Shadow opens office at Future Space at UWE Bristol

The article below has been reblogged from Shadow Robot’s website with their permission.

One of the UK’s longest-running robotics companies, Shadow Robot Company, have just opened a new office in Bristol’s Future Space which is based at the University of West England (UWE Bristol), adjacent to the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL).

Shadow are a partner in the Innovate UK-funded CHIRON project, a two year programme to design care robotics for the future, partnering the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Designability, amongst others.

Managing Director of Shadow, Rich Walker, said “Having an office in Bristol is perfect for us. We have many links out here in the west of England, and it’s a great base for us to work closer with our partners on the CHIRON project.

“We’re also keen to build new relationships in this area, and Future Space seems like the best possible fit for us in terms of location and links to other innovators and businesses.”

The Centre Director of Future Space, Elaine McKechnie said “The Shadow Robot Company is a perfect fit for Future Space and we are very excited that they have decided to set up a base here. Shadow joins a growing group of engineering and technology companies that are seeking to work in a stimulating environment that will nurture collaborative opportunities.”

Associate Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly is leading the BRL element of the CHIRON project, and said, “Ensuring that our research into development assistive robots has the potential to reach people and make an impact in the real-world requires working from the start with commercial partners such as Shadow. The BRL distinguishes itself from other research organisations in this area by working in a participatory manner with not only commercial enterprises who have experience of delivering market-ready products, but also people who will be using technology in their homes and care organisations.

“It makes huge sense for the Shadow Robot Company to take up a base in Bristol. We are working together with commercial partners on other robotic solutions to help older people live for longer in their homes. We’re delighted to have such an established robotics team joining us next door to the BRL and hope this proximity will help us develop further research collaborations.’

The CHIRON project (Care at Home using Intelligent Robotic Omni-functional Nodes) looksto create a set of intelligent modular robotic systems, located in multiple positions around your home; CHIRON could help you with personal hygiene tasks in the morning, help you get ready for the day and even support you in preparing your favourite meal in the kitchen.

It is being managed by a consortium led by Designability. The key technology partners are the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and Shadow Robot Company, who have considerable expertise in conducting pioneering research and development in robotics.

Award winning social enterprise care provider, Three Sisters Care will bring user-centered design to the very core of the our project. Smart Homes & Buildings Association will work to introduce the range of devices that will create CHIRON and make it an indispensable presence in our homes.

Age Does Not Matter Festival

By Sinéad Nolan

14457404_1090442787698707_6637413418619432582_n

The word retirement can summon many images, both positive and negative. What images come up for you? For me the image of people taking holidays, becoming a grandparent and enjoying life springs to mind, but also I get an image of someone sat at home all day, lonely, frail and no longer feeling of much use to society.

Simultaneously, I am aware that my brain has fallen onto a worn out stereotype. But I am not alone in my unconscious bias it seems. In fact, a survey of more than 1,600 finance sector workers found that ageism is a more widespread problem in the city of London than sex discrimination.

Perhaps this is why we need to reframe how we think of age.

7911cae71eb8a16dded971da48da3550_max-1047x

Ageing is often something that happens to other people. While the young live in denial, a world of eternal health and agility, older people are quietly aware of the reality of human limitations. Research on this topic is important to me in my role as Research and Communications officer for Three Sisters Care and CHIRON, so for this reason I attended ‘Age Does Not Matter’, a 4-day festival in the OXO Bargehouse on London’s South Bank to radically rethink the concept of age through an inspirational series of co-design labs, talks, installations, photography, stories, sound and film.

13724811_148818785522908_140687483435218279_o.jpg
Attending the festival yesterday got me thinking about how the old and young communicate (or don’t as the case may be), and how we can keep people integrating fully in society. For example, how we can make use of the wisdom and skills of older people? How can younger people pass on their perspectives of the world?

As part of the festival, I took part in the Workforce & Employment workshop which involved a day long brainstorm and debate session, where we came up with new ideas for how to improve the workplace and the opportunities available for older people. We looked at issues such as how to encourage older entrepreneurs, and how to create intergenerational dialogue in the workplace – all in all, we ended with some great ideas.

Some of the statistics which had come out from the research around this topic are fascinating and provide lots of insight. You can see some of them outlined in the photos below.

unnamed

ctg7wjrxeaafx7g

unnamed (1).jpg

unnamed-2

For more information go to www.ageofnoretirement.org. For more information on Three Sisters Care, please go to www.threesisterscare.co.uk   

‘Robots Helping People’

An event at IET – Speaker: Professor Yiannis Demiris, posted by Sinéad Nolan.

Working on the CHIRON project, it is always helpful to attend events to see what other people are up to in the assistive technology world. With that in mind, I went to see Professor Yiannis Demiris speak at the ‘Robots Helping People’ event at the Institute of Engineering and Technology last week (11th May 2016).

Is this the future?

While many people hear the word ‘robotics in care’ and jump to conclusions based around the potential for worst case scenarios often imagined in the media (Channel 4’s Humans springs to mind), the reality at this event seemed rather different. Instead of a dystopian hell which featured robots instead of human carers, it was based more around assistive technology or assistive robotics becoming a supplement for certain basic services a carer might provide.

“I started the lab in Imperial called personal robotics for a particular reason – I have the vision that robots do not belong in factories,’ said Demiris. “They are robots that try to help us in any way they can. The reason I call them personal robotics is because one of the key issues is that we need personalisation.”

IMG_20160511_184618346

User needs

As anyone who has undertaken a project knows, things don’t always turn out as we plan them. That is why user engagement absolutely needs to be prioritised before building anything.

In one of Demiris’ most recent projects they tried to build smart wheelchairs for children with disabilities equipped with sensors to help the user navigate a corridor. An interesting thing happened in these studies – what they found was that many got frustrated when the wheelchair was controlled externally.

One of the mistakes, Demiris says, is for the engineer to assume they know what the user wants outright – instead they need to listen to what the user wants, and think about how they build a better way to make this possible.

‘Eventually, we tried to change the behaviour of the wheelchair to match the skills of the kid that was actually driving. These wheelchairs wanted to be able to adapt to the changing profile of the user.”

Instead of controlling the user, the user controlled the wheelchair – and the adaptive system only stepped in when needed (for example, if the child was about to bump into something).

kid in wheelchair

Adaptive systems

Similarly, some of the robots Demiris designed aimed to observe how you move and tried to modify the trajectories for itself. This manifested in a robotic pair of arms that could carefully and gently help someone put their jacket on (see video here).

From an engineering stance this meant adaptive systems applicable to lots of different domains, whether it was physical cognitive, emotional or artistic.

“They all have the same underlying philosophy of getting some data from the user, building a model and adapting the behaviour to this user.

“We want to build the same technology for every person, and then the application area changes but the underlying technology stays the same. An interactive learning cycle which keeps going constantly with interaction with the user. We don’t use to one type of algorithm, we use lots.”

Challenges

One of the key issues Demiris pointed out, were the challenges in trying to build a robot that could assist people.

“One is personalisation’s – we have to explicitly model the users’ parameters so we have to be able to adjust the behaviour based on these generic internal model – and then I will change the behaviour. It’s not useful to have the same type of behaviour for everyone.

“Prediction is a key point in our work, there is no point when you are building assistive robotics using traditional AI techniques which rely on collecting all your data, doing some sort of classification, then acting.”

Instead, once Demiris and his team have a model, they try to predict what kind of assistance this particular person needs. They personalise the assistance for each individual user and constantly adapt the assistance to different users.

“If you have, for example, something that helps you walk and prevents you from falling down, it’s no use for you to fall down and then to realise, ‘Ah I should have helped!’ For us the key point is actually doing prediction and prediction means collecting all the data trying to run in forward in time, trying to see if there will be some needs later and acting before the person needs the help. “If you act when the person has already fallen down, it’s too late,” he added.

But limitations and challenges aside, Demiris is positive about the future of assistive technology in the care sector.

“The time where we can have a robot help us for a minute has passed, we are going to have robots among us for longer periods of time and they have to get to know us, to serve us better.”