School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering

Our Research

Today's research, tomorrow's world

Our research explores some of the fundamental problems of the 21st century.

More than 78 academics, 57 fixed-term research staff, and more than 100 PhD students comprise the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering (CSEE) at the University of Essex, making it one of the largest in UK.

The strategic vision of CSEE is to play a distinct role in the development of the international research agenda in both computer science and electronic engineering. Our key focus is on excellence in fundamental research and the translation of innovation to solve real-world problems, while reaching out to other disciplines.

Essex has a long-standing tradition of research in Artificial Intelligence and Communications. It was one of the first UK universities to house a central research activity in Artificial Intelligence (AI), in the Department of Computer Science (CS), while the Department of Electronic Systems Engineering (ESE) pioneered a systems approach to telecommunications. The changing character and increasing pervasiveness of ICT led the University in 2007 to merge the CS and ESE departments into the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering.

In the 2014 UK-wide Research Excellence Framework, more than two-thirds of our computer science research was classed as 'world leading' or 'internationally excellent'. Since then, the School has built on this excellent result with an ambitious programme that has seen CSEE strengthen and further expand its research portfolio into the strategic areas of Robotics and Embedded Systems, Brain Computer Interfaces and Neural Engineering, and subsequently Health.

Our experimental research is supported by cutting-edge facilities that provide the required infrastructure and testbeds to undertake internationally leading experimental research.

Research Groups

The School comprise four current Research Groups which are:

Research within the School focuses on exploring fundamental questions in these areas, while applied research is undertaken to provide technological and engineering solutions, methods, algorithms and frameworks to pressing problems.

The research of the School is supported through world leading Research Facilities that provide the required infrastructure and testbeds to undertake internationally leading experimental research.

Centres and Institutes

Our School’s thematic research is complemented by our Centres and Institutes, which support focused clusters of activity and have overlapping and cross-cutting membership, drawing in staff from across the School, the Faculty of Science and Health, and other relevant faculties of the University.

CSEE is a founding member of two major UKRI research centres: the EPSRC National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR) and the ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre. We also established the Institute for Analytics and Data Science (IADS), and host the Centre for Computational Finance and Economic Agents (CCFEA), the Computational Intelligence Centre (CIC), the Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC) and are part of the Human Rights Centre (HRC).

A photo of the middle of a microscope, showing the three objectives lenses, the mechanical stage where samples are placed, and the top of the illuminator underneath.
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Highlights of our research

Impact on economy and society

Research in our School addresses key challenges faced by society and business today, such as connecting the nation, future intelligent technologies, innovation in health and social care, transforming food production, etc.

We work with an extended network of researchers, companies, and organisations, including: companies in the computer hardware, software and engineering sectors; top-tier computing and telecoms network providers and operators; IT-based services; computer games, internet service providers; international standardisation bodies for emerging technologies; utilities companies and public authorities.

We engage in activities that promote our research and generate impact. By working closely with businesses, governments, and charities, we identify the challenges that companies and organisations face, and provide solutions based on our ground-breaking research. Along with improving business productivity, this work improves knowledge exchange, and increases public awareness of the latest research in the fields of computer science and engineering.

Staff in CSEE typically adopt three distinct approaches to generate and increase non-academic impact from research.

Interactive engagement

By forming relationships with key individuals in relevant companies and standardisation bodies, our staff develop a continuing dialogue about specific research needs.

For instance, members of our School work closely with BT’s main technical hub. This has led, amongst other outcomes, to the use of research on intelligent and pervasive systems to guide workforce planning, to provide a mobile search engine, and to optimise protocols for network demand, scheduling and access.

Collaboration

Most of our School’s externally-funded research is inherently collaborative, and often involves industry and standardisation bodies. Such collaborative relationships form a natural starting point for impact creation. For example, the spinout UltraSoC Technologies Ltd (which was acquired by acquired by Siemens) arose from collaborative research projects with Delphi and Infineon Technologies.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs) are used extensively in collaborating with industry. Essex is amongst the top 2 universities nationally for Innovate UK funded KTP projects in terms of number of active projects.

Some of our applied research highlights through Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) include:

Dissemination

We actively share the findings of our research with businesses and relevant organisations to provide information about developments of topical and strategic significance.

An example of our approach is an industry-facing conference (annual joint workshop with industry) the School organises. This event has a strong record of accomplishment of leading to new collaborations and enables both our researchers and industry to gain new insights into the latest priorities and capabilities within industry.

Research findings are actively shared with key user groups to inform them of developments of topical and strategic significance.

Our interdisciplinary research

Members of our School collaborate extensively with scholars from other disciplines both within and outside the University. The School plays a major role in interdisciplinary areas, signified by its Centres and Institutes that act as contact points for reaching potential collaborators.

Our interdisciplinary research includes the following major strands.

Transforming Food Production strand

Our work with plant sciences in the School of Life Sciences resulted in agritech (agriculture technology) for plant imaging (e.g., ripeness detection, weed detection, monitoring crop performance, and input requirements) and soft fruit picking/packing using computer vision, soft manipulation, mobile robotics, drones, and human robot collaboration. This also resulted in building the world’s first prototype of a Mobile Bimanual Collaborative Robot for Agricultural applications (plant imaging, picking/packaging, AI and imaging-based yield prediction, organic farming, and human-robot collaboration in Agritech).

The Essex agricultural robot enables plant scientists, robotics researchers, and end users to develop research on a common platform with trials conducted in the country’s first new vertical growing system for soft fruit (NGS) located at one of the world’s leading jam producers Wilkin and Sons, Tiptree, Essex. This research is still emerging and is expected to have huge importance to society following Brexit and the Covid pandemic and the resulting challenges presented by a lack of the farm workers needed to sustain the British agriculture sector.

Assisted Living Technologies

A focus area where many members of CSEE work with staff from Life Sciences, Psychology, and Health and Social Care on a series of challenges that are directed to improving assisted living technologies and care with the users’ needs in mind.

For example, Mohan collaborates with Provide (reaching 4.5M people across Essex and Cambridge) to train robotic companions for a range of assistive services in their care homes. Hagras and Clark are pioneering 3D intelligent vision systems (developed in cooperation with Leonardo) that are due to be deployed in houses of the elderly and disabled.

The Brain-Computer Interfaces and Neural Engineering

The research group is interdisciplinary by definition as they explore systems integrating computer and electronic devices with human central and peripheral nervous systems for the purpose of enhancing, replacing or recovering function.

The group is the UK lead for a $11.5M US/UK Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (on BCI-enhanced human decision-making, as part of an international team whose diverse expertise spans from machine learning to neural engineering to neuroscience), leading the first $5M US/UK Bilateral Academic Research Initiative (on human-machine teaming, collaborating closely with experimental psychology in Oxford and Harvard Medical School), and is a key partner in EU projects like DeTOP (working closely with neurophysiologists, hand-surgeons and bioengineers), NEVERMIND (with bioengineers, psychologists, psychiatrists and three clinical centres) and POTION (with chemical engineers and clinical psychologists).

Trust in emerging AI, Systems and Robotics

Technologies address the need for such systems to work as expected for their purpose, to be designed and tested to ensure that they work consistently and safely, and that they are appropriately developed within a legal, ethical and social context. This integrates and extends our technical research with social sciences and humanities research in a multi-disciplinary approach as part of the Institute for Analytics and Data Science, Human Rights and Big Data Technology project, and the Human Rights Centre.

Computational Biology

Our research in this field of research links the work done within the School on AI to various applications in biological science. This work can lead to breakthroughs in the understanding of the human body and treatment of critical diseases such as cancer and colitis.

For example, AI has been deployed to explain the decoding of the enhancer histone modifications code as well as to identify novel enhancers and Nucleosome positioning in cancer. AI has also been used to explain molecular mechanisms and to develop medical applications through analysis of microbiome data.

Human Language Understanding and Technology

This strand sits at the intersection of Computer Science, Language and Linguistics, Philosophy and Logic. Members of our School work closely with the University of Essex-based UK Data Archive (UKDA) on information extraction, text mining to support visualisation, and automated analysis of the logs of the queries to the UKDA site.

Computational Finance and Economic Agents

Our Artificial Intelligence group members work closely with members of other academic departments such as the Department of Mathematical Sciences, and the Essex Business School. To address recently emerging challenges in complex socio-cognitive systems and global systems science we also work closely with the Departments of Sociology, Economics, and Government.

Marine Technology

We work to bring together our expertise in machine vision and robotics with marine ecology and conservation. This has resulted in 3D visualisation systems which were used for monitoring change in reef structures in Indonesia and the Caribbean.

This research, in collaboration with Natural England and the Eastern Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (EIFCA), has facilitated fisheries policy change through a co-produced investigation into human impacts on the UK’s chalk reef.

Policy and government

The ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre (ESRC BLG) led by Maria Fasli in collaboration with Ana Matran-Fernadez and Haider Raza at the heart of IADS, collaborates with private sector, public sector and non-profit organisations who can wield the transformative power of data to benefit their communities.

By supporting them in implementing best practice, we create real-world impact, influencing policy and informing practice. BLG’s aim is to be the UK’s centre of choice for data research.

International collaborations

Our School's vibrant research community encompasses a wide network of visitors made up of visiting scholars, visiting students, research collaborators, industrial contacts, and ex-staff who are still actively collaborating with the School.

In the previous 5 years, we have hosted over two hundred visiting researchers from all over the world. The international collaborations and projects pursued during these visits are aligned with key areas of activity within the School and aim to support these as well as expand on nascent areas.

Members of our school have engaged in extensive collaborative activities with national and international partners in academia, research institutions, and industry. Our staff have collaborated with several UK universities (including Cambridge, Imperial College, Oxford, UCL, Birmingham, and Edinburgh) and numerous overseas universities and research institutes (including University of California Berkeley, Princeton, Karolinska Institute, ETH Zürich, Harvard, Italian Institute of Technology Genoa, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT Delhi), NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and Queensland University of Technology).

We have been involved in a range of international research projects, many of which involve collaboration with colleagues across multiple countries.

Brain-Computer Interfaces and Neural Engineering

In the BCI-NE group, Professor Riccardo Poli is the Coordinator of a prestigious 3-year grant under the US Department of Defence’s inaugural Bilateral Academic Research Initiative (BARI), for a project in partnership with the University of Southern California, the University of California Berkeley, Harvard University, University of Massachusetts Medical School, and the University of Oxford. The project, “Adaptive joint cognitive systems for complex and strategic decision making: building trust in human-machine teams through brain-computer-interface augmentation, social interaction and mutual learning” studies methods to enhance complex decision making following artificial intelligence approaches.

Professor Poli is also UK co-ordinator of the prestigious 5-year grant from the US Department of Defence Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI), for a project in partnership with the University of Southern California, the University of California Berkeley, Harvard University, New York University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Imperial College London, and University College London.

The project is entitled “Closed-Loop Multisensory Brain-Computer Interface for Enhanced Decision Accuracy” and it falls within the MURI theme “Modeling and Analysis of Multisensory Neural Information Processing for Direct Brain-Computer Communications”. Professor Luca Citi and Dr Caterina Cinel are Co-Investigators in these projects.

Robotics and Embedded Systems

In the Robotics and Embedded Systems group, Professor Klaus McDonald-Maier and Dr Shoaib Ehsan are key Co-Investigators in the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics.

This collaborative project involves international experts from eight UK universities and over thirty partners from the nuclear industry and the research base, including NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, BAE Systems, EDF Energy, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, National Nuclear and Physical Laboratories, Rolls-Royce, Thales, and Toshiba. The project aims at researching and developing cutting-edge technology to solve problems related to nuclear waste.

Professor McDonald-Maier leads the research strand on the development of resilient electronic systems that can function in areas of high radioactivity where robots are prone to failure.

Artificial Intelligence

In the Artificial Intelligence group, we are joining forces with the University of Essex Human Rights Centre to work together on the Human Rights, Big Data and Technology Project. The project considers the challenges and opportunities presented by AI, big data, and associated technology from a human rights perspective.

In this project, a team of CSEE academics (led by Prof. McDonald-Maier) collaborate with a multidisciplinary team of professionals in criminology, economy, law, philosophy, political science, and sociology to tackle a range of challenges. These include algorithmic accountability to protect human rights, understanding how AI can also threaten the right to equality and privacy, exploring the use of natural language processing to detect mis- and dis-information and investigating how these affect human rights, and the use of modern computer vision technology to empower human rights organisations and the United Nations.

In the ESRC Business and Local Government Data Research Centre (ESRC BLG), the CSEE team led by Prof. Maria Fasli collaborates with private sector, public sector, and non-profit organisations who can wield the transformative power of data to benefit their communities. By supporting them in implementing best practice, we create real-world impact, influencing policy and informing practice. The Centre’s aim is to be the UK’s centre of choice for data research.

Dr Spyros Samothrakis is part of the ESRC Research Centre on Micro-Social Change (MiSoC), a multidisciplinary centre, promoting collaboration between economists, sociologists and other social scientists, and using quantitative social science to provide evidence with which to address key societal challenges. MiSoC has been based at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex since 1989, but it is a collaboration with specialists from universities around the world. The current research programme is run jointly with researchers at the University of Bristol.

Communications and Networks

In the Communications and Networks group, Prof. Stuart Walker and Prof. Kun Yang were Essex Principal Investigators for the European Commission-funded project iCIRRUS, in partnership with ORANGE SA (France), PRIMETEL PLC (Cyprus), WELLNESS TELECOM SL (Spain), Fraunhoffer (Germany), and Interdigital Ltd (UK), among others.

Prof. Martin Reed, Dr Nikolaos Thomos, and Prof. Kun Yang were Essex Principal Investigators of the European Commission-funded project POINT, in partnership with Interdigital Ldt (UK), Primetel (Cyprus), RTWH Aachen (Germany), and Aalto University (Finland), among others.

Dr Martin Reed and Dr Nikolaos Thomos were also Essex Principal Investigators in a project involving DT-sys (Germany), DT (Germany), ATOS (Spain), and CERTH/ITI (Greece), among others.

Additionally, academics in the School participate in EU-funded actions aiming at building and strengthening collaborations between EU and Chinese research institutions. This includes CROWN (FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IRSES - Marie Curie Action "International Research Staff Exchange Scheme") and CLIMBER (FP7-PEOPLE - Specific programme "People" implementing the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Community for research, technological development and demonstration activities) and across Europe such as RECENT H2020 MCSA-RISE, which involves partners from UK, Portugal, Finland, and Turkey.

Supporting the next generation of researchers

We recognise that research students and Early Career Researchers are the future of our discipline. The work we do today will be picked up and progressed by them tomorrow.

Their future is our future, and we have a package of training and support that gives our research students the tools and experience to carry out and disseminate their research, whether their future is in academia or in the private sector.

The support we offer research students includes:

  • Assessment of incoming students to understand their needs, and a programme of support put in place that may include attendance of relevant Masters degree modules, to help build their knowledge early on. Training in discipline-specific skills is provided through advanced subject courses. Research students also have access to Proficio, the University’s unique professional development fund, which can be used to cover the costs of courses in areas such as project management or effective communication.
  • Students have regular meetings with their supervisor, and the option of additional supervision from a second academic. This is particularly helpful for those studying an interdisciplinary subject such as AI in healthcare, which could involve co-supervision with a colleague in the Schools of Health and Social Care, or Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences. We also hold a Supervisory Board twice a year to ensure students are on track to achieve their outcomes, and offer additional support for those struggling.
  • All research students are members of one of our research groups. This gives them access to the facilities that they need to carry out their research, and means they can work alongside experts and fellow students who are researching related areas. Every student is also provided with desk space, and a state-of-the-art new personal computer.
  • We help students gain teaching experience through paid Graduate Laboratory or Graduate Teaching Assistant roles, and encourage them to work towards Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (HEA).
  • The Research Enterprise Office (REO) offers additional distinct services to research students, including a postgraduate consultancy service allowing students to gain or extend engagement with employers, a business incubation hub and advice on securing start-up funding and patents.
  • Since 2009 our research students have led the organisation of our flagship Computer Science and Electronic Engineering Conference (CEEC). It is the only international conference of its kind in the UK that is run by students and has proceedings published in the IEEE. In 2019 CEEC had 100 delegates from 20 countries coming from 5 continents with over 40% of the submitted papers from non-UK based authors. Students manage everything, from calls for papers and planning the agenda, to reviewing papers and balancing the needs of a technical programme and opportunities to network and socialise.

Research showcase

From the impact of big data on personal privacy to using crowd sourcing for evidence of human rights abuses, our research is interdisciplinary and has the potential to improve lives across the globe.

Our research and COVID-19

In response to COVID-19, CSEE academics worked together with NHS ESNEFT staff on a range of projects aiming at helping society through the pandemic, from supporting hospitals to reducing food waste.

We have collaborated with colleagues across the University and the wider academic world on projects such as:

World-leading research facilities

CSEE has a diverse set of specialist laboratories featuring state-of-the-art equipment funded by strategic infrastructure investments, research grants and donations from industry.

As research undertaken by CSEE requires extensive infrastructure, support for new activities as well as continuous support and periodic replacement of existing equipment, the University has specific provisions (Strategic University Infrastructure Funds) for the renewal and development of infrastructure required to undertake research in the Sciences. We have expanded our research space by nearly 70% and invested more than £6M in creating and maintaining internationally leading research facilities including the newly refurbished intelligent flat (iSpace) and the new BCI-NE, embedded and intelligent systems (EIS@Essex) and mechatronics labs.

Continuous updates and additions to the Essex robotics arena and communications and networks labs retain them as world-leading testing facilities. This unique infrastructure also helped to develop systems which are close to market, facilitating our research dissemination and impact activities.

Robotics Laboratory

The Robotics Laboratory offers dedicated space for indoor robots. The University has invested over £3M to equip this state-of-the-art laboratory for robotics research. The laboratory accommodates over 50 robotic systems, including wheeled, flying, humanoid, and wheelchair robots, as well as various robotic arms and hands.

In addition, through a £80k Strategic equipment award (2018) a new agricultural robot has been built at Essex comprising a Husky UGV carrying two UR3 arms, customized cutter/gripper, soft multi-fingered hand, and vacuum gripper. The facilities have been deployed in research projects funded by the EPSRC, including the NCNR, the EPSRC Robust Remote Sensing project and the EPSRC RoBoSaS, as well as Innovate UK and Industry.

Embedded and Intelligent Systems Laboratory

The Embedded and Intelligent Systems Laboratory (EIS@Essex) has state-of-the-art design and prototyping facilities for advanced embedded systems design and system-processing architectures. Additionally, the EIS@Essex NCNR Lab has been expanded with dedicated embedded systems, FPGA/GPU units and sensors for extreme environments and autonomous systems (£120k investment by University and EPSRC/EU project funds).

The Laboratory was crucial in conducting our research as part of the EPSRC funded RoBoSaS collaboration with NASA JPL, the Robust Remote Sensing, the NCNR, the ESPACENET, and RESIP EPSRC grants and the SYSIASS and COALAS EU ERDF grants. EIS@Essex encompasses the iSpace (intelligent flat) testbed for Internet of Things established from a University investment of £240k. EIS@Essex also includes £1.4M RCIF-funded facilities encompassing 3D projectors and high-resolution audio equipment which have been used in projects funded by DSTL and Innovate UK.

Brain Computer Interfaces and Neural Engineering Laboratory

The Essex Brain Computer Interfaces and Neural Engineering laboratory is one of the best in the world for non-invasive BCIs and cognitive augmentation.

With funding from the University and CSEE, it has recently acquired a new home spanning 190m², three large Faraday cages (£150k), a robotic transcranial magnetic stimulation system (£140k), three mobile EEG (£90K), and a mobile VR kit (£60k). These have complemented our existing state-of-the-art EEG systems, high-density sEMG, fNIRS systems, transcranial current/functional/magnetic stimulators, eye trackers, motorised wheelchairs, robotic arms, electrophysiological sensors, computer cluster and backup storage, bringing the total equipment value to over £1M.

These have also been acquired via grants from UK Ministry of Defence (MoD), US Department of Defense (DoD), EPSRC, EU, etc. including one under the DoD/MoD Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative and one under the DoD/MoD Bilateral Academic Research Initiative.

Communications and Networks Laboratories

The RF & Microwave Research Laboratory houses modern equipment for developing devices and systems up to 67 GHz, including several scalar and vector network analysers, signal sources, spectrum analysers, an atomic-force microscope, mm-wave antenna radiation pattern measurement, as well as design workstations with ADS and CST software. The equipment (which cost in excess of £500k) was mainly obtained through EPSRC grants and SRIF funding and has been used in research projects such as the EPSRC grant on Liquid Crystal Based Beam Steerable Planar Antennas for 60 GHz Wireless Networks and Full duplex radios. The Laboratory has also a refurbished clean room and micro-fabrication facility through a £500k University investment.

The Access Networks Laboratory (ANL) has state-of-the-art wireless and system measurement tools with approximate total value £500k. The equipment has been funded in part from EU grants and in part by University infrastructure funds and was used in several grants and consultancies, including two from the EU commission (iCIRRUS and CHARISMA), an EPSRC (NIRVANA) and six KTPs.

The Network Convergence Laboratory (NCL) maintains a well-equipped research network test bed that consists of electrical and optical core networking technologies and heterogeneous wireless access networking technologies across the University campus and surrounding areas. In addition to hosting several planetLab nodes, NCL is also connected to GENI in USA via openFlow switches, and is the host to an enterprise SAN, a blade cluster of 70+ CPUs. The testbed is also a home to an edge computing cluster. These facilities have been used in various EU and EPSRC projects, such as EPSRC NIRVANA and EU H2020 POINT, iCIRRUS and SerIOT.

Artificial Intelligence Laboratories

The Natural Language and Information Processing (NLIP) Laboratory has two high performance servers (£60k) specifically for text and image processing and a number of large-scale multi-lingual commercial datasets.

Staff also make use of other infrastructure available across the University such as the UK Data Archive, which houses the UK’s largest collection of datasets in social sciences and humanities. Such datasets are important for CSEE’s work in machine learning and data analysis as well as growing research in the area of big data and text analytics.

The Institute for Analytics and Data Science houses multiple research-focused desktops having direct access to GPUs, alongside two ESRC BLG associated high-performance GPU-focused machines (£20k each).

CSEE academics also have access to the University’s High-Performance Computing cluster “CERES”, which has 1008 processing cores (1870 with hyperthreading) provided by servers with a mix of Intel E5-2698 and Intel Gold 5115 processors, and between 512Gb & 1.5Tb RAM each. There are also 24 NVidia GTX & RTX Series GPU cards attached for research purposes.

Contact us
Department Director of Research Professor Hani Hagras
School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering
School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering University of Essex
Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, CO4 3SQ