17 June 2010

Royal Academy award for Walking with Robots

Colchester Campus

Cronos, a robot developed at Essex by Professor Holland

A former professor of robotics at the University is among a team of robotics experts who have been awarded the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering Rooke Medal.

The Rooke Medal for the Public Promotion of Engineering was awarded to the five-strong team behind the Walking with Robots project, which enabled the public to engage with advanced robotics. The project began in 2006, when one of the team, Professor Owen Holland, who recently moved to take up a position at the University of Sussex, was at Essex. He remains a Visiting Professor at the University.

The medal is awarded to an individual, small team or organisation which has contributed to the Academy's aims and work through its initiative in promoting engineering to the public.

Professor Holland worked with team members Professor Alan Winfield, Dr Karen Bultitude and Dr Claire Rocks from the University of the West of England, and Professor Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield, on the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)-funded project.

Walking with Robots recently completed a three-year programme of high profile public events across the UK, which explored questions such as "What is a Robot? What do we want robots to do in the future? What can they do now? Can robots have personalities? Can a fully-functional conscious robot be developed? If so, would it be human? And should it have rights?"

The programme provided robotics expertise at more than 100 events, reaching more than 80,000 people. Activities ranged from building robot gardens with schoolchildren to a pub guide to robots. A public debate on robot rights was sold out.

Professor Holland said: "People of all ages are curious about robots - what they can do, how they work, what they might be able to do one day, what effects they might have on our lives in the future, and so on. The problem is that most people outside engineering have never seen or touched a robot, and so their ideas are too often influenced by science fiction films and the media.

"By giving people the opportunity to interact with real robots and the scientists and engineers who design them, we were able to help them to form a more balanced view of the technology. But we had to answer some tough questions along the way, especially from young people!"

Dr Lesley Paterson, Head of Public Engagement at The Royal Academy of Engineering, said: "The strategic thinking behind this programme was excellent, and has ensured that this initiative leaves a legacy not only in the number of young people and adults it has engaged through its creative events, but also in the network of robotics researchers for whom public engagement has now become a valued activity that will be continued, reaching further audiences as this field advances."
ends

For more information please see: http://www.raeng.org.uk/news/releases/shownews.htm?NewsID=573, or contact Jane Sutton at the Royal Academy of Engineering, Tel 020 7766 0636.

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