Clearing 2021
Research Group

Robotics and Embedded Systems

A young black man holding an iPad and stylus, standing to the right of a large red Baxter robot that is playing Connect-4.

Robotics and Embedded Systems are used extensively in modern technologies, including automotive, image processing, 3D printing, and healthcare devices, as well as real-time critical systems and search and rescue operations.

The group’s mission is to solve fundamental problems in robotics and embedded systems particularly in the "perception-action, continuous learning, decision making, social intelligence" loop, localisation as well as embedded systems and System-on-Chip design and processor architectures targeted for cyber physical systems, automotive/industrial systems, computer vision, data analytics, Internet of Things and real-time critical systems.

The research outputs benefit and impact a range of end users and stakeholders in Agricultural robotics, Assistive robotics for Social Care, Manufacturing, Electronic Products, Automotive and Nuclear Robotics.

The group encompasses three associated special interest groups:

Robotics and Mechatronics

The Robotics and Mechatronics Lab researches the development of various kinds of mechatronic systems and intelligent robots that will be used in environments coexisting with humans. These mechatronic systems and robots are mobile, autonomous, interactive and intelligent, and will be useful assistants/companions for people in different ages, situations, activities and environments, helping to improve their quality of life.

The Essex Robotics and Mechatronics Lab is one of the largest robotics and mechatronics groups in the UK, with advanced mobile robotics research facilities. Our Robot Arena is one hundred square metres in area and has a six metre high ceiling to accommodate flying robots. It has one of the world's largest powered lab floors for long-duration experiments with mobile robots.

We have invested over £2 million in equipping this state-of-the-art facility with robotics and mechatronic systems which include: collaborative table-top robot UR3, industrial robot Baxter, humanoid robot Pepper and NAO, wheeled mobile robots, flying robots, robotic fish, intelligent wheelchairs, and so on.

Embedded and Intelligent Systems

The Embedded and Intelligent Systems Laboratory (EIS@Essex) carries out research in the areas of Embedded Systems and System-on-Chip design with focus on security, power, performance and reliability, advanced embedded systems and processor architectures targeted for cyber physical systems, automotive/industrial, robotics, image processing, networked and distributed sensor nodes/Internet of Things and real-time critical systems.

Furthermore, it works in the area of Big Data Analytics, computer vision and embedded AI for real world problems and application areas. Our projects have included Human Rights, Big Data and Technology with the Essex Human Rights Centre, the National Centre for Nuclear Robotics led by the University of Birmingham, and AppControl: Enforcing Application Behaviour through Type-Based Constraints led by the University of Glasgow.

The EIS laboratory has state-of-the-art design and prototyping facilities for embedded systems design and system-processing architectures. Funded through a £140k RCIF investment by the University, it houses, amongst other equipment, several very-high-gate-count top-end FPGA boards, many processor architectures, advanced development kits and IOS/Android devices, sensor and actuators to design real-world prototypes.

Research areas include advanced embedded systems and processor architectures for Cyber Physical Systems (CPS), automotive/industrial, robotics, image processing, sensor network nodes, Internet of Things (IoT) and other real-time critical applications, as well as games hardware and software systems, Low-Power Architectures, Big Data Analytics, computer vision and embedded AI for real world problems and robot control.

We are actively involved in a range of research projects. Our work has been funded by public bodies and we work with a number of institutions worldwide. Our research has also led to the formation of two start-up businesses: UltraSoC Technologies (which was purchased by Siemens in 2020), and Metrarc.

Cyber Initiative

Cyber Initiative focuses on research and education dedicated to addressing the deep integrations and close interactions among cyber systems, physical systems, and social systems, which could involve information systems, energy systems, human activities, environmental factors, etc.

Cyber Initiative brings together researchers from different fields to tackle the technical challenges in developing secure cyber-physical-social systems. Our current research topics include:

  • Cyber-Physical Systems
  • Cyber-Social Systems
  • Cybersecurity
  • Cyber-Physical Modelling, Analysis and Verification
  • Industrial Cyber-Physical System.

Our members

Dr Hossein Anisi

Senior Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Internet of Things (IoT), wireless sensor and actuator networks, intelligent transportation systems, body area networks, low-power data communication.

Dr Adrian Clark

Reader

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Computer vision, remote sensing, unmanned autonomous vehicles (UAVs), systems to aid the vulnerable and elderly.

Dr Shoaib Ehsan

Senior Research Fellow

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Computer vision, robotics, artificial intelligence, embedded systems.

Professor Dongbing Gu

Professor

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Distributed coordinated control of multi-robotic systems, distributed information fusion in wireless sensor networks and model predictive control of mobile robots, robot navigation.

Dr Ali Kafash Hoshiar

Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Soft robotics, swarm microrobotics, nanorobotics, mechatronic systems for small scale robots.

Professor Huosheng Hu

Professor and Head of Robotics and Mechatronics Lab

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Autonomous Robots, Industrial Automation, Mechatronics, Human-Robot Interaction, Embedded Systems.

Dr Liang Hu

Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Human-robot collaboration, safe autonomous vehicles, learning for robotics, robotic control, mechatronics.

Dr Delaram Jarchi

Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Body sensor network, signal processing for biomedical applications, time-series analysis and adaptive signal processing.

Dr Sefki Kolozali

Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Internet of Things, machine learning, signal processing.

Dr Jichun Li

Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Neural networks, medical devices, and bespoke robotic solutions for medical, life sciences, energy and agricultural areas.

Dr Vishwanathan Mohan

Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Cognitive robotics, computational neuroscience, industrial manufacturing.

Dr Amit Singh

Senior Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Embedded systems, multi-core computing, design space exploration, online optimisations, data centres, embedded AI.

Dr Jinya Su

Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Intelligent autonomous systems, UAV remote sensing, applied machine learning.

Dr Xiaojun Zhai

Lecturer

School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex

Research interests: Embedded systems, embedded processor architectures, System on Chip (SoC) design, hardware acceleration.

Activity in the group

Research Excellence

The group routinely publishes articles in high profile engineering journals, many of which are available through the IEEE as well as presenting at top international conferences.

  • The group expanded its research in resilient embedded and intelligent systems in extreme environments (nuclear and space robotics), led by McDonald-Maier as a part of the EPSRC National Centre for Nuclear Robotics (NCNR) in collaboration with NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, BAE Systems, Kuka, Toshiba, Rolls-Royce and other world leaders. This has enabled us to expand our world-leading expertise in embedded systems and robotics to deliver unique intelligent infrastructure. Our role in this national centre is to increase the resilience and robustness of embedded and robotic systems in extreme environments and contribute new computer vision-based localisation methods. This work is carried with our long-term collaborator NASA JPL.
  • Research on embedded systems and Systems-on-Chip diagnostics and analytics through EPSRC and EU projects has contributed unique outputs and IP, where spin-out company UltraSoC Technologies, co-founded by McDonald-Maier, attracted some £20M investment, introduced disruptive technology into the market place and successfully exited to Siemens in an acquisition that delivered high return for all the stakeholders.
  • McDonald-Maier and Ehsan’s computer vision work detecting human rights violation in images, researched as part of the ESRC Human Rights and Big Data Technology (HRBDT) project, has been adopted by the United Nations (OHCHR – Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNHCR – High Commissioner for Refugees).
  • Essex’s AgriRobotics research featured in the influential ‘Future of Food 2040’ report of the National Farmers Union and plays an active role in further evolution of the Essex Plant Innovation Centre (EPIC).
  • Mohan and Woods lead an Innovate UK project on adaptive motion control of cutting machines and predictive maintenance with the UK's Leading CNC machine manufacturers Blackman&White.
  • 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 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.
  • 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.

Research community

  • McDonald-Maier and Ehsan are key Co-I in the NCNR, a collaborative project involving international experts from 8 UK universities and 30+ partners from the nuclear industry and the research base, including NASA JPL, BAE Systems, EDF Energy, Japan Atomic Energy Agency, National Nuclear and Physical Laboratories, Rolls-Royce, Thales and Toshiba. The project is researching and developing cutting-edge technology to solve the problem of nuclear waste. 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 and using computer vision in such extreme environments for localisation.
  • Most of the School’s externally-funded research is inherently collaborative, and often involves industry and policy/standardisation bodies. Such collaborative relationships form a natural starting point for impact creation. For example, the spin-out UltraSoC (one of our impact case studies, acquired by Siemens in 2020) arose from collaborative EPSRC research projects with Delphi and Infineon Technologies. In addition, collaboration within the ESRC-funded HRBDT led to another impact case study. Collaborations are also used to leverage significant in-kind support from industrial partners, for example, McDonald-Maier has secured approximately £10M+ in this way from organisations including Thales, Motorola and Rolls Royce.
  • Robotics technologies addresses 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 IADS, HRBDT and the HRC.
  • Intellectual property created as part of our research has been extensively licenced and commercialised in spin-outs, such as key-less cybersecurity company Metrarc working with BT and the UK MoD in addition to UltraSoC, acquired by Siemens.
Get in touch
Professor Klaus McDonald-Maier Head of Robotics and Embedded Systems Research Group