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News Report Page 1 of 38
Publication Date:- 2018-06-23
News reports located on this page = 1.

International Robotics Showcase Liverpool
Report by Sean Taylor. Photos & video on this page by Patrick Trollope

THE 2018 International Business Festival runs until  28 June 2018, at Liverpool Exhibition Centre. We visited on the 21 June 2018, where the festival hosted the UK's International Robotics Showcase. This showcase marked the 1st day of UK Robotics Week 2018, which finishes on the 29 June 2018. Usually held in Imperial College London, Liverpool may seem like an unlikely host for the event this year. However, as pointed out by Secretary of state Greg Clark, who visited and spoke at the International Business Festival, the strong international ties between Liverpool, Europe and China make the Exhibition Centre overlooking the docks the perfect place for such an event. With how hard it is for businesses today to avoid the technological problems of autonomy, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and the opportunities they can afford, the Business Festival hosting the Robotics showcase is a fit that doesn't need explanation.

The Robotics Showcase itself, whilst smaller than the Festival that hosted it, was incredibly fascinating. It compromised of a number of stands from various Universities and organisations, all of whom are, as would be expected, involved in robotics in some capacity. Leeds University showcased a total of 3 robots, including a drone, a rover, and a much smaller vehicle about the size of a fist. All were conceived with a view to innovating the idea of "self repairing cities," whereby structural damage to roads, buildings and pavements would be detected and subsequently repaired by intelligent robots. Of course, full automated detection and autonomy of the vehicles is a long way off, and presents so many more problems for the team than even the flying of a 15KG remote controlled drone. The drone, they say, is able to fly out with a payload of asphalt or concrete, and repair cracks in roads or other surfaces via 3D printing before they worsen and become potholes. The rover offers a similar concept, but what it lacks in flight / mobility it makes up for in dexterity, having 2 articulated arms with pincers that are able to manipulate the objects and obstacles around it. The smaller robot moves on magnetic wheels and is designed to explore ferrous pipes, looking for cracks and blockages that would be otherwise difficult to detect.

Emily Collins, of the University of Liverpool Computer Science department, was on hand to explain to us some of the goals of the RAIN (Robotics and AI In Nuclear) hub. There are currently many obstacles, even now, in the decommissioning of nuclear power plants. Robots are obvious candidates to enter environments so hazardous to human health, but those same radioactive environments are also incredibly damaging to the robots. Fukushima is widely referred to as the "robot graveyard," with good reason; robots typically are only able to survive around 12 minutes there. The RAIN hub is working on possible solutions to try and expand the lifespan of these doomed robots to closer to 40 years. One possible solution would be to have at least 2 robots, who are able to repair each other when one of them inevitably breaks. Another problem is that whilst machine learning is a necessary and useful tool for the autonomy of these devices, the amount of control we give to the devices themselves should be restricted in such hazardous environments, as it's important to the decommissioners that whilst the robots should be able to learn and repair each other, they must not be given the freedom to behave unpredictably. Emily also touched on the issues that she, and many other women in STEM fields, still face today. There is still an unjust attitude of adversity and derision towards women in STEM by some members of the community. Another problem is that there simply aren't as many women in the industry; this could be rooted in oppression and dissuasion going as far back as to Primary School education, and the fact that Government campaigns for STEM specifically targeting young women and girls have been seen as heavy handed and condescending.

The Orca Hub booth, headed by Hub Manager Lindsay Wilson, played host to the star of the showcase; a little robot pet named Miro. Miro was developed by Consequential Robotics as an autonomous robo pet, with potential applications in nursing homes or anywhere where lonely people may benefit from companionship or therapy. Despite being clad in shiny white plastic, it's easy to forget that Miro isn't sentient, and he's certainly much more convincing (and endearing) than the Furbys of yore. In our video interview with Lindsay and her colleagues can be seen in the videos below, explaining the collaborations, goals and some of the specific achievements of the Orca Hub.

EMS ltd were on hand showcasing some of the motors they produce for Faulhaber, as well as their application in robotic limbs and digits. It seemed unusual at 1st to see someone showcasing something as benign as motors, but then virtually nothing we'd seen that day would be able to function without them, so it makes perfect sense. One of the challenges of developing things like robots to inspect drainpipes, and bio mechanical limbs and fingers, is the size, power and efficiency of the motors within, so as everything else becomes more advanced so must the humble motor.

Whilst we were fascinated by the robotics on display, there were numerous talks and discussions in the rest of the exhibition centre. There was also a showcase of some novel new technology, including the Westfield Technology "POD," the UK's 1st fully autonomous vehicle for passenger transportation, ie. an intelligent robotic taxi cab. We spoke to Clare Cornes, Westfield's Intelligent Mobility Manager, to learn more. See what she had to tell us in the video below. There was also representatives from the University of Liverpool, encouraging Masters and PhD research and collaboration with local businesses. We also spoke to Liverpool's own CNC Robotics ltd, based in Aintree, as well Alison Mitchell, executive director at Sensor City (the big circuit board building behind Lime Street).   These interviews can all be seen in the video below.

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