Old and new generations of roboticists come together at Bristol Women in Robotics meet-up

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This is a guest post by Dr Antonia Tzemanaki from the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, who coordinates the Bristol Women in Robotics group. Women in Robotics Bristol/South West is part of a global professional network for women in robotics, such as our very own Women Like Me engineer Pavlina Theodosiouand women who want to be. They promote the visibility of women in robotics.

The most recent meet-up of the Bristol Women in Robotics group took place on Thursday 8th November 2018. 14 women attended, including staff from UWE Bristol, the University of Bristol and OpenBionics as well as new MSc and PhD students. It was a great mix between older and newer generations of roboticists and topics included internships, exchanging help on application writing and discussing future collaborations among others.

The next meetup will take place in the next couple of months, make sure to subscribe to our emailing list if you are interested and join our Slack channel. Ideas for events are always welcome!

You can also follow Bristol Women in Robotics on Twitter.

Bristol and Bath to rival global innovation leaders says new report

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Our Women Like Me project features engineers from Rolls Royce and Airbus, both of which have been named as important drivers, along with several UWE Bristol facilities such as Future Space, the Health Technology hub and Bristol Robotics Laboratory, in making the Bristol and Bath city region one of the most exciting innovation clusters in the UK.

The following report is re-posted from UWE Bristol news and was originally published on 8th November 2018.

UK City region can aspire to the likes of Seattle

A major study by consultants SQW, leaders in the field of innovation and economic analysis, highlights that the Bristol and Bath city region is well positioned to rival the top innovation cities in the UK and across the world in the future.

The report has identified the city region as one of the most exciting innovation clusters in the UK with a portfolio of dynamic, home-grown businesses combined with inward investment in technology and knowledge-based sectors.

SQW, whose previous work has profiled the Cambridge Phenomenon and Oxfordshire Innovation Engine conclude that “with its pace of development and the potential going forward, the Bristol and Bath city region is well placed to become a global innovation force in the future”.

The study revealed a number of drivers behind the city region’s innovation success. Its innate culture of collaboration was singled out, boasting a strong interplay between specialist sector and local networks which bring together organisations and individuals from the fields of creative and cultural, high tech and digital, aerospace and advanced engineering, health and professional and financial services.

The success of these local networks is facilitated by the compact scale of the city-region, as well as the fact that many are privately funded and self-sufficient with little dependency on public funding. The network relationships also support a fluid workforce that has moved between the different industries that make up the innovation economy, supporting cross-sector working, technology transfer and collaboration opportunities.

The outstanding quality of life across the region with its rich mix of cultural and creative assets has been key to establishing a thriving innovation economy in the city region as it has enabled a workforce that is rooted in place and unlikely to go anywhere soon. This “stickiness” factor supports the retention of talented people, particularly graduates who have a commitment to “the place”.

With its concentration of talent, the city-region has made a name for itself in specialisms including high value product design, virtual reality, games technology, computer science and engineering, animation, digital design and publishing, TV and film and finance and business technology.

A particular driving force for innovation is one of the highest concentrations of higher education, research and innovation centres in the UK. There is the National Composite Centre set up by the University of Bristol which develops new technologies for the design and rapid manufacture of high quality composite products; CAMERA at the University of Bath, which explores motion capture and VR in gaming and health applications; Bristol Robotics Lab, a joint venture of the University of the West of England and University of Bristol; and the Centre for Creative Computing at Bath Spa University. New initiatives include Bath University’s Automotive Propulsion Institute, the Bristol VR Lab and UWE Bristol’s Health Technology hub.

Together the four Universities are a major source of graduate talent, meeting the needs of local businesses – over half of all graduates qualify in science, technology, engineering and maths and there is a strong focus on entrepreneurship and enterprise across many courses.

There is strong support as well for business start-up and growth with SETsquared incubators ranked the top in the world, at the University of Bath and University of Bristol’s Engine Shed; Future Space at University of the West of England; UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone; the Network for Creative Enterprise;; and the recently announced Creative Industries Cluster – a partnership of all four universities, the Watershed digital media centre and industry partners.

Another major factor which has established the city region as a major innovation force is the hard core of ‘anchor’ organisations and outstanding individuals across the two cities. Historically many current leading-edge companies in the city-region have their roots in earlier innovation, investment and business growth. UK semiconductor firm Inmos was a formative influence. Hewlett Packard, itself much smaller now than at its peak, has however been a major part of the technology landscape bringing thousands of engineers, scientists and consultants to the city, many of whom have gone on to work for other companies or start their own.

Aerospace giants Rolls Royce and Airbus draw on numerous suppliers and subcontractors. The MoD’s Defence Equipment and Support organisation, itself a massive employer, has also been a magnet for defence supply companies locally. Whilst the BBC and Aardman Animations have played a huge role in the evolution of the commercial TV and film-making industry which employs 3,700 people, the third largest cluster of its kind in the UK.

The report also shows how outstanding individuals in the innovation space have been instrumental in linking innovation and cultural assets to nascent businesses, established regional organisations, universities and other stakeholders across the city-region.

Sir Michael Lyons, Chairman of SQW Group, says: “The scale of achievement and the trajectory of development are such that the Bristol-Bath city-region already represents an innovation cluster of potentially global significance and one that could aspire, more ambitiously, to follow in the footsteps of North American power-houses such as Seattle or Boston.”

Tim Bowles, West of England Mayor, added: “This study shows that we are a great place to innovate and that we’ve got so much to offer innovators in the region and inward investors. It is important that we take on board recommendations of the report in order to build on the reputation we have worked so hard to establish over the years and fulfil our true global potential.

“That means making sure we bring through the next generation of innovation leaders in the region; create the conditions for firms to scale-up from start-ups to beyond medium sized businesses; further develop the specialist skills-base, as well as talent from all corners of the community, that will be critical to attracting investment by major technology corporates and enable rapid growth by local firms.

“We also need to address infrastructure challenges – affordable housing and employment space, congestion and mobility – to ensure we can accommodate the very best innovators in years to come and earn our right to be seen as a global force in innovation.”

Professor Steve West Chair of the West of England LEP and Vice Chancellor of the University of the West of England said: “This is a landmark study for us in the West of England, a real wake-up call. It is telling us how fantastic we are. But it is also telling us how much more we could achieve if we all work together to realise the potential that is identified here – and that means all of us recognising and getting behind the strengths of our business communities, innovators and entrepreneurs.”

For further information, access the full report here: Bristol-Bath Innovation Cluster Report 2018 (PDF)

UWE engineers to take part in Leaders Award online interviews

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Engineers from UWE Bristol’s Department of Engineering Design and Mathematics have been invited to take part in ‘Meet an Engineer‘ online interviews as part of Primary & Secondary Engineer Leaders Award, and Miriam Cristofoletti from the Department of Engineering Design and Mathematics at UWE Bristol is taking up the challenge on 7th December.

The Leaders Award asks children “If you were an engineer, what would you do?”. This free competition asks students to find a problem, invent a solution, draw it, explain and send it in. Pupils are encouraged to both interview engineers and watch the online interviews.

Miriam, a student engineer in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, is looking forward to her interview and will be discussing, alongside her work, what it’s like being a student engineer. She says she’s taking part “mainly to inspire them, tell them never give up and that it’s OK not to have things working right the first time“.

Miriam has promised to update us on how it goes! Our Women Like Me engineers have also been keen to take part, and will report back too – watch this space!

If you’d like to take part in the Leaders Award as an engineer or school, please get in touch with the team.

Women in Robotics Bristol meet up 8 November

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Women in Robotics Bristol/South West is a professional network for women in robotics, and women who want to be. They promote the visibility of women in robotics – which can only be a good thing!

Their next meet up is 8th November; you can join the network here and follow them on Twitter to get involved and join future activities.

If Bristol is too far, you can also join the wider Women in Robotics network.

UWE PhD student Pavlina Theodosiou kicks off Women Like Me at Engine Shed

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UWE PhD student Pavlina Theodosiou has joined our Royal Academy of Engineering funded project Women Like Me, and is already underway in engaging girls with STEM.

Pavlina has a background in biological sciences and is currently undertaking her PhD at the Bristol Bioenergy Centre in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, researching Microbial Fuel Cells (MFCs) which are bio-electrochemical transducers that convert organic matter into electrical energy using bacteria. More specifically. Pavlina is researching how a robotic platform called EvoBot can improve MFCs in order to use them on-board low power robots that can be powered by organic waste (more information about the project can be found here: https://blogit.itu.dk/evoblissproject/).

She is also one of the junior engineers on our new project Women Like Me, which is funded by a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious grant and launched at UWE on 18th October.

Pavlina decided to take part in Women Like Me because she is passionate about science communication, promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and engaging girls with STEM activities in order to inspire and enthuse them about STEM careers. As part of the project, junior engineers will be undertaking a minimum of three outreach and public engagement activities with local schools and communities between October 2018 and April 2019. Pavlina began hers almost immediately, helping to run the ClairCity stand at Technotopia which was held at Engine Shed on 20th October.


Bristol Robotics Laboratory hosts Commons select committee

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Members of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee visited Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) to discuss future opportunities in the UK’s robotics industry.

Four Members of Parliament from the committee toured facilities at the laboratory on UWE Bristol’s Frenchay campus and met BRL’s Director, Professor Chris Melhuish.

The MPs, led by Chair Rachel Reeves, viewed the laboratory’s Assisted Living StudioDriverless Car Workshop and Simulation SuiteBioenergy CentreSoft Robotics LabFlying ArenaRobotics Innovation Facility and Hardware Incubator. They were also introduced to UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone, which alongside BRL promotes collaboration with industry. It has incubators and grow on space for high tech, high growth companies specialising in robotics and autonomous systems, health technologies and bioscience.

A round table discussion was later held where committee members and roboticists, along with members of the West of England Combined Authority, explored possible future opportunities within the robotics sector, the public perception of robotics, and how the Government engages with and supports the industry. In particular, there was discussion of BRL’s experience of enabling dynamic start-ups through its hardware incubator, and developing enterprising communities and clusters.

David Lennard, Head of Business and Operations at Bristol Robotics Laboratory, said: “It was a great privilege to host members of the select committee at our laboratory, one of the largest robotics facilities of its type in Europe, and offer our perspective on the opportunities and challenges facing this new and emerging sector.

“We hope our guests found the visit insightful and useful for shaping their approach to robotics, automation and technology in future.”

This post was originally published as a news item by UWE Bristol on 26th October 2018.

First meeting of new Board of Trade held at Bristol Robotics Laboratory

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Bristol Robotics Laboratory hosted the inaugural meeting of a new Board of Trade as the facility welcomed leading politicians from across the UK.

The laboratory at the University of the West of England’s Frenchay campus was the venue for the launch of the Board, established to help boost exports, attract inward investors and ensure the benefits of free trade are spread equally across the country.

International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox is the Board’s President and he was joined by Minister of State for Trade Policy, Greg Hands, Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, Secretary of State for Wales, Alun Cairns, and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chloe Smith.

Advisers from across the United Kingdom were also present, providing local expertise to guide the Board on trade and investment matters. They included Collette Roche, Chief of Staff at Manchester Airport, former President of the Board of Trade, Patricia Hewitt and Ian Curle CEO of the Edrington Group, one of Scotland’s leading premium spirits companies and producers of The Famous Grouse whisky.

Ahead of the meeting, the politicians and advisers received a tour of the laboratory including the Assisted Living Studio, drone aerial zone, technology incubator and driverless car workshop.

Bristol Robotics Laboratory is a collaborative partnership between UWE Bristol and the University of Bristol. The lab, which brings together over 200 academics, researchers and industry practitioners, is the most comprehensive academic centre for multi-disciplinary robotics research in the UK, and is spearheading Britain’s efforts to become a world leader in modern advanced robotics.

This post was originally published as a news item by UWE Bristol on 13th October 2018.

Award-winning student placement at Centre for Machine Vision

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A guest blog by Professor Lyndon Smith from UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision.

In late June 2018, Josh Beckett (a student at Kings of Wessex Academy in Cheddar), spent a week in the Centre for Machine Vision (CMV) in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE. He was assisting with our advanced 3D vision methods for plant analysis. The quality of Josh’s work experience can be judged by the comments of the CMV PhD researchers and academics he worked with while in the lab – two of these are copied below:

“I think Josh was really hard working – I actually don’t know if he was having lunch, so I was asking quite frequently if he has eaten! Other than that, he was really fast to pick up what he needs to do (and for what purpose) and was able to do this repeatedly for extended periods of time. I was also impressed with his data management skills – every plant sample that he imaged had a separate folder with a proper name and sub-folders for front and back of the leaf as well as folder for different plant species – much better than most of the first year students that I teach. I am sure Josh deserves to get this award and if he doesn’t, I would like the winners to come to the CMV and extend their internships as we always need good workers.”

“Josh showed that he works well both independently and as part of a team. He has very good communication skills and is clear in discussing his ideas. He has shown that he is very committed and dedicated. Overall, he will be an excellent addition to any work environment as he adapts and integrates very quickly.”

To summarize, Josh had an excellent work placement in CMV – to the extent that he won the Work Experience Prize and was awarded it at the prize giving evening that was held at the Kings of Wessex Academy in September 2018.



UK’s largest robotics conference comes to Bristol

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Robotics and technology experts from the across the globe are coming to Bristol for a leading conference being hosted by Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL).

Now in its 19th year, the TAROS (Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems) event is the longest running UK-hosted international conference on robotics and autonomous systems and largest robotics conference in the country. Between 25-27th July at the M Shed museum, it will bring together the latest research and applications in autonomous robotics.

Two of the event’s four keynote speakers are from BRL: Silas Adekunle, Co-founder of Reach Robotics, and Alan Winfield, Professor of Robot Ethics.

The conference’s other keynote speakers are Kerstin Dautenhahn, Professor of Artificial Intelligence at University of Hertfordshire, who on the final day will speak about robot-assisted therapy for children with autism; and Brian Scassellati, Professor of Computer Science, Cognitive Science, and Mechanical Engineering at Yale University, who on the evening of the first day will discuss socially assistive robots capable of assisting users through social, rather than physical, interaction. Professor Scassellati’s lecture, sponsored by the Institution of Engineering and Technology, is open to the general public and free to attend.

A team of nine academics from BRL is organising the event, with 12 students set to play a role through volunteering. The conference is expected to attract up to 130 delegates on each day.

Dr Manuel Giuliani, Professor in Embedded Cognitive AI for Robotics at BRL and General Chair of TAROS 2018, said: “TAROS is the perfect venue for the robotics community to come together and exchange ideas. Bristol is a wonderful innovative city that invites creative thinking and provides the perfect backdrop to create new ideas for robotics research and to find the right partners to realise these ideas.”

To register for the conference, visit: http://www.brl.ac.uk/taros2018/registration.aspx

This post has been edited from a news item originally published on the UWE Bristol news site on 30th April 2018.