My week - 16 June 2014 - Showcasing our robotics research

Professor David Hogg, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Innovation, on robotics at Leeds.

Professor David Hogg

Last week, I spent time at the Natural History Museum (NHM), where a team from the University’s Faculty of Engineering were showcasing our expertise in robotics as part of Universities Week*.  It was a great success. At times, it was difficult to get past the throng of children, teachers and parents at the entrance to the exhibition wanting to race our Djedi vehicles, based on the pyramid explorer robot developed by Dr Rob Richardson’s team.

We were also showing off the iPAM rehabilitation robot, which assists patients with therapeutic exercise, in the main hall and Linda – a robot programmed to operate independently in human environments on which Professor Anthony Cohn (School of Computing) has collaborated – was mingling with the crowds.

I thought our team did a great job communicating how research taking place at Leeds is transforming disaster response, exploration, surgery, prosthetics and patient rehabilitation.  Our current robotics research spans an impressive range of applications, including robots that have explored the ancient pyramids and robotic technology assisting patients’ arm recovery after strokes, together with biologically inspired robots such as the giant ‘worm’ that wiggles its way around obstacles, and a device modelled on the feet of tree frogs, which is designed to crawl inside patients’ bodies for minimally invasive abdominal surgery.  I was delighted to see so many people – including lots of parents and children – attending the event and talking to our researchers, all keen to find out about our current research and how it’s helping to tackle global challenges.

As well as encouraging members of the public to find out about our robotics research, we also talked to existing and potential partners about future collaborations and ventures.  Our new £4.3 million National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems** – funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council – puts us at the forefront of robot design and construction.  The event at the NHM was an important opportunity to talk to people about what we’re doing at Leeds and build our position as a major centre for robotics in the UK.

In fact, it was hard to avoid Leeds at the NHM last week.  The Engage Awards, run by the National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement, also took place there on Wednesday and the University was prominent at these, too, with nominations for James McKay’s Dreams of a low carbon future graphic novel project, and a scheme to promote public involvement in setting priorities for palliative care led by Dr Matthew Allsop (School of Medicine, Leeds Institute of Health Sciences).  LeedsACTS!, the collaborative partnership between Leeds' three universities and charity sector organisations, made it into the top six in its award category.

I hope that many of you – either individually or in your teams – have now had the chance to look at and comment on the draft strategic plan, Increasing Knowledge and Opportunity.  As Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research & Innovation, I’m particularly enthusiastic about the Opportunities through research and development section. It stresses the paramount importance of strong disciplines, and the need to invest in our existing and emerging research strengths. It also highlights plans to support and engender interdisciplinary working, particularly in the thematic areas of health, water, food, energy, culture and cities. Through working together, each of these themes drives new research opportunities right across the University. Of course, this doesn’t mean that research high-spots that are not easily related to one or more of the themes are any less important to our future development.  Finally, the plan identifies key technology platforms – such as robotics and data analytics – that are enabling us to establish a global reputation for excellence.

It’s great to see that the research and innovation strategy is already becoming real through things like our investment in the 250 fellowships and 110 Anniversary Research Scholarships, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing this and other areas of the plan develop and come to life during the coming months.


*Universities Week 2014 is run by Universities UK, with Research Councils UK, the Higher Education Funding Council for England and the National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement.
** The facility is part of the government’s drive to improve Britain’s international competitiveness in robotics, equipping our researchers with a suite of technologies – including the latest 3D-printing technology and high-precision assembly systems – which is among the most advanced in the world.

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