A group in the United Kingdom wants to start testing robots in public, and it wants to do it soon. Called RAS 2020 — short for Robotics Autonomous Systems — the group is operated by the UK's Technology Strategy Board, and its broad aim is to advance robotics in the country. That covers everything from driverless cars and unmanned aircrafts to nuclear robotics. RAS recently put forth an action plan to go about this, which will naturally include quite a bit of testing. And while companies like Google may prefer to do those kinds of tests in private, RAS 2020 would rather do it in full view of the public.

"This can only take place in real environments."

"This can only take place in real environments," the group says, "laboratories are not enough. Deployment test areas are the places in which we live and work; public roads, an actual airport, a working hospital, a farm, a production line, a refinery or nuclear facility." The UK has already adopted plans to test self-driving cars on public roads, and this most recent set of guidelines would extend that idea to other forms of robotics. The goal is to get these test sites in place over the next five years.

Eventually the group hopes to set up a series of "grand challenges" to put UK-created machines up against each other in a competitive format in order to weed out the best of the best. "These will focus development efforts around useful capabilities," says the group, "capturing the imagination of the public and engaging those businesses that will benefit from such capabilities being commercially available."