As many of our network will know, in December we carried out a research study investigating the automation opportunity for the sector. The overwhelming finding was that there is significant appetite to innovate particularly in terms of the use of AI.

For the sector, it is therefore good news that the UK currently ranks first in Europe, and third in the World, behind the US and China in developing AI technologies. Moreover, the Government is keen for the UK to maintain this position. Investment continues to be high. As part of this in July last year The National Robotarium at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh opened its doors. It is the UK’s hub for robotics and artificial intelligence and has been established to create innovative solutions to global challenges and rapidly move pioneering research from laboratory to market, developing skilled visionaries and delivering substantial benefits for society.

The purpose-built facility has unrivalled technology and laboratories for the development and testing of robotics and AI solutions across three distinct areas: Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS), Human and Robot Interaction (HRI) and Precision Laser Applications (PLA). One key strand of the centre is engaging with businesses – whether with large corporates to solve industry problems, or with SMEs to adopt robotic/AI solutions that can accelerate growth, attract investment, and change the shape of a business or industry. The centre is actively recruiting business partners from different sectors.

Is this therefore the time for the direct mail industry to galvanise its efforts towards innovation?

Historically, the sector has relied heavily on manpower, however, machines are replacing humans and are able to carry out increasingly complex tasks, for instance packing all the requisite parts of a healthcare testing pack. The fact that something so complicated can be carried out by a machine should be celebrated and seen as an opportunity to grow. This combined with increasingly intelligent, AI focused software development and data solutions has the potential to offer greater functionality to clients, with greater efficiency and effectiveness than ever before.

Investment, particularly in the current climate, is never an easy word. However, there are different funding options available:

Innovation vouchers:

Grants from Innovate UK

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) with UK universities

Funded partnerships at the National Robotarium: Industry – The National Robotarium

The opportunity is there – is now the time to take it?