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Making robots work for us

By Professor Rob Richardson, Director of the EPSRC National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems at the University of Leeds.

He will be speaking on day one of the UK-India Tech Summit alongside Sethu Vijaykumar from the University of Edinburgh and Chris Price, from Aberystwyth University in the robotics and autonomy session.

Robotic technology is of greatest use to humankind when it enhances our lives, advances medical technologies and reveals parts of the world never seen before. This approach forms the basis of our research at Leeds.

We host a UK government-funded centre which puts us at the forefront of robot design and construction in these fields. The National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems is a £4.3m Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council project based in our School of Mechanical Engineering.

The facility team and I are very open to working with academics in India, the UK and other countries to collaborate on research programmes.

(A complex cellular structure printed using the University’s 3D printing equipent)

Our outstanding research and facilities makes studying at Leeds a very attractive prospect for students at all levels. We have invested in some of the worlds most advanced equipment including a 3D printer capable of producing precision structures and a 3D visualisation suite, to improve the quality of our research and teaching.

Highly ranked

The School of Mechanical Engineering was ranked in the top two universities in the UK for the quality of research in the most recent Research Excellence Framework. Our students gave us a 91 per cent overall satisfaction rating in the 2016 National Student Survey and the University continues to appear in the top 100 of the QS world rankings. In addition, we are The Times and Sunday Times newspapers’ UK University of the Year for 2017.

I don’t just say this to sound good – it is independent proof we have a very strong reputation for what we do, reassuring to people thinking of working or studying with us.

What we actually do is create robots and autonomous devices to carry out tasks which humans cannot do.

 

 (The Djedi robot which expored the Great Pyramid at Giza)

Our most recognised robot is Djedi, which explored inside the great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt.

Djedi travelled 70 metres inside the pyramid, navigating a number of air shafts. As well as revealing never before seen art work, it helped archaeologists understand how the pyramid itself was constructed.

For me as an engineer this was a thrilling moment; our skills and expertise helped a whole country learn a little more about its fascinating past.

Robots like Djedi, named after an historical Egyptian magician, are individually built at Leeds to crawl, roll or climb into spaces impossible for humans to access. We design them to cut, scrape, dig, film or apply substances, all of which are vital for research and exploring some of the most difficult corners of the world.

 

 (The lightweight robot designed by Leeds students and staff to gather data from glacial lakes)

Important relationships

Through all our work, the relationship between academic staff, researchers and students is central to our results:

  • A team of PhD students supported by my colleague Martin Levesley have developed a portable assistive system called ‘MyPAM’ to help stroke survivors improve their arm’s function and rebuild their strength.
  • A small lightweight boat robot carrying sonar technology designed to skim the surface of water courses was developed by masters students with staff support. It has operated in Nepal, sailing over glacial lakes which have unfrozen, to measure depths and collect data.
  • A group of academics led by Professor Phil Purnell are in the early stages of developing robots which can ‘self repair’ streets, underground pipes and lamp-posts. This work is supported by our municipal council, and as a University we are pleased to play our part in the growth of our home city of Leeds, a vibrant, active and exciting place to live and work.

Our plans for robotics research include greater collaboration with international partner businesses and universities, which is why the UK-India Tech Summit is such an important show case for us. We also intend to develop more advanced ways to make robots to complete tasks not previously possible.

This is an exciting time to work in robotics, there are projects at the build stage and research to understand fundamental concepts which we’re heavily involved in. Our students and postdoctoral researchers are a strong community and I know from experience how colleagues value having fresh ideas and approaches to influence their work.

Professor Rob Richardson is the Director of the EPSRC National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems at the University of Leeds.

He will be speaking on day one of the UK-India Tech Summit alongside Sethu Vijaykumar from the University of Edinburgh and Chris Price, from Aberystwyth University in the robotics and autonomy session.

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