University Enterprise Zone Spotlight: Robotics Innovation Facility

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The Robotics Innovation Facility (RIFBristol) is one of five areas that make up UWE Bristol’s University Enterprise Zone. The below spotlight explains its purpose:

Located beside the UEZ café, which forms a central meeting place for the building’s companies, entrepreneurs and academics, is one of the most exciting parts of the University. Identifiable by the array of industrial robot arms and other cutting-edge hardware, visible through its window onto the café – the Robotics Innovation Facility (RIFBristol) is a high tech, inspiring and truly creative space. 

As UWE Bristol’s specialist industry-facing unit within the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) – a collaborative partnership between the city-region’s two universities and the UK’s most comprehensive academic centre for multi-disciplinary robotics research – RIFBristol provides training, research and consultancy services to a range of private and public sector clients.

Recognised as a Digital Innovation Hub by the European Union, it has been successfully delivering robotics workshops, prototyping and validating new products, demonstrating how automation can improve manufacturing processes, and supervising student-industry collaborations, since 2013.

“Our engineers help clients to trial various technical solutions, identifying the best options for their requirements,” says Farid Dailami, Director of RIFBristol and Associate Professor for Knowledge Exchange in Manufacturing.

“They can advise on capital purchases, support the deployment and integration of hardware, undertake research and proof-of-concept work, and deliver training.”

One of the unique strengths of RIFBristol is what it describes as its ‘brand agnostic’ approach. As part of BRL and UWE Bristol, it is not tied to a particular hardware manufacturer or supplier. It is, therefore, under no pressure to favour a particular brand or model and its advice is always honest, unbiased and wholly tailored to its customers’ needs.

This also means that its dedicated workspace in the UEZ is equipped with an impressive range of manufacturing equipment. ABB, KUKA and Universal robot arms sit alongside conveyers, sensors, cameras and laser measuring systems, all of which can be used to address clients’ research, CPD and product development challenges.  

“Our expertise is as diverse as our hardware”, says Dailami. “Our staff have knowledge of industrial robotics, cobotics, mechanical and electronics engineering, mechatronics, smart manufacturing, 3D printing and simulation. This diversity is our strength. We can help with robotics, but we can also bring knowledge and experience of related disciplines into play”

Alongside its private consultancy projects, RIFBristol leads several publicly funded research and business support programmes. The EU-funded TERRINet initiative, for example, enables researchers at all levels, from undergraduates, to PhD candidates and industry-based professionals, to access robotics infrastructure located across Europe. 

Since 2018, RIFBristol has also delivered the ERDF-funded SABRE Programme. This £1m project has enabled small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from across the West of England to explore the benefits of robotics and automation.

From start-ups, micro-enterprises and sole traders, to larger and more established companies, its free and subsidised services have helped businesses to get the most from these important technologies.

“RIFBristol and the SABRE Programme played a vital role in the completion of our initial prototype. It enabled the company to undertake pilot studies with leading OEMs – and to safeguard the development of this exciting technology in the UK, securing 3 existing, and creating 4 new, jobs in the West of England.”

Dr Evangelos Zympeloudis, CEO, iCOMAT Ltd | www.icomat.co.uk


For more information about RIFBristol visit its website. The University Enterprise Zone is also made up of the Health Tech HubFuture SpaceLaunch Space and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory Hardware Incubator.

UWE Bristol and Future Space listed as top Innovators in region

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TechSPARK recently produced their list of top entrepreneurs, techies and innovators who they have named the Top Innovators in the region.

TechSPARK is a not-for-profit network dedicated to connecting, educating and strengthening the digi-tech cluster in the West. They work with tech and digital businesses from Startups to Scaleups, SME’s to Global Corporations based in the region to help them to grow.

In 2019 TechSPARK compiled a list of top innovators from across the region to celebrate and recognise their achievements. We were delighted that the 2021 list featured Aimee Skinner, Innovation Manager at Future Space and Mark Corderoy, Entrepreneur in Residence at UWE Bristol.

Aimee said:

“I am thrilled to have been named as one of the region’s top 75 innovators. The list is brimming with innovative thinkers, future leaders, and entrepreneurs, and I am proud to be considered amongst them.”

Aimee has background in Environmental Science and a decade of continuous improvement experience in regulated industries. She is currently Innovation Manager at Future Space, as well as co-managing Bristol Innovators’ Group. Future Space is part of the University Enterprise Zone, based on UWE Bristol Frenchay campus, and managed by Oxford Innovation. In her role she actively supports the growth of start-ups and SMEs within the South West, providing a range of business support and advisory services, as well as running University engagement opportunities, such as a dedicated Internship programme for resident businesses.

Mark said:

“It’s really pleasing that our work in the University Enterprise Zone is being recognised. Launching a start-up is an ambitious venture for anyone, and we are always trying to find new ways to help these companies succeed.”

With a background in engineering and technology in a variety of commercial settings, Mark is an experienced Technologist and Mentor. He has been at UWE Bristol for last four years as Incubation Manager for the Bristol Robotics Laboratory the leading and largest academic centre for multi-disciplinary robotics research in the UK and also Incubation Manager for Launch Space, a programme that provides business support and space to start-up businesses in UWE Bristol’s Enterprise Zone.

To contact Aimee email ASkinner@oxin.co.uk and to contact Mark email Mark.Corderoy@uwe.ac.uk .



UWE Bristol researchers join forces with UK agri-tech experts to develop salad saving robot

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The Centre for Machine Vision (CMV) at UWE Bristol have joined forces with Agri-tech and machinery experts at Grimme, Agri-EPI Centre, Image Development Systems, Harper Adams University and two of the UK’s largest lettuce growers, G’s Fresh and PDM Produce, in the new Innovate UK-funded project to develop a robotic solution to automate lettuce harvesting.

Whole head, or iceberg, lettuce is the UK’s most valuable field vegetable crop. Around 99,000 tonnes were harvested in the UK in 2019 with a market value of £178 million. But access to reliable seasonal labour has been an increasing problem, exacerbated by Brexit and Covid 19 restrictions. Early indications are that a commercial robotic solution could reduce lettuce harvesting labour requirements by around 50%.

The team from the CMV consist of Antonella Camilleri; Dr Mark Hansen and Professor Melvyn Smith.

Thom Graham,Vegetable Specialist at lead projects partner Grimme said: “One of the greatest challenges facing the horticulture sector is sourcing sufficient seasonal labour to conduct their harvest commitments in a timely manner. In addition, rising cost of labour with no increase in retail price has squeezed margins. Growers are looking at solutions that can reduce labour input costs and maintain their resilience in the sector and we hope our expertise can help.”

Dermot Tobin, Managing Director of Farming at PDM said:

“For many decades our business has relied on seasonal labour for harvesting lettuce. Nearly all the lettuce you see on UK supermarket shelves is cut by hand. Sourcing labour is getting really challenging and with wage inflation rising far quicker than return to grower prices margins are really tight. Our industry needs to embrace robotic technology to reduce our reliance on labour so being involved in this project is of the utmost importance to our business.”

Richard Ellis, Innovation & Research Project Manager of G’s subsidiary Salad Harvesting Services Ltd. said:

“The process of lettuce harvesting has continuously evolved over the past 30 years, with harvest, packing, date coding, boxing and palletising all completed in the field, within minutes of the crop being cut. The cutting process of an iceberg is the most technically complicated step in the process to automate. We are encouraged to be involved and see the results of this project which offers the potential to reduce reliance on seasonal labour.” 

The project will adapt existing leek harvesting machinery to lift the lettuce clear from the ground and grip it in between pinch belts. The lettuce’s outer, or ‘wrapper’, leaves will be mechanically removed to expose the stem. Machine vision will then identify a precise cut point on the stem to separate lettuce head from stem.

A prototype robotic harvester will be developed for field trials in England towards the end of the 2021 UK season, in around September, then at G’s Espana.

Lettuce is also a valuable crop in Europe and the US. 123,000ha of lettuce and chicory was grown in the EU in 2018[i] with similar areas in the US. These areas have similar issues of access to seasonal labour, offering a significant potential market for the lettuce robot.

The Centre for Machine Vision is part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory. They solve real-world practical computer vision problems. Their particular excellence lies in realising real-world working demonstrators using state-of-the-art (2D and 3D) machine vision and multispectral imaging, combined with the latest machine learning techniques to solve challenging real-world problems.


[i] FaoStat, 2020




UWE researchers use socially intelligent robot in a school to support autistic young people

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Original story appeared on UWE Bristol website.

UWE Bristol researchers have placed a socially intelligent robot at a special needs school in Somerset to support autistic pupils aged 12 to 19 with their wellbeing and emotions over a three-week period.

The robot, known as Pepper, is can take part in a range of social and physical activities with children, such as story-telling, dancing, and relaxation techniques which are designed to help autistic pupils manage their emotions and wellbeing. Many autistic children can have difficulty regulating their emotions and require calming and stimulation to help them engage with school-based activities.

UWE researchers Dr Louis Rice, Associate Professor in  Architecture and the Built Environment; Dr Nigel Newbutt, Senior Lecturer in Digital Education; and Dr Séverin Lemaignan, Associate Professor in Social Robotics and AI, were funded in part by the universities Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge Fund.

UWE Bristol’s Vice-Chancellor’s Challenge Fund enables researchers to reach beyond their research centres, departments and faculties; look outside of their disciplines; and develop exciting new research with colleagues working in different fields. The University’s aim is to support collaborations that are ready to respond to external funding calls which require innovative interdisciplinary responses to meet future opportunities.

Dr Severin Lemaignan, said: “The use of robots to support autistic children is not entirely new. However, while previous research has focused on teaching skills to children, our autistic participants told us this is not what they actually need. Our approach focuses instead on wellbeing and child-led interactions. Our robot lives in the school’s corridors; Pepper engages with the children on their terms.’’

Find out more about the trial in the full story here.

UWE Bristol Active Living Architecture: Controlled Environment (ALICE) project selected to be showcased on EU Innovation Radar Website

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The Active Living Architecture: Controlled Environment (ALICE) project has been recognised by the European Commission’s Innovation Radar team has an Innovation Highlight and will be showcased on their website.

The project, which follows on from the Living Architecture research programme, is a joint venture between UWE Bristol, Newcastle University and Translating Nature.

The aim of ALICE is to introduce and familiarise sustainably-minded promotors such as architects, designers, engineers, “green” businesses and their clients, to advocate the use live microbes as processors of waste within our homes and cities.

ALICE aims to provide a publicly accessible interface that is activated by household waste, namely urine and grey water. It exploits the properties of the integrated bioreactor system developed for the Living Architecture (LIAR) project. Creating a useable context and habitat that can be exhibited at biennales or festivals and explored by these audiences. ALICE catalyses a conversation about the future of sustainability in homes and public buildings, as well as the lifestyle changes implicit in adopting this new generation of utilities.

ALICE is a highly personal experience where ‘users’ may understand how waste can be dealt with differently in the home by putting it to good use. ALICE takes the form of a cabin and through a digital interface that translates data into graphical animations, participants will be able to see how their waste ‘enlivens’ the cabin’s performance. For example, turning on LEDs, or charging small mobile devices.

Conceptually, ALICE may be likened to the ‘tamagotchi pet’, a digital toy that flourishes through the owner’s digital care and attention. In this way, ‘care’ for ALICE is through its feeding and engagement with audiences. The system will also collect data that will help the innovators better understand the performance and potential usage of such a system outside the laboratory space so that appropriate prototypes for market can be developed.

UWE Bristol lead for the project Ioannis Ieropoulos, Professor of Bioenergy and Self-Sustainable Systems and Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, commented on the project: We are delighted for this recognition by the European Commission, which is an important milestone in our endeavour to make this technology widely available. The work of our partners has enabled the successfully translation of a complex technology into a visual representation that is highly appealing to a wide audience and this could have only been achieved through open-minded collaboration. We very much look forward to seeing this installed in everyone’s home.

Congratulations to Ioannis and the team for the recognition of their project.

Case study: How happy is your pig?

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Professor Melvyn Smith was recently interviewed by KTN about his research into the emotional state of pigs. The below case study was written by Alan Cowie at KTN as part of their annual report:

Innovation in agriculture has advanced significantly over the past century. In 1920 it would take a farmer an hour and a half to till one acre of land. In 2020, it takes 5 minutes. It’s not just the technology which has effected change, it’s ever-changing societal attitudes which continue to revolutionise not only agriculture but other industries too.

Today’s farmer is not only interested in their animals’ physical health, but also their emotional wellbeing. We’re not pretending these animals are not being reared for food, but we all have a responsibility to ensure animals are content, happy and healthy throughout their lives, and healthier animals deliver higher yields.

One person who is doing that more than most is Mel Smith, a professor at the Centre for Machine Vision (CMV), based at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, which is jointly run by the University of the West of England (UWE) and Bristol University. It was originally set up in 1999 to study industrial inspection, metrology, surface analysis and quality control. Over the years, and with extensive support from KTN, the CMV has completed projects in defence, health and, more recently, AgriFood. Projects have involved an EPSRC[1] funded trial using 3D imaging technology for facial recognition, examining the colon and the oesophagus for tumours and polyps, and 2D imaging grass fields using a convolutional neural network to locate and identify species of weed.

Where Mel wants to make a real impact is in animal welfare. “Tagging a pig’s ear can cause pain and distress to the pig” explains Mel. “Tags can also get ripped off and they get dirty. So what if there was a way of identifying the pig without even touching it?” This is where Mel’s photometric stereo technology comes in. In a recent trial[2], a drinker was adapted and fitted with a motion activated webcam, which takes thousands of pictures of the pigs’ faces every day, feeding a computer algorithm which successfully identifies the animal with 97% accuracy. But this goes beyond facial recognition. Mel believes his work shows that pigs are revealing their emotional state through facial expression. Are they happy? Are they content? Are they nervous? 

“You can interrogate the neural network to ask it which parts of the image it’s using to tell whether it’s a happy face or not. It produces a heat map showing the areas of the face it’s using to assess happiness. For pigs’ faces, it is around the eyes, ears and the top of the snout which relate to expression.” 

Mel has been collaborating with other researchers on the potential of using existing technologies and applying them in new ways. In one example, he explains how a system which was originally designed to analyse aggregate particles in the construction industry, has found new uses in agriculture, to check the body condition score of livestock, a measure of the health and welfare of animals. Mel explains how it involves a camera which takes a normal image and a 3D depth image. Looking down on a cow, it captures data as it walks underneath. “We’re looking at how bony the animal is – around its hindquarter, where you have its hook and pin bones. If they’re sticking through, they have a low body condition and if they’re nice and fat and rounded, they have a high body condition.” 

Happier animals are more productive and deliver higher yields, so there is a commercial advantage, as well as a social advantage. In an industry where profit margins are often very tight, new practices which promote efficiency or boost productivity are usually welcomed. We may be some way off seeing widespread livestock facial recognition in all farms, but attention to our environment and ecology is only increasing. Who knows where we’ll be in the next century. We already have ‘free range’ and ‘organic’ stickers on our food. Will we have ‘certified pig happy’ too?

Be it for commercial or animal welfare benefits, it’s clear Mel is passionate about using this technology for good. Mel says “It’s about finding a niche where we can make a contribution and machine vision technology has real value for the wellbeing of animals. If we can be at the forefront of this, and do something that’s cutting edge, that’s quite a motivation for me.”

Whilst many of the technologies Mel describes are not necessarily new, they are being applied in novel ways, and KTN has played a key role creating new opportunities and new connections for Mel.

“KTN have had a transformational impact on helping us to deploy our Machine Vision skills to collaborate with agriculture and food industry partners. We have really benefitted from the ability to network through KTN. Their funding expertise and knowledge of the AgriFood industry has led us to many new innovation opportunities that we would not have identified ourselves. Several of these projects have resulted in products that are now reaching a commercial stage”.


[1] Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council

[2] Watch “Connected – the hidden science of everything”, episode one, on Netflix.

Alan Cowie is the Partnership, PR and Communications Lead at KTN.

UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision receive funding to create augmented reality picking aid for farm workers

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UWE Bristol’s Centre for Machine Vision team and other members of a consortium has been awarded Innovate UK funding to develop a low cost, augmented reality picking aid that will display information about berry maturity through the use of machine learning and spectral imaging cameras. 

The consortium includes AR developers Opposable Games; environment, food and science research organisation NIAB EMR and leading industry grower-owned co-operative, Berry Gardens Growers Limited, alongside the Centre for Machine Vision which is part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

The concept and commercial opportunity was identified by Richard Harnden, Director of Research at Berry Gardens Growers Ltd who has wanted to improve the consistency of the eating quality of the co-operative’s premium berry lines, which includes a sweet eating dessert blackberry, for several years.

“It is very hard for pickers, especially new pickers, to really understand the correct stage of ripeness in the blackberry before picking it”, he said.  “Pick it too early and, although the berry will be black in colour, it won’t have accumulated enough sugars and so it will still taste acidic. Pick it too late, and the berry will be too soft to withstand the supply chain and will leak juice in the punnet.” 

He continued, “There is a small correct window for picking the fruit that delivers an exquisite combination of sweetness and flavour, which can be done by eye but it takes time for pickers to achieve the correct level of perception. The proposed picking aid, using novel technology, will deliver a maturity indicator, which will guide new and experienced pickers alike to quickly make the right decision every time.”      

Bo Li, a machine vision specialist in the Centre for Machine Vision at Bristol Robotics Laboratory at UWE Bristol, who devised the project, said: “By developing a low cost multispectral camera for detecting the real time ripeness of fruit, we can enhance the efficiency of picking, reduce the requirement for pickers to be experienced, and shorten the training time required. This step forward will improve the consistency of fruit quality and customer satisfaction.”

In an industry already experiencing difficulties in accessing experienced staff, the impact of Covid-19 is putting additional strains on farms and farm workers. Restrictions on labour movement, new safety measures, and risk mitigation procedures being required, mean that the horticultural and agricultural industries must look to novel solutions to train new workers and meet existing and future labour requirements. Global demand for high quality and healthy food such as soft fruit is increasing. To meet this demand farms are looking to technological solutions that enable increasing the quality, yields, and productivity whilst reducing environmental impacts. This project will contribute towards the UK government’s Transforming Food Production objectives, part of the Industry Strategy Challenge Fund.

The Innovate UK funded project will commence in September 2020, with the development of a prototype device building on the experience of the consortium, then moving on to field trials.  Members of Berry Garden Growers Ltd will trial the harvesting aid on their farms as the project progresses.

The Centre for Machine Vision is part of the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL). We solve real-world practical computer vision problems. Their particular excellence lies in three-dimensional reconstruction and surface inspection. They are recognised as one of only three UK centres with expertise in Photometric Stereo (PS). They have pioneered PS in industry, medicine and defence/security. Their laboratory supports REF (Research Excellence Framework) level research activities and research-led teaching in machine vision. Find out more here.

Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Future Space trials Robot Tours

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Future Space, in partnership with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), recently trialled an innovative new approach to providing tours of its facility, enabling people to view its workshop, laboratory and networking spaces from the comfort of their own homes and offices.

Using their personal IT devices to remotely control the movements of a self-driving, two-wheeled videoconferencing robot, potential new Future Space members were given the freedom to explore the unique, state-of-the-art space, while also being able to communicate with staff through a live video link.

Developed by Double Robotics Inc, this exciting technology helps people to feel more connected to colleagues, friends or patients, by having a physical presence, even if they are unable to attend an event or meeting in person. The robot is involved in several UWE Bristol research projects currently underway at BRL.

“We start by co-designing and trialling the technology in our purpose-built Assisted Living Studio,” says Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly, BRL’s Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies lead. “We develop, test and implement various assistive robots and heterogeneous sensor systems in this realistic environment before taking them into real-world settings. The next stage, as we are doing with the Double telepresence robot, is evaluating its use in health and social care settings. We are particularly interested in how it can allow nurses, social workers and doctors to remotely interact with patients and are exploring this as part of our partnership with North Bristol Trust.”

Read the full story.

Future Space resident Homelync joins forces with Aico to expand market leading social landlord Internet of Things platform

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Homelync, who started in the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) Hardware Incubator before graduating to Future Space, have been acquired by Aico.

Homelync are an award-winning, innovative technology firm that specialise in smart home integration and analytics technology. With industry-leading expertise in the Internet of Things (IoT), software development and integration, the Homelync team are at the forefront of this progressive market. Homelync have widely rolled out integrated IoT solutions for social landlords across the UK to help them tackle challenges associated with cost savings, maintenance efficiency, decarbonization, tenant safety, fuel poverty, and social care. This is done by leveraging an ecosystem of leading IoT devices including temperature, humidity, CO2, fire safety, water leak, boilers, and energy.

Aico is the UK market leader in domestic Fire and Carbon Monoxide protection, pioneering new technologies and offering high quality Fire and Carbon Monoxide alarms. Known for their focus on education, quality, service and innovation they are the premium brand in social housing. After the successful roll out of their popular SmartLINK Gateway, and due to customer demand, they have ambitious plans to expand further into the social housing Internet of Things (IoT) and connected home market.

This acquisition represents a significant step forward for IoT in social housing at a time when the market has recently seen significant growth. The acquisition gives landlords the opportunity to invest in IoT over a longer term investment cycle by providing an additional layer of confidence that couples Homelync’s innovation with the resources of a well-established brand that is trusted in the sector. Aico’s heritage of 30 years standing provides great strength for all landlords.

Read the full story here. The BRL Hardware Incubator and Future Space are part of the University Enterprise Zone. They connect entrepreneurs and tech innovators with scientists, researchers and graduate talent – to spark collaboration, innovation and growth. Find out more here.

Bristol Robotics Laboratory manufacture visors for NHS staff

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Original post appeared on UWE Bristol website.

Technicians at Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL) are using laser cutting technology to produce protective visors for NHS staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

A team are manufacturing an initial batch of 200 for staff working at Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership (AWP) NHS Trust. They plan to expand production with the support of 3D printing facilities and technicians across three UWE Bristol faculties.

The cleanable visors are being created using an approved design by University College London. The team also plans to manufacture surgical mask straps, which help prevent masks rubbing against the ears of clinical staff.

Gareth Griffiths, a Senior Engineering Manager in BRL’s Robotics Innovation Facility (RIF), said: “The trust approached us asking if we could supply PPE and we were very happy to use our facilities and expertise to help with their request.

“The visors can be made very quickly, with the manufacture process taking about two-and-a-half minutes for each visor. They are made from smooth laser-cut plastic so they can be easily cleaned and reused if necessary.”

Read the full post here.