Mutual Shaping in Swarm Robotics: User Studies in Fire and Rescue, Storage Organization, and Bridge Inspection

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Fire engine at the Bristol Robotics Lab after a focus group session with local firefighters

I remember this story as if it was yesterday. It was the summer of 2013. I was laying on my bed, listening to music. All of the sudden, I heard someone screaming louder than my music, and banging on the door of my flat. I quickly took off my headphones, dashed to the door, opened it, and found my neighbour shaking, with her face as pale as chalk. Without any word, she grabbed my arm and pulled me towards her flat. Then, I went into panic. Smoke was coming out of the door! As we entered the flat running, my neighbour quickly managed to explain that the heater above the wooden bathroom door had caught fire while she was giving a bath to the old lady she was caring for. The old lady needed rescuing. Luckily, we both could take the old lady out of the bathroom before the fire developed more. A fire brigade came in a matter of minutes. The bathroom was destroyed, but no-one was injured.

After that experience, I knew I wanted to do something useful for firefighters because I had experienced how extremely dangerous it is for them to enter a building covered in smoke to put out a fire. Did I become a firefighter? Not quite. I decided to do a PhD in swarm robotics at the Bristol Robotics Lab to design useful technology for fire brigades. Swarm robotics is the study of hundreds and thousands of robots that collaborate with each other to solve tasks without any leader, just like swarms of ants, bees, fish or even cells in our bodies. Imagine if firefighters could release a swarm of robots at the entrance of a building on fire to create a map of the hazards, source of fire and casualties, so that firefighters don’t waste time searching (which is one of the most dangerous parts of their profession). Swarm robotics could also be applied in other settings. How about if warehouses had a swarm of robots automatically organising the stock so that employees only have to ask the swarm for the products they want? Or what if a swarm of robots could spread all over a bridge to monitor cracks? In my opinion, robot swarms are almost ready to leave the lab and enter the real world. We just need to know the type of robot swarms that potential users need. So, along with co-authors Emma Milner, Julian Hird, Georgios Tzoumas, Paul Vardanega, Mahesh Sooriyabandara, Manuel Giuliani, Alan Winfield and Sabine Hauert, we did three studies where we spoke with 37 professionals from fire brigades, storage organisation and bridge inspection. The results have recently been published in the open access journal Frontiers in Robotics and AI (you can read the paper here).





Mutual shaping: a bidirectional relationship between the users and the technology developer

For the three studies, we followed the framework of mutual shaping. The long-term aim is to create a bidirectional relationship between the users and the technology developers so that we can incorporate societal choices at all stages of the research and development process, as opposed to more traditional methods where users are asked what they care about once the technology has already been designed. In our studies, we first had a discussion with participants to find out about their job, their challenges and their needs, without any introduction to swarm robotics. After listening to their explanation of the art of their profession, we introduced them to swarm robotics, and gave them examples where robot swarms could be useful for them. Finally, we had another discussion around how useful those examples were for them, and challenged them to think about any other scenarios where robot swarms could assist them.

We found very helpful take-home messages. The first one was that participants were open to the idea of using robot swarms in their jobs. That was somewhat surprising, as we were expecting them to focus more on the downsides of the technology, given how robot swarms are frequently portrayed in science fiction. The second point had to do with the particular tasks that participants felt robot swarms could/couldn’t do. This was an extraordinary insight because we identified their priorities, hence the next steps to advance in the swarm robotics research. For example, firefighters said they would highly benefit from robot swarms that could gather information for them very quickly. On the contrary, they wouldn’t like robot swarms extinguishing fires because of the tremendous amount of variables involved in fire extinguishing. That’s exactly the art of their profession – they know how to extinguish fires. In the study with the sector of storage organisation, a participant from a charity shop said that they wouldn’t like robots valuing the items they receive, but robot swarms could be useful for organising the stock more efficiently. Bridge inspectors would rather assess whether there’s damage by themselves, given the information about the bridge that a robot swarm sends them. Finally, most participants brought up concerns to tackle if we want to successfully deploy swarms in the real world. These mainly had to do with transparency, accountability, safety, reliability and usability. Some of the challenges for swarm robotics that were collectively identified in the studies are the following:

  • How can we really understand what’s happening within a robot swarm?
  • How can we make safe robot swarms for users?
  • How can we manufacture robot swarms to be used out of the box without expert training or difficult maintenance?


Bar chart of answers to one of the questions asked to fire brigades

Personally, what struck me the most in my study was that almost three quarters of the participants from fire brigades expressed that they would like to be included in the research and development process from the very beginning. So, engaging with them through mutual shaping was a good choice because it opened up the relationship that they apparently want to have. And that’s really inspiring! I hope our research opens up exciting paths to explore in the future. Paths that will take swarm robotics a step closer to making robot swarms useful for society.

Daniel Carrillo-Zapata, PhD in swarm robotics and self-organisation, Bristol Robotics Laboratory

COVID-19 opportunities to shift artificial intelligence towards serving the common good

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Contact tracing apps are just one measure governments have been using in their attempts to contain the current coronavirus outbreak. Such apps have also raised concerns about privacy and data security. COVID-19 – and the current calls for AI-led healthcare solutions – highlight the pressing need to consider wider ethical issues raised by artificial intelligence (AI). This blog discusses some of the ethical issues raised in a recent report and brief on moral issues and dilemmas linked to AI, written by the Science Communication Unit for the European Parliament . 

AI means, broadly, machines that mimic human cognitive functions, such as learning, problem-solving, speech recognition and visual perception. One of the key benefits touted for AI is to reduce healthcare inefficiencies; indeed, AI is already widespread in healthcare settings in developed economies, and its use is set to increase. 

There are clear benefits for strained healthcare systems. In some fundamental areas of medicine, such as medical image diagnostics, machine learning has been shown to match or even surpass human ability to detect illnesses. New technologies, such as health monitoring devices, may free up medical staff time for more direct interactions with patients, and so potentially increase the overall quality of care. Intelligent robots may also work as companions or carers, remind you to take your medications, help you with your mobility or cleaning tasks, or help you stay in contact with your family, friends and healthcare providers via video link.

AI technologies have been an important tool in tracking and tracing contacts during the COVID-19 outbreak in countries such as South Korea. There are clear benefits to such life-saving AI, but widespread use of a contact-tracing app also raises ethical questions. South Korea has tried to flatten its curve using intense scraping of personal data, and other countries have been using digital surveillance and AI-supported drones to monitor the population in attempts to stem the spread. The curtailing of individual privacy may be a price we have to pay, but it is a tricky ethical balance to strike – for example, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea has expressed its concern about excessive disclosure of private information of COVID-19 patients.  

The case of the missing AI laws

As adoption of AI continues to grow apace – in healthcare, as well as in other sectors such as transportation, energy, defence, services, entertainment, finance, cybersecurity –legislation has lagged behind. There remains a significant time lag between the pace of AI development and the pace of AI lawmaking. The World Economic Forum calls for much-needed ‘governance architectures’ to build public trust in AI to ensure that the technology can be used for health crises such as COVID in future.There exist several laws and regulations dealing with aspects relevant to AI (such as the EU’s GDPR on data, or several country laws on autonomous vehicles) but no countries yet have specific laws on ethical and responsible AI. Several countries are discussing restrictions on the use of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS).[1] However, governments in general have been reluctant to create restrictive laws.

A new report commissioned by the European Parliament will feed into the work of their Scientific Foresight Unit, STOA. The report, written by the Science Communication Unit, was led by Professor of Robot Ethics, Alan Winfield.

Broad ethical questions

Reviewing the scientific literature and existing frameworks around the world, we found there are diverse, complex ethical concerns arising from the development of artificial intelligence.

 In relation to healthcare, for diseases like COVID-19, where disease is spread via social contact, care robots  could provide necessary, protective, socially distanced support for vulnerable people. However, if this technology becomes more pervasive, it could be used in more routine settings as well. Questions then arise over whether a care robot or a companion robot can really substitute for human interaction – particularly pertinent in the long-term caring of vulnerable and often lonely people, who derive basic companionship from caregivers.

As with many areas of AI technology, the privacy and dignity of users’ needs to be carefully considered when designing healthcare service and companion robots. Robots do not have the capacity for ethical reflection or a moral basis for decision-making, and so humans must hold ultimate control over any decision-making in healthcare and other contexts.

Other applications raise further concerns, ranging from large-scale and well-known issues such job losses from automation, to more personal, moral quandaries such as how AI will affect our sense of trust, our ability to judge what is real, and our personal relationships.

Perhaps unexpectedly, we also found that AI has a significant energy cost and furthers social inequalities – and that, crucially, these aspects are not being covered by existing frameworks.

Our Policy Options Brief highlights four key gaps in current frameworks, which don’t currently cover:

  • ensuring benefits from AI are shared fairly;
  • ensuring workers are not exploited;
  • reducing energy demands in the context of environmental and climate change;
  • and reducing the risk of AI-assisted financial crime.

It is also clear that, while AI has global applications and potential benefits, there are enormous disparities in access and benefits between global regions. It is incumbent upon today’s policy- and law-makers to ensure that AI does not widen global inequalities further. Progressive steps could include data-sharing and collaborative approaches (such as India’s promise to share its AI solutions with other developing economies), and efforts to make teaching around computational approaches a fundamental part of education, available to all.

Is AI developed for the common good?

Calls have been issued for contributions from AI experts and contributors worldwide to help find further solutions to the COVID-19 crisis – for example, the AI-ROBOTICS vs COVID-19 initiative of the European AI Alliance is compiling a ‘solutions repository’. At the time of writing, there were 248 organisations and individuals offering COVID-related solutions via AI development. These include a deep-learning hand-washing coach AI, which gives you immediate feedback on how to handwash better. 

Other solutions include gathering and screening knowledge; software enabling a robot to disinfect areas, or to screen people’s body temperature; robots that deliver objects to people in quarantine; automated detection of early breathing difficulties; and FAQ chatbots or even psychological support chatbots.

Government calls for AI-supported COVID-19 solutions are producing an interesting ethical interface between sectors that have previously kept each other at arm’s length. In the hyper-competitive world of AI companies, co-operation (or even information sharing) towards a common goal is unchartered territory. These developments crystallise one of the ethical questions at the core of AI debates – should AI be developed and used for private or public ends? In this time of COVID-19, increased attention by governments (and the increased media attention on some of the privacy-related costs of AI) provide an opportunity to open up and move forward this debate. Moreover, the IEEE urges that the sense of ‘emerging solidarity’ and ‘common global destiny’ accompanying the COVID-19 crisis are perfect levers to make the sustainability and wellbeing changes required.

One barrier to debate is in the difficulty of understanding some of the most advanced AI technologies, which is why good science communication is crucial. It is vitally important that the public are able to formulate and voice informed opinions on potentially society-changing developments. Governments need better information too – and up-to-date, independent and evidence-based forms of technology assessment. Organisations such as the Science, Technology Assessment and Analytics team in the US Government Accountability Office or the European Foresight platform are examples that are trying to enable governments and lawmakers to understand such technologies deeply while they can still be shaped.

In order to enjoy the benefits of AI, good governance frameworks are urgently needed to balance the ethical considerations and manage the risks. It is yet to be seen if the COVID-19-prompted developments in AI will herald a new era of public-private cooperation for the common good, but if there was ever a time to amplify this conversation, it is now.

Ruth Larbey, Science Communication Unit, UWE Bristol.


[1] Belgium has already passed legislation to prevent the use or development of LAWS. 


WeCount: a new European citizen science project aimed at improving local mobility

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Air quality and traffic congestion are among the main causes of poor urban living and have sparked rising concerns about the negative impact that transport has on people’s health and wellbeing in urban areas. According to the European Environment Agency, air pollution caused 400,000 premature European deaths in 2016.  As several European cities in Europe embark on bold action to improve local transport and promote the use of alternative and clean modes of transport, citizens are now mobilising to have their voice heard and to actively participate in local transport policy development.

WeCount (Citizens Observing UrbaN Transport), a new Horizon 2020 funded project, aims to empower citizens in five European cities to take a leading role in the production of the data, evidence and knowledge that is generated around mobility in their own communities.  Five cities: Madrid, Ljubljana, Dublin, Cardiff and Leuven are coming together to mobilise 1,500 citizens throughout the coming year (2020) by following participatory citizen science methods to co-create road traffic counting sensors based on the popular Telraam experience in Flanders.

The WeCount project brings together UWE Bristol staff from the Science Communication Unit (Dr Margarida Sardo and Dr Laura Fogg-Rogers)  and the Air Quality Management Resource Centre (Prof Enda Hayes and Dr Ben Williams).

A number of low-cost, automated, road traffic counting sensors (Telraams) will be mounted on each participating household’s window facing a road, which will allow authorities to determine the number and speeds of cars, large vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians. Furthermore, it will generate scientific knowledge in the field of mobility and environmental pollution and encourage the development of co-designed, informed solutions to tackle a variety of road transport challenges.

WeCount intends to establish a multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism to gather data in these five pilot cities. Data will then be used to formulate informed solutions to tackle a variety of road transport challenges, thus improving quality of life at the neighborhood level. WeCount aims to break down technological and societal silos, by putting citizens at the heart of the innovation process. The project is the perfect vehicle to not only generate data but also promote and support citizen advocacy to work towards cleaner and healthier cities.

UWE is one of seven knowledge partners involved in the WeCount project, a list which includes SMEs, academic institutions and non-profit organisations. UWE is participating alongside Transport & Mobility Leuven, Ideas for Change, University College Dublin, University of Ljubljana, Polis and Mobiel 21.

WeCount operates under the Research and Innovation Actions funding scheme, as facilitated by Horizon 2020 and the ‘Science with and for Society’ programme. WeCount will run until November 2021 and has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No 872743.

Details of the project were also featured in a recent UWE Bristol press release.

How to write a research synthesis report (or how I conquered my batteries mountain!)

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The words on the screen are drifting in and out of focus… lithium-ion and sodium-ion, redox flow and redox couples… and, errrrrm, what does ‘roundtrip efficiency’ mean?

It’s April 2018.  I have just returned to work after a sleepless year on maternity leave and been tasked with writing a report on battery technologies and their environmental impacts.

It’s an honour to write about such an important topic – batteries are critical to renewable energy systems and e-mobility – and I am excited about the job ahead.

However, faced with this seemingly insurmountable, not to mention impenetrable, pile of scientific papers upon which to base the report, it’s also easy to feel a little daunted.

I pull myself together. I know that I can do this because I’ve been here before, having successfully delivered reports on a diverse set of topics, from green finance to fish farming – as baffling as some of these topics may have seemed at first.

And sure enough, six months later, Towards the Battery of the Future (as the finished report is now titled) is being handed out to warm approval at high-level international conferences and EU meetings, deemed worthy of attention by top-tier policymakers and captains of industry.

With a glow of satisfaction, I pat myself on the back for having mastered a topic that, initially, I knew very little about. I’m also chuffed to have played a role in sharing the science with wider society.

Research syntheses

Towards the Battery of the Future is one of a number of reports I have worked on for Science for Environment Policy over the past 8 years. It is an example of a research synthesis – a publication which weaves together research, often from multiple disciplines, to support or influence policy.

In Science for Environment Policy’s case, we distill research to help policymakers protect and enhance our environment.

I can tell you from my time on these reports that producing a research synthesis is a tricky business. I am just starting work on a new report which explores the wonders of pollinators, and it feels a good time to reflect upon how best to go about a research synthesis.

An increasing body of scholarly work is assessing the role and impact of research syntheses, and various techniques for creating them1. This has yielded some interesting principles and frameworks, which provide valuable food for thought and guidelines for action.

This blog post is my nuts-and-bolts contribution to the discussion and, below, we have a handful of pointers, drawn from personal experience. These helped me take the batteries report, and those before it, on the journey from a mystifying blur of pixels to a bona fide publication, and one which may just make the world a better place.

1. Talk to real people

A chat with a well-selected expert can clarify more about a topic than days of scouring through research papers (and certainly more than could ever be gleaned from Wikipedia).

Work on the batteries report really got going after some enlightening conversations with the commissioning policy officer in Brussels and my trusty scientific advisor in Germany. Both helped define what we really need to focus on.

Where does the weight of evidence sit? What are the big debates and unknowns? And, seriously, what does roundtrip efficiency actually mean?

Thanks these chats, the words on my screen start to snap into focus, and, armed with a list of useful keywords, I feel ready to take on the research databases and build this report.

(And, turns out roundtrip efficiency is really a very simple concept. Need to know: you don’t want your batteries to leak too much energy when recharging).

2. And talk to lots of different types of people

I lost count of how many people contributed to and reviewed the batteries report. These helpful souls not only offered useful details, but also balance with their diverse backgrounds, from transport to chemicals.

And it’s not just scientists and policymakers who can help. Businesses, consultants and community groups, for example, are all a treasure trove of information and perspective.

I have been transported from my desk in a grey suburb of Bristol to tropical forests of Central America and windswept fish farms of the Baltic Sea, courtesy of telephone conversations with astonishingly obliging contributors.

With my tabula rasa outset for each report, I do often feel a little ignorant during these chats.  I’ve not quite forgiven the guy who actually shouted at me for asking the wrong questions (owing to my ignorance on the particular topic of the report at the time), but I did come out of that conversation much more knowledgeable than when I went in.

A caveat: the more people involved in a report, the longer it takes – and the risk of missing publication in time for key policy events increases, diminishing the report’s potential impact. In practice, synthesis writers are often faced with the challenge of finding the best way to produce robust content within short timeframes (see also: limited budgets).

3. Your reference manager is your best friend

I’ve seen many a writer get in a twist attempting to manually manage the reams of references that make up a report. Problems often arise as a report continually shifts in form throughout its development; citations get lost, bibliographies get muddled.

I’ve adopted Mendeley to overcome these issues, and do all the awkward formatting for me. It’s not perfect, and I’m always keen to know how others deal with their references, but it sure makes life a lot easier.

4. Keep on truckin’

It is the research that goes into developing a report, and not the actual writing, that drains the most time and energy. A day spent filtering and reading papers can amount to just two or three short paragraphs of text. Producing a research synthesis report is, at times, frustratingly arduous.

However, as Towards the Battery of the Future gradually morphed into a rounded product, I was reminded of why I went into science communication in the first place: it’s the perfect excuse to learn new things. The process of translating between the languages of science and the ‘lay person’ is also something I find undeniably satisfying.

Indeed, as I submit the final draft, I’m wishing I could make my own efficient roundtrip – to go back and do it all again.

Michelle Kilfoyle, Science Writer, Science for Environment Policy

  1. Some recent examples:

The Royal Society & the Academy of Medical Sciences (2018) Evidence synthesis for policy: a statement of principles. https://royalsociety.org/~/media/policy/projects/evidence-synthesis/evidence-synthesis-statement-principles.pdf

Wyborn et al. (2018) Understanding the Impacts of Research Synthesis. Environmental Science & Policy. 86: 72–84. DOI:10.1016/J.ENVSCI.2018.04.013

Engineering Our Future – Event videos!

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If you were an engineer, what would you do?

2712 children from across the South West answered this question with their designs to solve real-world problems.

The Leaders Awards is organised by Primary Engineer, helping children to meet real-life engineers. Led by the SCU’s Laura Fogg Rogers, UWE Bristol is an official sponsor, in partnership with Defence Equipment and Support (the procurement arm of the Ministry of Defence).

The shortlisted entries were showcased at a public exhibition in June 2018, bringing together 19 winners and their parents in a celebration with engineers from across the South West.

Children from Reception through to Year 10 were recognised for their efforts. Designs ranged from rotating bunk beds to bird-identifier binoculars. Students from UWE Bristol’s EngWest Studio will make one of the winning entries as part of their studies.

The future of engineering is here!

 

Ready to engineer your future?

Following International Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June, 135 female students in Years 9-11 from across the South West had the chance to participate in hands-on activities, demonstrating the ways in which engineering careers impact many aspects of society.

Each zone focused on a different contribution to society, with the ultimate challenge of designing and building a city of the future. The girls got involved in bridge building, urban design, smart technologies, and sustainable solutions. All these courses are taught in the Faculty of Environment and Technology at UWE Bristol.

The event aimed to challenge traditional perceptions that engineering is mainly for men, in order to tackle a lack of diversity in the profession. Laura Fogg Rogers, who helped to organise it, has also recently initiated the Women Like Me project at UWE Bristol, which aims to further encourage and support girls and women to enter and remain in engineering professions.

 

Original posts by Laura Hobbs on the UWE Bristol ‘Engineering Our Future‘ blog.

Women Like Me

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Engineering our Future (this article first appeared on the Engineering our Future blog at UWE)

Only 11% of engineers in the UK are women. Is this enough?

No, it’s really not – we have an engineering skills shortage as it is, and the low proportion of women in the workforce means that a whole pool of talent is going untapped. Girls need to be able to see engineering as for them, connect with it as career and have access to positive female role models. And in turn, women need to feel supported to make a difference in the workplace once they get there, so that they not only go into, but stay in engineering roles.

So what can we do about that, and how can we bring people together? Here at the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol, we’re launching ‘Women Like Me’; a project which aims to open doors to girls and build resilience for women in engineering. I will be running the project with Laura Fogg Rogers  over the next year; we both have lots of experience of delivering outreach and engagement projects and are passionate about making Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths accessible to everyone, at all stages.

Supporting women and girls in engineering

Women Like Me is a peer mentoring and outreach project aimed at boosting female representation in engineering. So what does that actually mean?

The project will pair senior women engineers with junior women engineers to give them mentoring support as they start out in their engineering careers. In turn, junior women will undertake engineering education outreach in schools and at public events in the Bristol and Bath area. Engineering is a creative, socially conscious, and collaborative discipline, and this project aims to support girls and women to make a difference in society.

Who can take part?

Mid-career and early career female engineers working in the Bristol and Bath area can get involved in the project. Senior women engineers are those who are more than five years post-graduation from their first degree. Junior women engineers are those with less than five years of experience since entering the engineering profession, and can include apprentices, trainees, postgraduate students and postdoctoral researchers.

Undergraduates aren’t eligible to take part; whilst they are fantastic role models, UWE already provides public engagement training for undergraduate engineering students through the Engineering and Society  module.

What will it involve?

We will offer networking opportunities to all participants at the start (October 2018) and end (April 2019) of the project. Senior engineers will receive training in mentoring and meet with their junior engineer mentee at least twice during the project.

Junior engineers will receive mentoring support from senior engineers and training in public engagement. They will then undertake at least three engineering outreach activities in local schools and at local public events. Activities and coordination of events is provided and supported by UWE; participation is voluntary and we’ll cover travel expenses.

How can I find out more or sign up?

For more information or to get involved, please email engineeringourfuture@uwe.ac.uk. You can also follow the project on Twitter for updates.

Women Like Me is based in the Science Communication Unit at the University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE), supported by the WISE Bristol Hub and STEM Ambassador Hub West England and funded by a Royal Academy of Engineering Ingenious grant. The project is organised by Dr Laura Hobbs and was initiated by Laura Fogg-Rogers. By matching senior and junior female engineers and supporting junior engineers to connect with the children and young people as the engineers of tomorrow, the project will lead to impact both in the workplace today, and for the future of the engineering profession.

Laura Hobbs

South West Engineering Leaders Awards Exhibition and Public Event

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Saturday 30th June 2018, 10am – 4pm

UWE Bristol Exhibition and Conference Centre,
North Entrance,
Filton Road,
Stoke Gifford,
Bristol, BS34 8QZ

Take part in science and engineering demonstrations, and see the inspiring designs from the Leaders Awards – the children’s engineering design competition for the South West.

On Saturday 30th June, UWE’s engineers will showcase their latest research and technology in the Exhibition and Conference Centre at UWE. The event is free to all and will be a public open day for families and schools.

The event and Leaders Awards sponsorship have been organised by Laura Fogg-Rogers, a Senior Research Fellow in UWE Bristol’s Science Communication Unit, as part of her work on the Children as Engineers project. Activities include having a go with drones, taking on the role of a city planner in a cardboard version of Bristol, and experiencing the latest virtual reality data controllers.

 

School children science engineering activityLaura Fogg-Rogers, who has coordinated the event said, “Engineers are highly creative people who can help to solve many of society’s problems. It’s a really collaborative profession, where you have to work together in teams to see your visions and designs come to fruition. The range of roles and careers is really diverse, and that’s what we’d like to emphasise to all young people, particularly girls. You can make your own mark in engineering!”

The public event forms part of UWE’s Week of Engineering which has been organised by the SCU, which celebrates the national Year of Engineering alongside International Women in Engineering Day. It will follow a series of activities including the Big Bang Fair at UWE and the Engineering our Future schools event, which will see 240 girls attend UWE to experience being engineers.

Alongside the public activities will be an exhibition displaying the shortlisted and winning designs for the South West Leaders Awards. UWE has teamed up with DE&S (part of the Ministry of Defence) this year to sponsor the South West England Region of the Primary Engineer & Secondary Engineer Leaders Award; a national engineering competition for schools.

School pupils answered the question “If you were an engineer what would you do?” by identifying a problem in society that engineering could solve and devising a solution.  UWE students from EngWest Studio will turn one of the winning designs into reality later this year.

SCU’s Laura Fogg-Rogers scoops award for science teaching project

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The Children as Engineers project led by Laura Fogg-Rogers from the Science Communication Unit at UWE Bristol has won a national award.

The TEAN (Teacher Education Advancement Network) Commendation Award for Effective Practice in Teacher Education was presented at an awards event held in Birmingham in May. Senior Research Fellow Laura Fogg-Rogers and Senior Lecturer Juliet Edmonds collected the award on behalf of UWE. The project team also brings together Dr Fay Lewis from the Department of Education and Childhood and Wendy Fowles-Sweet from the Department of Engineering Design and Mathematics.

The Children as Engineers project developed an undergraduate degree module called ‘Engineering and Society’ which pairs engineering students with teachers to bring hands-on science programmes into primary schools. It aims to address science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills gaps in primary schools – for teachers and children.

The project sits against a backdrop of an urgent need for enough trained engineers to meet the country’s future needs. Estimates suggest the UK will need 100,000 new engineers in the next 20-30 years to solve problems affecting society, grow the economy, and design products for manufacture. In particular, more girls and women are encouraged to take up engineering as a career.

Pilot research indicates that student teachers specialising in science at primary school improved their subject knowledge and confidence to teach STEM in the future. Meanwhile, the engineering students taking the ‘Engineering and Society’ module benefit by developing their communication and presentation skills and creating a broad-based understanding of the relevance of their subject.

Pupils benefit from hands-on sessions delivered by the students, where they engage in activities such as building mini-vacuum cleaners, testing floating platforms and exploring flight. Children aged between eight and 11 learn about the skills, challenges and excitement of engineering.

Laura said: ”We were delighted that our team’s hard work over several years has been recognised at a national level by teacher educators. We plan to continue expanding this project to bring real benefits to teachers, engineers, and pupils, to inspire creative STEM teaching and practice for the future.”

The project is believed to be the first in the country to pair university students in these two disciplines to enhance the learning of both groups as well as delivering real benefits to school teachers and pupils.

Laura Fogg-Rogers

Renewable energy? We’re big fans!

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The Science Communication Unit supported three successful bids to the British Council to participate in their Science in Schools initiative. Alongside sending Robotics PhD students and BoxED interns to France to run two weeks of activities, former BoxED interns Jack Bevan and Katherine Bourne were invited to deliver a week’s worth of engineering workshops in Martinique, a French department in the Caribbean.

Getting started

In January 2018, Jack Bevan and I were invited to deliver a week’s worth of engaging STEM workshops (in English) to primary school children in Martinique as part of the Science in Schools initiative.

Having worked together at the University of the West of England (UWE, Bristol) for the past two years on a similar outreach project, we both accepted instantly and ideas began to form in our minds. First thing’s first: which project to choose?

Globally we are becoming more and more dependent on renewable and sustainable energy. Wind turbines are an icon for clean energy, and also, it turns out, pretty fun to build out of recycled materials.

Our aim was to invite the children to consider the impact that we as humans have on our planet, and also to begin ‘thinking like an engineer’. That is: focus on your objective and try, try, and try again.

Having designed central hubs and provided DC motors to measure any potential voltage generated, it was now up to the children of eight different schools in Martinique to design and produce their very own turbine. The competition began.

A Welcome Surprise

On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by Catherine Ciserane (Academic Delegate for European and International Relations and Cooperation) as well as the exotic sights and sounds of the beautiful Caribbean island of Martinique. Once I had confidently conquered driving on the right (wrong) side of the road, and settled into our hotel, it was time to visit the first of our many schools; Ecole Constant Eudaric.

It has to be said that we were absolutely delighted with the warmth of our welcome from all of the schools that we visited that week. Students were rushing to us immediately with greetings in English, and offers to help carry our heavy equipment. Teaching staff were equally enthusiastic and hospitable, ensuring we had plenty of delicious fruit and sugarcane juice, as well as pastries and chocolates (a staple component of every teacher’s diet).

Once teaching began, we were impressed with the students’ levels of English, and the confidence with which they spoke. Some pupils at Case-Pilôte school had even prepared a welcoming song for us in English, as well as a message of thanks to send us on our way.

Getting Stuck In

At the beginning of each of our workshops, we set the scene for the children. Imagine a world where there was no electricity, and it was your job to make your own energy using only whatever materials you had available to you (in our case: cardboard, egg boxes, and plastic cups).

Once the scene had been set, students rushed to begin building their designs, taking inspiration from other wind turbines around the world. Each and every workshop is different and we are constantly amazed and impressed with the originality of the designs that the children produce.

Using a multi-meter, we are then able to test the amount of electricity (volts) generated by the various turbines. Although some students were disappointed to find their turbine didn’t turn, they had ample opportunity to refine their prototypes and return for another test, often racing to front of the queue!

After some time, our mini engineers were able to generate upwards of 40V electricity. Enough to power an LED light, and even charge a mobile phone (how else could you check your social media during a power cut?).

Looking back

As well as working with school children, we also had the opportunity to provide a ‘Master Class’ for a collection of professional science communicators and educators across Martinique. We were able to share with them the challenges in STEM that we have faced and the ways in which we can overcome these problems together.

We found that the adults got very into our turbine workshop – it was literally battle of the engineers – but were unsuccessful in beating one child’s high score of 47V!

We received very positive feedback from everyone we encountered, and have faith that our passion and enthusiasm for such a critical and pivotal subject has been instilled into all of the schools we visited.

We are very thankful for this opportunity and would like to encourage any others to embrace the adventure and show their support for the Science in Schools initiative.

Biographies

Katherine Bourne is a biologist specialising in science communication. She has worked at the University of the West of England for three years, designing and evaluating engaging science workshops for students across the South West of England. She is hoping to complete her secondary school science teacher training in 2019.

Jack Bevan is a mechanical engineer with a passion for widening participation in all STEM subjects. Based at the University of the West of England for two years, he is committed to delivering fun science workshops in both the school and community setting.