YorRobots Exhibition

  • Date and time: Friday 28 February 2020, 9am
  • Location: Computer Science Building, Campus East, University of York (Map)
  • Audience: Open to staff and industry colleagues
  • Admission: Free admission, booking required

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Invited talks and presentations from industry and University of York researchers.


Computer Science Building, Campus East, University of York

Robotics and AI have the potential to achieve significant benefits in applications in extreme environments including nuclear decommissioning, waste processing, and nuclear fusion inspection and maintenance. Benefits can include improvements to human safety, quality of working conditions, reduced cognitive load, reduced timescales and costs, and environmental remediation.

For the nuclear industry, and other high-consequence industries to enjoy the potential benefits of robotics and AI, people will need to be convinced that these systems are safe, secure and reliable. This talk will explore some of the common challenges in deploying robotics and AI in extreme environments, as well as highlighting some of the benefits. Examples from the nuclear industry will be given.

Robotics and Autonomous Systems are being developed all over the world, at an ever increasing pace. To benefit from these advances, we need to be confident that they are safe, and this is a complex issue. The University of York is a world-leader in the disciplines that contribute to understanding and demonstrating the safety of RAS, and together we are answering basic research questions and applying our knowledge to industry problems. Two key schemes are the Assuring Autonomy International Programme, focussing on safety assurance and regulation, and the Institute for Safe Autonomy, a £35M pioneering research initiative.


We will present lessons learnt from autonomous system development, focused on the on-going research being conducted by Thales in the areas of human factors and systems engineering. We provide information arising from past incident investigations and future academic research planned as part of the Thales Research and Development activities.

Driving is inherently social. When sharing the road, we constantly and rapidly predict the behaviour of the people and vehicles around us, signal our own intentions, and coordinate with others. Safety depends upon these social cognitive processes, but we know remarkably little about how they function on the road. The advent of autonomous vehicles brings this ignorance into sharp focus, raising important questions. When, if ever, do people engage their automatic social cognitive mechanisms in predicting autonomous vehicle behaviour? How can people communicate and coordinate with autonomous vehicles in a seamless fashion? And how can automotive design capitalize on the inherently social nature of the brain to design automobiles that interact smoothly and naturally with people (inside or outside the vehicle)? Here at the University of York, we have been developing a “social driving simulator” to help address these questions and to explore new lines of research at the intersection of psychology and robotics.

Robots are increasingly changing how we work and play, but the way software is developed to control these machines is costly because it involves so much trial and error. The RoboStar research group (at York, Sheffield, Leicester, France, and Brazil) is designing a model-based approach for validation, verification, and automatic generation of code and tests. The mathematical underpinning of the techniques provides confidence in the results. The goal is to enable development of control software for better quality robotics at a lower cost.

Robotics is changing the landscape of innovation. But traditional design approaches are not suited to novel or unknown habitats and contexts, for instance: robot colonies for ore mining, exploring or developing other planets or asteroids, or robot swarms for monitoring extreme environments on Earth. New design methodologies are needed that support optimising robot behaviour under different conditions for different purposes. It is accepted that behaviour is determined by a combination of the body (morphology, hardware) and the mind (controller, software). Embodied AI and morphological computing have made major progress in engineering artificial agents (i.e., robots) by focusing on the links between morphology and intelligence of natural agents (i.e., animals). While such a holistic body-mind approach has been hailed for its merits, we still lack an actual pathway to achieve this. This talk will consider the ARE project which focuses on a disruptive robotic technology where robots are created, reproduce and evolve in real-time and real space. The long-term vision is a technology enabling the evolution of entire autonomous robotic ecosystems that live and work for long periods in challenging and dynamic environments without the need for direct human oversight.

Long term service agreements have put the emphasis of maintenance and repair of engines on to OEM’s. To minimise customer disruption, Rolls-Royce provides as much corrective action whilst the engine is still installed as possible. Rolls-Royce, together with a set of strategic collaborators, is embarking on a wide range of ambitious programmes with which to expand on the portfolio of available services. This presentation aims to illustrate the strategic intentions of Rolls-Royce, and show a small selection of projects at a assortment of maturities.

Giving robots a sense of touch is vital to having them effectively perform risky tasks that currently only humans can do. In this talk, Rich Walker, Managing Director at the Shadow Robot Company, will explain the current challenges and opportunities for sending robots into extreme environments and give some insights into future research challenges.

Scientists are dependent on lead chemical compounds with precise ‘drugable’ properties. Chemical synthesis of a new drug target often requires many reaction steps. A key problem is in optimising each chemical reaction, which is a labour-intensive and time-consuming process. It is common to dedicate six months to one reaction step, creating a drug development bottleneck, arising from the way that chemical reactions are optimised. This inefficient work pattern operates in chemical synthesis laboratories the world over. Using a combination of robotics, statistical analysis and machine learning it is possible to greatly improve the chemical synthesis of drug targets. I will introduce new approaches used in our research programmes in my talk. Improving reaction efficiency, sustainability and safety are key drivers for the use of robotic systems in chemical synthesis.

Climate change, the greatest known environmental threat of the 21st century, requires long-term solutions to reduce the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) and more activities which remove GHGs from the atmosphere. Regular discussion of the importance of carbon uptake of trees masks the complexity of the situation: a complex pathway for carbon to flow into unseen soil ecosystems in potentially long-term stores. Unfortunately, nearly half of this valuable store is quickly lost back from the soil to the atmosphere due to unwitting land management choices.

Autonomous field-deployable technologies, which are needed by researchers and ultimately by policy makers with an interest in reducing overall terrestrial emissions, have been developed at York through a series of research projects. One output, the SkyLine2D system, is a robust, highly resolved solution to the non-trivial problem of autonomously locating and sealing a measurement chamber over vegetation and soil to continuously measure GHG emission and uptake in real-world conditions. 

Collaboration between engineers and field scientists have produced a system which is now in use in a range of studies to assess the impact of factors such as: fertiliser addition, watering regime, crop type, pharmaceutical pollution, and future increases in temperature and atmospheric CO2; revealing this unseen part of the carbon cycle.

Over the 20+ years Dyson has been working on domestic robots the challenges of developing a mass market product have evolved. In this talk we will outline how the increasing environment optimisation, user needs, technology complexity and cost of development have driven changes to how we predict, measure, assure and test the performance and functions of our products.

In this talk I will briefly provide a social and ethical foundation for robotics. By drawing on sociological work on robotic companions and the use of robotics in art practice, I will draw out a set of dimensions for understanding robotics in social life. These naturally lead on to a program of engaged 'interactional' research, which supports both the recognition of the social issues and the ethical development of robotics in the future. Key is a recognition of the embodied and affective relations between human and machine in particular social contexts. For example, care of the elderly requires attention be paid to the experiences and expectations of not only the recipient of care, but also the existing social network of actors and institutions. It is through such insight that 'care' can be socially understood and ethically provided.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are showing great promise as a way of the balancing the needs of conservation and fisheries around the world. However, MPAs need to be monitored and evaluated to ensure they are providing the benefits they have been designed to produce. The analysis of habitats and species inside MPAs has been largely been based on visual records to date, taken either during SCUBA diving surveys or from drop down Baited Remote Underwater Videos (BRUVs).
Although these methods have provided useful data, they both have their limitations; time and depth for divers and seabed area that can be monitored using BRUVs. The aim of this project was to examine the feasibility of replacing these methods with mobile underwater robots (Remotely Operated underwater Vehicles – ROVs) that would be able work at depths beyond the range of divers (>30m) and to move to many more points on the seabed, thereby covering large areas. Through the addition of sonar, it would also be able to gather data about the structure of underwater habitats. This information is critical for truly understanding fish-habitat relationships and therefore identifying which marine areas are in most need of protection.

On this basis we purchased an underwater robot (Blue Robotics BlueRov 2) equipped with sonar (Oculus M1200d Multibeam Sonar System). This ROV was trialled in a well-studied MPA off the Isle of Arran in Scotland during July 2019. Despite some technical challenges, the ROV successfully supplied live and recorded underwater images from significant areas of seabed. Likewise, the sonar was able to image the seabed at a range of up to 20 m underwater. The next step is to compare the quality of data supplied by the ROV with that from conventional methods. We plan to investigate signal processing techniques to infer the structure of the environment, through precise 3-D navigation, using data from the camera and sonar images. The same data will also be used to automate the counting of species by applying machine vision classification techniques. With these enhancements it will be possible to examine even greater marine areas in more detail than ever before.

The challenge I will discuss is achieving affordable certification of autonomous systems, rather than trying to lower the certification bar to make autonomous systems commercially viable. To this end, I shall discuss the background for the use of Automated Formal Methods in the context of DO-178C. In particular I will discuss the challenges of Regulation in order to fly an autonomous drone Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) outside segregated airspace and the report results of an Innovate UK project on BVLOS.

According to the traditional, instrumental theory of technology, technological artefacts and devices are nothing but tools, completely under the power of the people who make and use them. On this theory, moral responsibility for any ill effects of the operation of tools rests straightforwardly with their human makers and users. But autonomous systems stretch and challenge this traditional theory. Because of their sheer complexity, these systems may sometimes behave in ways that their human developers and users do not directly intend, cannot foresee, do not fully understand, and may not even be able to change in a timely and effective manner once underway – particularly when the systems interact with, and adapt to, other agents (both human and artificial) in their operational domain. This complicates ascriptions of moral responsibility on traditional grounds. In recognition of this fact, I argue that rather than look upon autonomous systems as mere tools, we should think of them as delegates, which we train up and to which we hand over decisional tasks. As such, we bear moral responsibility for the ill effects of their behaviour in much the same way that human principals bear moral responsibility for the ill effects of the execution of tasks that they delegate to human agents. The difference is that, unlike human delegates, autonomous systems are not moral agents, and so they cannot bear any moral responsibility themselves when things go wrong.

Image-guided therapy is a clinical procedure under 2-D or 3-D image guidance such as MRI, CT and Ultrasound images to accurately deliver surgical devices to diseased or cancerous tissue. This emerging field is interdisciplinary, combining the technology of robotics, computer science, engineering and medicine. Image-guided therapy allows more effective and accurate minimally invasive surgery and diagnosis. In this talk, Dr. Tse will present the technological challenges in the field, followed by his research in MRI-guided therapy for brachytherapy, ablation and stem cell treatment in the prostate, the heart and the spine. These procedures consist of the latest imaging and robotic technology in minimally invasive therapy.


Mark Chattington, Thales

Mark is Head of Human Factors at Thales, with experience in providing consultancy, research and development support across a number of scientific and engineering disciplines. He has led research and development projects in a broad range of areas, including physiology, psychophysiology, injury biomechanics and Human Factors in security. Mark has a strong track record in user analysis, equipment and trial design, along with work as an accident investigator.

Chris Smith, Dyson, Head of Platform Architecture 

Chris leads a team of principal architects that set the strategy & technical direction for the electronics platforms used across all current and future Dyson products. He also contributed to the hardware, software and algorithm designs of the 360eye, 360 heurist and multiple future robots.

James Kell, Rolls-Royce

  • Mechanical Engineering 1st degree and PhD in Optical Engineering: Loughborough University
  • Joined Rolls-Royce in RepairTech in 2007
  • Now ‘On-Wing Technology Specialist’ for RR
  • Number of world firsts for ‘keyhole surgery’ in engines – e.g. capsule cameras, laser repairs, snake robotics…
  • Leading a number of Innovate_UK / EU funded robotics projects
  • 10 patents granted: further 20 pending
  • Honorary Lecturer at University of Nottingham

Colin O'Halloran, D-RisQ

Colin has worked on in the area of high-integrity software engineering techniques since 1983, carrying out research and development of a static code analysis tool called MALPAS and being the technical authority for the development of the formal semantics for SPARK. He created and led the team that developed a mathematically based software verification technique for the clearance of Eurofighter Typhoon’s flight control software. In 1996 he was the sole UK member of the European Space Agency’s Board of Inquiry into the failure of the first flight of Ariane (Ariane 501) and wrote that part of the Board’s report concerned with the software contribution to the failure. Since 2012 Colin has been Technical Director and co-founder of D-RisQ that is making automated machine reasoning and verification accessible to Engineers in the Robotic and Autonomous Systems, Aerospace, Automotive and Maritime sectors.

Rob Skilton, RACE

Robert Skilton is Head of Cybernetics and Lead Technologist at RACE, a UK centre for Remote Applications in Challenging Environments, where he leads a team specialising in control systems, autonomy, and perception for robotic operation and inspection in hazardous environments. Robert graduated with an MSc in Cybernetics in 2011, and is currently studying for a PhD in Autonomous Robotics and Machine Learning at the Surrey Technology for Autonomous systems and Robotics (STAR) Lab. Robert is a Chartered Engineer, brings experience in developing robotic systems for hazardous environments and has developed numerous robotic and software platforms for use in nuclear and other extreme environments. Robert has experience from a wide range of roles on industrial engineering and R&D projects including in telerobotics, and is currently leading various related activities including the Robotics and AI in Nuclear (RAIN) work on teleoperation of industrial robots.

Rich Walker, Managing Director - The Shadow Robot Company

Rich Walker has worked in robotics for over 20 years and leads the team at Shadow who are developing new robots and applications for robotics. He’s active in developing and implementing European (FP7 and now Horizon 2020) and TSB/Innovate UK projects. He sits on the Innovate UK “Robotics and Autonomous Systems” SIG Advisory Board, which lets him influence the direction the UK takes in robotics in a way that makes sense to SMEs and innovators, as well as being a Director of EuRobotics, and various EPSRC and University networks and committees around robotics.

Professor Ana Cavalcanti, Department of Computer Science

Ana Cavalcanti is Professor of Software Verification at York and RAEng chair in Emerging Technologies working on 'Software Engineering for Robotics: modelling, validation, simulation, and testing'.

She held a Royal Society-Wolfson Research Merit award and a Royal Society Industry fellowship to work with QinetiQ in avionics. She has chaired the programme committee of several well-established international conferences, is on the editorial board of four international journals, and is chair of the Formal Methods Europe association.
She is, and has been, principal investigator on several large EPSRC grants. Her research is on theory and practice of verification and testing for robotics. She has published more than 150 papers.

Dr Ana MacIntosh, Assuring Autonomy International Programme

Dr Ana MacIntosh manages the £12M Assuring Autonomy International Programme supported by the Lloyd’s Register Foundation and the University of York. She is also developing the University’s new Institute for Safe Autonomy, a £35M strategic initiative incorporating a new research facility. Prior to joining the University of York, she established and managed Sheffield Robotics, a large research institute, and she is a strong advocate for working across the boundaries of traditional disciplines.

Ana’s background spans engineering and life sciences, and she has previously held both management and technical positions, working in the area of robotics and autonomous systems for several years. She has strategic and operational responsibility for the delivery of the Assuring Autonomy International Programme, commissioning and managing a portfolio of research, developing partnerships and leading the dedicated Programme team.
She is happiest when making unexpected and useful connections, and is an advocate for working with people you like.

Dr Cade McCall, Department of Psychology

Cade McCall, PhD, is a social psychologist in the Department of Psychology at the University of York. His research focuses on human affect and social interactions. McCall specialises in the use of virtual environments, motion capture, and psychophysiology for studying psychological processes as they unfold in naturalistic settings.

Cade's recent work investigates the role of social cognition in driving and in interactions with autonomous vehicles.

Professor Andy Tyrrell, Department of Electronic Engineering

Andy Tyrrell received a first-class honours degree in 1982 and a PhD in 1985 (Aston University), both in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
He joined the Electronics department at the University of York in April 1990 and was promoted to the chair of Digital Electronics in 1998. His main research interests are in the design of biologically-inspired devices, architectures and systems, fault-tolerance, evolvable hardware and robotics. This work has included the creation of embryonic processing array, intrinsic evolvable hardware systems and the PAnDA hardware architecture.

He founded the Intelligent Systems research group at York in 1998, and is currently head of department. He co-founded and is CEO of the University spin-out company ngenics which focuses on applying bio-inspired computation to semiconductor designs. He has published over 350 papers in these areas. He is a senior member of the IEEE and a Fellow of the IET.

Professor Ian Fairlamb, Department of Chemistry

Ian J. S. Fairlamb, born in Crewe (UK) in 1975, was brought up in south east Cheshire. Following undergraduate Chemistry study at Manchester Metropolitan University, he remained as a Ph.D. student, working with Dr. Julia M. Dickinson on the Design and Synthesis of Squalene Synthase Inhibitors (1996/9). He then moved on to work as a post-doctoral researcher with Prof. Guy C. Lloyd-Jones in Bristol (2000/1), investigating Mechanisms in Palladium Catalysis. He was appointed as Lecturer in Organic Chemistry in York in October 2001, then subsequently awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship (2004/12) to further develop independent research projects. He was promoted to Full Professor in Organic Chemistry (2010) and has remained with York Chemistry for his entire independent academic career. Professor Fairlamb’s research interests are in transition metal catalysis, mechanistic studies, reaction discovery and use of automation (robotic systems) and rich data analysis in accelerating mechanistic understanding and improving catalyst performance. Several awards recognise the research conducted by the Fairlamb group, including the RSC Meldola Medal and Prize (2003), Astra-Zeneca Award (2007), RSC Corday-Morgan Medal and Prize (2016) and SCI Process Chemistry Award (2019). Professor Fairlamb is the current Head of the Organic Chemistry Section at the University of York. He has interests in public outreach, most recently Lego EV3 robotics through the York Discovery Zone (2019) and YorNIGHT (2020).

Dr Darren Reed, Department of Sociology

Darren Reed is a Social Scientist and Senior Lecturer in the Sociology Department, University of York. His research encompasses the study of performance and musical instruction, and has a history in the study of technological and interaction and Human Computer Interaction. He is a member of SATSU, the Science and Technology Studies Unit, York University. He deploys an ethnomethodological approach through the use of Multimodal Conversation Analysis to verbal and embodied behaviours. He is Co-Investigator on the EPSRC Digital Creativity Labs, and previously, Co-Investigator on The York City Environment Observatory and the Cutting Edge Approaches for Pollution in Cities programme (CAPACITIE).

Reed, D. J. 2019 Dancing with Data: introducing a creative interactional metaphor. Sociological Research Online

Reed, D. J., 2019 Touch and talk: detailing embodied experience in the music masterclass. Social Semiotics, Taylor & Francis Online.

Dr Bryce Stewart, Department of Environment and Geography

Bryce is a marine ecologist and fisheries biologist whose work has ranged from temperate estuaries to tropical coral reefs and the deep-sea. He gained a BSc(Hons) in Zoology from the University of Melbourne, and a PhD in marine biology from James Cook University, before moving to the United Kingdom (UK) in 1999. The central thread in his research has been to gain an increased understanding of the factors regulating marine populations and communities so as to ensure their sustainable utilisation. Most recently his focus has been on how to improve the management of fisheries and marine ecosystems by using predictive models, marine protected areas and by reducing discards. Bryce has also been especially active in promoting the sale and consumption of sustainable seafood by collaborating with everyone from government ministers to fishermen, restaurants, celebrity chefs and supermarket chains. Since 2016 he has also been particularly involved with assessing the effects of Brexit on UK fisheries and the marine environment, helping to inform reforms of management by working with a wide range of stakeholders and the Government.

Zoe Porter, Department of Philosophy

Zoë Porter started her PhD in the Department of Philosophy at the University of York in 2017. Her research concerns artificial agents and moral responsibility. She has collaborated with researchers in the Assuring Autonomy International Programme, leading to co-authored, multi-disciplinary articles in Artificial Intelligence and the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (forthcoming). Zoë was previously Chief Speechwriter at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and has also worked at the Commission for Racial Equality and as political assistant to an MEP. Zoë completed her BA at the University of Oxford and her MA at Birkbeck College, University of London.

Professor Zion Tse, Department of Electronic Engineering

Professor Zion Tse is the Chair of Medical Robotics in the Department of Electronic Engineering at York. Most of his academic and professional experience has been in Medical Mechatronics, Surgical Robotics, and Medical Imaging. He has been developing and testing a broad range of medical robots and clinical devices in his career, most of which have been applied in clinical patient trials. His research bridges Engineering and Medicine, connecting multidisciplinary teams of medical doctors, robotics researchers and electronics engineers.

Dr James Stockdale, Department of Environment and Geography

Based in the Department of Environment and Geography, James is currently one of the University of York’s Research Enterprise Fellows, funded through the Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF).

With his team, he is working to develop novel technologies to improve the measurement of Greenhouse Gas emissions and uptake by ecosystems – vegetation and soils – in a range of natural and managed landscapes. Having completed his BSc as a mature student, followed by a PhD in Biogeochemistry, he has worked on a range of research projects to assess carbon and nitrogen cycles, and, as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow through the N8AgriFood Programme, worked across disciplines on projects to increase the sustainability of food systems around the world. He is a founder member of the cross-sector group Good Food York to tackle issues of sustainability in our local food system.