offer to the next level and to ensure that we are genuinely developing the scientists and engineers of the future.”

Ian Wenman, vice-chairman of Oxfordshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “We are delighted to welcome the Minister to our region to formally sign our Growth Deal which, with the support of our partners, will improve economic activity and job creation in Oxfordshire for the foreseeable future.”

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