Author: jeremy3allen

Helping India to help itself with water management and reforestation

Dr Mark Everard is driven by a desire to shape the direction of development and influence world views about sustainability, given his love of nature. This drive has taken him all over the world and most recently to India, where he is working on two projects. One involves reforestation in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the other pertains to water management in the north-west state of Rajasthan. “I think, globally, people have forgotten the importance of nature and my work is to help re-invent an ecologically based economy,” says the environmentalist, who is Associate Professor of Ecosystem Services at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

Tamil Nadu

One element of Everard’s work in India is in partnership with The Converging World (TCW), a charity that helps regions in India work towards low-carbon energy production and development. One of the charity’s activities is to install wind turbines before recycling a proportion of operating surpluses into reforestation across the country.

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The beginnings of a forest at Nadukuppam

Reforestation, the natural or intentional restocking of existing forests and woodlands, provides multiple benefits. First there is the positive impact on people and nature, including hydrological buffering (helping with flood reduction and water resource regenerations), biodiversity enhancement, microclimate, and production of food and medicinal resources. A 40 year-old restored forest at Pitchandikulam demonstrates this. Tended from initial plantings on degraded farmland, it now hosts a diversity of wildlife, medicinal plants and a cold microclimate.

Then there are the carbon and climate benefits. By analysing data on carbon storage in the region’s typical forests, Everard and colleagues have demonstrated that an area of forest restored by incremental investments throughout the operational life of a wind turbine can sequester 3,000 times more carbon dioxide than that averted by the wind turbine.

Along with partners, Everard is involved in an ongoing reforestation programme around Nadukuppam village.  The planting of young trees began two years ago, and the involvement and empowerment of local people has played a vital role in its progress. The academic has now contributed to two scientific papers about the scheme.

Rajasthan

In India’s largest state, Everard is involved in a different environmental issue: water management. Rajasthan is a desert state and is today experiencing rapidly depleting groundwater levels and increasing geological contamination of the water, as mechanised pumping of deep groundwater becomes more common.

The region contains many traditional water management methods attuned to local geography, rainfall and culture. Unfortunately, a lot of this traditional water wisdom is lost today, according to the academic. “When the water levels decline, traditional water extraction techniques may cease to work, so interest in communal efforts to replenish it are displaced by competitive pumping of receding water,” he explains.

The environmentalist therefore looks at success factors in cases where people have reversed the cycle of degradation.  He collaborates with NGOs working with local people to restore traditional water harvesting solutions, as well as more modern innovations that complement local hydrology, geography and cultural perspectives. Such solutions can help intercept infrequent and increasingly erratic monsoon rains, enabling them to percolate into groundwater insulated from the region’s high evaporation rate and available for year-round access. In partnership with Wells for India and to highlight these effective methods, Everard is shortly publishing a guide in Hindi and English documenting over 30 ‘water wise’ water harvesting techniques in the region.

For example, monsoon run-off can be harvested using a ‘Johad’ (semi-circular mound of earth) that is adapted to drainage lines on sloping land with a permeable surface. The water is detained and able to recharge soil moisture and shallow groundwater, accessible year-round using open wells. Other solutions are adapted to where the land is sloped or flat, permeable or impermeable.

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Meeting with villagers in Rajasthan

Using this evidence, Everard communicates with highly placed officials in the Rajasthan government to remind them of such water resource recharge practices that have kept communities in the region viable over centuries. The academic says that authorities are beginning to recognise the need to rebuild ecosystem vitality from the bottom up.  “The Additional Chief Conservator of Forests in the Government of Rajasthan has recognised that the work we have published at UWE Bristol contains jigsaw pieces useful in converting high-level aspirations into practical reality.” Everard has already published three papers on this topic with three more in the pipeline.

 

 

Collaborating with creatives to make history more interactive

SPProfessor Steve Poole wanted to redefine what it means to be a historian. Rather than only publish his work in print or make himself available for interviews from the press about his findings, the Director of UWE Bristol’s Regional History Centre felt a need to work with people from other disciplines to present history in a more interactive way. This desire led him to begin collaborating with experienced design specialists Splash and Ripple, who are residents at the Pervasive Media Studio, based in the Watershed (Bristol), a cross-artform venue and producer, sharing, developing and showcasing exemplary cultural ideas and talent..

Ghosts in the Garden

In 2012, together they created Ghosts in the Garden, a project for visitors to the Sydney Gardens in Bath to bring part of its history alive. The site, which makes up the grounds of the Holburne Museum, used to be a pleasure garden 200 years ago and, although few of the original features are still standing, the site once bustled with stall owners, entertainers, musicians – even pickpockets.

“We wanted give the public a flavour of what it must have felt like to wander around the garden,” says Poole. After he explored the archives to identify some of the more ordinary people who took part in the gala events, the team worked with storytellers and scriptwriters to develop characters and scenarios and design an interactive visit set in the early 1820s. “We didn’t want it to be a one-way authoritative guide book for audiences in heritage sites,” says Poole. “We wanted people to make discoveries by following clues and be part of a dialogue.”ghosts9

Splash and Ripple therefore created a GPS-driven hardware prop called the Time Radio, a ‘listening device’ that enables visitors to tune in to the conversations of people from the past, triggered in certain areas of the ground. These sound bytes provide clues to follow, allowing audiences to piece the story together and even change the ending.

Bodiam Castle

Their experience working on the pleasure garden led the team to their next project: the visitor experience at a National Trust property: Bodiam Castle. The moated 14th century fort in East Sussex wanted to involve its visitors more in the castle’s history. Poole and his team, including UWE Bristol colleague Professor Peter Fleming, therefore built a visitor experience involving a device similar to the sound radio: a drinking horn that houses a speaker and electronics to enable visitors to hear stories of historical goings-on in the fortress.

Romancing the gibbet

Steve Poole’s next project took him in a different direction. With knowledge of incidents in the 18th century when people were hanged at the scene of their crimes, he wanted to create a situated visitor experience at these sites, creating a project called Romancing the Gibbet.

A gibbet is an iron cage, used occasionally in the 18th century to contain a body after hanging to prevent the corpse rotting and display it as a deterrent. “Gibbeting was about creating a lasting memory on a community that the authorities felt should be taught a lesson,” says Poole. “We were interested in the ways narratives may have been passed down through generations.”

This project involved collaborative live public performances at the crime scene locations in the South West, including Over Stowey in Somerset, beginning with a brief historical background presentation from Professor Poole, followed by a poem by Ralph Hoyte with an audio representation by sound artist Michael Fairfax. In July 2017, this team also launched a series of locative audio apps for use at the sites of four of the hangings.

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Romancing the gibbet

Heritage Empath

Poole’s most recent project – still in development – is Heritage Empath, an immersive audio experience delivered via smartphone comparing the life of migrants living in Bristol with those that moved to the city in the 19th century. The 18-month project, which again sees the University working with Splash and Ripple, has been awarded £200,000 from the Arts & Humanities Research Council.

Heritage Empath looks at the challenges migrants have often faced when moving to a new city or country, such as a language barrier, or adapting to new surroundings. Poole and colleagues will conduct and record interviews with modern-day migrants and compare those with witness accounts from past migrants who arrived in Bristol in the 1800s. By using a digital technology – most probably an app – visitors will be able to walk in designated areas around the city, such as the harbourside, and put themselves in the shoes of migrants from two different ages. “The challenge is to move the locative heritage experience from one in which we feel sympathy for historical characters to one where we may feel empathy,” says Poole. “The extent to which this is either possible or desirable – and then scalable in terms of outputs – is what this research is really about.”

 

Laying foundations for a solid client-agency relationship

In an increasingly competitive world in which marketing agencies are prolific, how best should they retain clients, and how can a relationship between client and agency be set up in the first place to ensure longevity? Two academics at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are researching this relationship with a view to advising both parties how to lay solid foundations from the start.

For the last four years, Professor Tim Hughes and Dr Mario Vafeas have endeavoured to find out what makes a successful and long-lasting relationship between agencies (creative and digital), and their clients (usually marketers).

Beginning in 2013, their research project initially involved interviewing 25 people on both sides of existing business relationships, to ascertain what their common issues were. Since then, the researchers have also used a combination of one-to-one interviews, focus groups, workshops and survey questionnaires to gather more data from clients and agency account managers.

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Mario Vafeas has experience working both on the client and agency side

The results reveal some of the typical challenges both sides face. “You tend to find that agencies have common complaints about their clients, and vice versa,” says Vafeas. “However things are not getting better and in fact are getting worse,” he adds.

 

The first challenge that has emerged from the research is the power imbalance between both sides. The client controls the purse strings and, because the agency is trying to hold on to the account, their creatives may not always tell them what needs to be said through fear of negatively affecting the relationship.

To counter this imbalance, one of the first things for agencies to think about is whether they are compatible with the company commissioning them, explains Vafeas. “Working with clients where there is a good fit helps the subsequent relationship,” he says.

Establishing a modus operandi on how the two will interact from the beginning is also extremely important. “Explaining to the client at the outset that they don’t intend to impose their way of working on them, but instead want them to get the best possible work out of the agency is key,” says Vafeas. “That investment needs to be made upfront,” he adds, suggesting this is more important than a detailed contract, which can sometimes be off-putting for both parties.

Tim-buzzer
Tim Hughes in one of the team’s workshops

Says Hughes: “A lot of it is about agencies understanding what clients want, and clients understanding what they need to do to get the best out of agencies.” He adds: “This is very much a co-creative process.”

It is also vital that agencies fully understand the clients’ business and that they do not tell them what they already know, say the researchers. “Making sure the creative output is exceptional is key, as many clients can get work done in-house, so if they go to an agency they want something that stands out,” says Vafeas.

Hughes and Vafeas have also observed that there is sometimes a disconnect in the way the two parties want to communicate. They have noticed that agency staff are invariably aged under 30 while brand managers are often in their 50s. The former tend to prefer email, according to the academics, while the latter prefer direct contact. “In the past, a face-to-face interaction was fundamental to building a relationship, but we are now finding this doesn’t happen so much anymore,” says Vafeas. Despite occasional geographical constraints, agencies might therefore consider a more personal approach, he suggests, in order to nurture a stronger relationship.

With a view to sharing their findings and helping practitioners, Vafeas and Hughes work with business networks such as Bristol Media and the Chartered Institute of Marketing, hosting workshops to share results and asking participants to talk about implications for their businesses. They also host seminars, including with the Design Business Association in London. They also organise workshops with individual agencies.

Finally, their findings have also led the academics to incorporate sessions on how to optimise business relationships into the University’s Business and Management degree, as they see this as a vital skill for graduates.

(This article is also published on the Small Business Charter website)

How I4G helped an education company open up the world of particles

The Innovation4Growth (I4G) funding offers grants to businesses in the West of England wishing to develop an innovative project. The current I4G round of funding is offering £1 million for SMEs in the region.

Interactive Scientific is a previous recipient of I4G funding. The education company’s CEO Becky Sage explains how the grant helped it develop the Nano Simbox digital platform.

For more info: http://www.innovation4growth.co.uk/. The deadline for applications is 12th July 2017.  

UWE Bristol BDAS talks to receive 100th guest speaker

A series of lectures featuring top business executives will receive its 100th guest speaker when it restarts this autumn. The Bristol Distinguished Address Series (BDAS) evening lectures are organised by the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), and feature some of the world’s most senior executives. The business-related talks take place in the Bristol Business School’s new £55m building on the University’s Frenchay campus throughout the academic year, averaging two a month.

Karen Blackett OBE, Chairwoman of MediaCom, will be the 100th speaker on 6th December, after the talks kick off on 11th October with an address by Sacha Romanovitch (CEO of Grant Thornton). The subjects of the talks are still unconfirmed, but past topics for BDAS have included everything from leadership challenges to the future of work. Other invited executives include Duncan Selbie (Chief Executive of Public Health England), who will speak on 15th November, and George Weston (Chief Executive, Associated British Foods) whose talk is on 22nd November.

Since 2008, highly prestigious speakers have captivated audiences attending the BDAS

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Lord Karan Bilimoria (Chairman, Cobra Beer)

events at UWE Bristol. Eminent lecturers have so far included Lord Karan Bilimoria (Chairman, Cobra Beer), who spoke about boldness in business, Michael Ward (Managing Director, Harrods) on the luxury industry and its challenges, and Baroness Dido Harding (Chief Executive, TalkTalk) on how Britain can lead in the digital revolution. Many other high-profile names from the business world also feature on the list of previous speakers.

The lectures are free to attend, open to everyone and last about an hour with opportunities to meet the speaker afterwards, and to network. The talks provide a rare opportunity for attendees to hear about the challenges, issues and decisions made at the highest level of leadership.

Many in the audience are local entrepreneurs and the lectures can give them invaluable insights for their businesses. “There are a lot of SMEs in the Bristol region that want to learn from these chief executives, as they are the major movers and shakers of UK and international business,” explains Professor Nicholas O’Regan, who is Associate Dean of Research and Innovation at UWE Bristol. Attending companies can also take part in a masterclass on the subject pertaining to the subsequent BDAS lecture.

BDAS also provides up to date practitioner-based leadership knowledge for students on the University’s post-graduate programmes, including the MBA. This is a rare privilege, says Prof O’Regan. “Few other students will have the chance to meet the chief executive of a FTSE100 company at a university, and talk to them personally. Here it happens on a huge scale throughout the year,” he says.

Bristol Business School actively encourages students to attend the series and many are able to obtain answers on subjects that may relate to their course or curriculum thanks to the talks. “We can teach topics in any module but what is talked about with BDAS is at the cutting edge as it’s not textbook thinking, but the real world,” says Prof O’Regan. “This contextualises what students are taught here,” he adds.

After each talk, the floor is opened up for questions from the audience. “The Q&A session makes the whole event interactive and is always extremely interesting as the questions are answered amazingly frankly,” says Prof O’Regan.

Overall, says Prof O’Regan, the speakers are there to share their experience and knowledge of senior leadership but also to enjoy talking to students and members of the business community. “They like to be part of what has become an exclusive club,” he says.

For more info, or to attend: www.uwe.ac.uk/BDAS

Public inquiries: a way to draw a line in the sand, or avoid accountability?

When gross negligence occurs in a hospital or a public organisation is suspected of acting inappropriately in a murder investigation, the victims’ families often want to hold someone accountable. For them, public inquiries are a chance for those responsible to apologise. Dr James Murphy from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) researches the language used in public inquiries and the role blame plays in them. He has discovered that the victims’ loved ones do not always get the outcome they expected.

Over a six-month period in 2007 and 2008, more than 30 people died in three hospitals in an area of Northern Ireland as a result of an outbreak of the hospital-acquired infection Clostridium difficile. The bacterium also infected several other patients, making them severely ill. It later emerged that poor hygiene and lack of information for patients and their families meant the infection was not contained in one part of the hospital. A subsequent public inquiry was set up to find out why this happened.

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Dr James Murphy, who is senior lecturer in English language and linguistics at UWE Bristol, researches how such public inquiries are conducted, how blame is attributed, and how apologies are expressed. He has examined the C. difficile case, and other public inquiries such as the Bichard Report (which asked why the necessary background checks were not made before a school employed Ian Huntley as a caretaker – he later murdered two 10-year-old girls).

In the case of the hospital-acquired infection, the inquiry invited two distinct groups of witnesses: the blameless family members of the victims, and a second group of hospital staff who were potentially blameable for the spread of the infection. Murphy assessed the linguistic aspect of the questioning. Although he expected that the hospital employees would be interrogated in the same way as defendants in a criminal court, and that family members would be treated like friendly witnesses, he found the opposite happened.

Instead, family members (often still in trauma) were questioned with closed, leading questions, similar to prosecution questioning in court. This, says Murphy, was simply so that the inquiry could confirm facts in the case. Meanwhile investigators asked hospital staff open, less-restricted questions. Murphy says this was to gather more evidence to help the inquiry identify who was responsible.

The academic has also learned that public inquiries are framed in a way that shies away from blaming anybody. “A lot of families expect someone to take responsibility for what they have suffered,” explains Murphy. “However public inquiries are not necessarily allowed to blame anyone.” He explains that blame is often more implicit in inquiries, which by highlighting lessons learned, imply that someone did something wrong and is potentially to blame.

Apologies are also invariably avoided in such investigations, finds Murphy. “When people are asked to apologise, they often have a carefully crafted statement demonstrating sympathy or regret, without taking responsibility,” he explains. “On the whole in inquiries, people don’t apologise because they fear that, in doing so, they risk public litigation,” says the linguistics expert.

Murphy also found that those who could be blamed, usually do a lot of preparation work on how to deliver their answers before attending a public inquiry. “There is a lot of rehearsal beforehand,” he says. Families, on the other hand, are often less clear about what to expect.

In fact, Murphy’s most striking discovery is the disconnect between family members’ expectations from a public inquiry and what they get at the end. “They see it as a line in the sand whereby they can discover who was responsible and can then move on,” says the academic. However, the reports they receive after the process are too often legalistic, hard to read, and careful about how they frame the findings. “The families want a direct and straightforward result, but what they get is something indirect and implicit,” he explains. This can sometimes leave them feeling like there has been a cover-up, says Murphy.

To address the issues in public inquiries, James Murphy is writing a book, due out in 2018, called, ‘The Discursive Construction of Blame: Language at Public Inquiries.’ The academic hopes it will influence policy and positively impact how public inquiry reporting can be improved and how victims and their families can better prepare for their involvement in proceedings.

Says Murphy: “Public inquiries are a strong representation of our democracy. Historically we might have lynched somebody we thought was to blame, but public inquiries represent the rational end of blame and is the endpoint of how we’ve developed as a society.”

Accelerating the way to clean fuel with the help of I4G

An electrochemical materials company based in Cornwall has developed a catalyst to fill a gap in the market in the water electrolysis industry and help customers make hydrogen more cost-effectively – and quicker. An Innovation4Growth (I4G) fund through the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) provided PV3 Technologies with the boost it needed to research and develop the product.

Hydrogen is considered a clean fuel, as when it burns it produces water vapour as the only by-product. One way of making the gas is through water electrolysis, whereby hydrogen (and oxygen) is produced when electricity passes through two electrodes (the positive anode and negative cathode) immersed in water. This hydrogen provides fuel for hydrogen cars, energy storage and metal treatment.

Based in Launceston, PV3 Technologies develops catalysts that help speed up the electrolysis process. The company found that although the industry mainly uses iridium oxide, there is a strong demand for a novel catalyst that is more durable and operates with lower energy consumption.

PV3_team_members
Members of the PV3 team

In 2015, it therefore set out to develop a powder used in the scientific process, but first it needed funding. This came after it applied for an I4G grant provided through UWE Bristol. The fund currently provides applicants with a maximum of £75,000 to cover up to 35% of the cost of an R&D project and is financed by the UK government’s Regional Growth Fund (RGF).

“The I4G funding enabled us to undertake an innovation programme that we probably wouldn’t have been able to do on our own,” says PV3 CEO David Hodgson. “It was also a grant that gave us the freedom to channel the money into an internal project,” he adds.
The funding allowed PV3 to secure existing jobs within the team and recruit two highly-qualified staff members (one a material scientist, the other an expert in catalysis) to bring the total head count to six. The money also went into consumables, scientific hardware and testing equipment.

During the 18-month R&D period, the scientists developed the product’s synthesis, working to make it pure enough to meet customer demands, before undergoing evaluations to check that the catalyst performed well.

It then supplied samples of the powder to customers for testing. “A major impact of the I4G is that it gave us the confidence to move forward with the project,” says Hodgson, “and has allowed us to cement existing relationships and go out to new customers.”

Hodgson says UWE Bristol was on hand to provide support throughout the project. “UWE was particularly helpful in assisting us with the claiming procedure and we were later awarded an extension of the fund, which shows that our project went well.”

The company is now scaling up the product and hopes its new catalyst will make the industry’s life easier when trying to produce clean fuel such as hydrogen.

 

Alan Winfield – paving the way for ethical robots

Alan Winfield – paving the way for ethical robots

Man before machine

Professor Alan Winfield is a roboticist, a roboethicist, but above all he is a humanist. “I am of course interested in robots but I’m much more interested in people,” says Alan.

An academic at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), Alan researches cognitive robotics at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), alongside his responsibilities for teaching, writing (including a blog) and public engagement.

One of his current projects aims to help companies avoid sending employees into dangerous environments. Along with project lead Manchester University and partner Birmingham University, he and his colleagues are designing robots to help decommission Britain’s legacy nuclear power plants in the hope of returning them to green field sites.

“When we can build robots that go into old nuclear facilities to explore, map, and dismantle them, we can potentially also develop robots that can go into other dangerous environments such as collapsed buildings after an earthquake or deep mines,” says Alan. Ultimately, this work could save people’s lives.

Over the last two decades, the roboticist has looked at how robots can be intelligent and he is working on a book on the nature of intelligence. It is perhaps his reflection on cognitive robotics that has also made him a roboethicist, someone who thinks about the governance frameworks that should determine how robots are designed, built and operated.

“A roboethicist is someone who makes it their job to worry about the possible societal, economic and environmental consequences of robotics and AI [artificial intelligence],” says Alan. Today, half of his working hours are devoted to roboethics.

An ethical framework for robot design

Although a self-professed optimist, one of Alan’s main worries about the future of robots and AI technology concerns the current lack of regulation and standards. He cites the example of driverless car autopilots. Although certain car manufacturers have undoubtedly tested their systems, they have not done so to any agreed national or international standards, says the scientist. “The world urgently needs safety standards for driverless car autopilots, as well as agencies to certify their safety and investigate when there is a crash – these don’t yet exist,” explains Alan.

International guidelines are also scarce around designing AI and intelligent robots ethically, and Alan is working hard to change this. As a member of the British Standards Institute (BSI) committee, he helped draft what could possibly be the world’s first ethical standard in robotics. Published in 2016, it addresses risks to individuals, society, and the environment. “I am very proud of our work on this,” says Alan, “as it provides a robot designer with a toolkit for assessing the ethical risks associated with what they are doing.”

Alan is also a member of the executive committee leading the IEEE Standards Association’s global initiative on ethical design of AI and autonomous systems. Within this initiative, he co-chairs the General Principles Committee, which is developing high-level principles applying to all AI and autonomous systems such as driverless cars, drones, medical diagnosis AIs, or even search engines. These principles propose that such systems should not infringe human rights, and that their functioning should be transparent. “The idea is to bake ethics in from the very beginning of the design process,” Alan explains.

The IEEE initiative published in December 2016 a draft set of ethical principles called ‘Ethically-aligned Design’, with the aim of advancing a public discussion of how intelligent technologies can be aligned to ethical principles that prioritize human wellbeing. To date, seven standards have spun out of the IEEE initiative and are now in development.

Awareness of ethics through education

Another way of embedding this sense of responsibility in robot designers is through education. In 2015, UWE Bristol began offering a module on the ethics of technology for its robotics and philosophy students. The reasoning behind this move is to encourage engineers to consider the ethical implications of their work, and invite philosophers to think about the practical impact and applicability of ethics on technology.

Overall, Alan believes robotics and AI have already brought many advantages to our lives. The BRL is working on a wide range of beneficial applications, such as assisted living robots that could help the elderly in their homes, robots to assist with keyhole surgery, and work place assistant robots to act as work mates in manufacturing. His advice to budding roboticists is clear: “Do good and always do work that is to the benefit of humanity, rather than purely to satisfy scientific curiosity or to make money.”

A three-way partnership to develop artificial intelligence

A three-way partnership to develop artificial intelligence

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol), a graduate, and a financial services firm in Bristol has developed a smart system that will help customers decide how to invest their money. KTP is a UK government programme that supports companies in implementing innovative solutions to grow their business.   

Rowan Dartington (RD) is building a cyborg. Or at least this is the way the financial services firm describes a user interface it hopes will revolutionise how clients invest their money and enable it to attract more millennials to set up portfolios.

RD is one of the UK’s leading providers of personalised wealth management services. With expertise in providing advice to investors, it is also putting a lot of work into developing the algorithms behind its online service. To ensure its new interface towered above competitors, Phil McHenry, RD’s Head of Software Development, wanted to complement its developers’ skills with specific academic knowledge in data science and user experience (UX). It therefore turned to UWE Bristol.

Together, RD and UWE Bristol began collaborating on a KTP, a programme spearheaded by Innovate UK that helps companies improve their productivity and competitiveness via a partnership with an academic institution and the recruitment of a recent graduate with specific expertise. Academic expertise was provided by Dr Paul Matthews, a senior lecturer in the Department for Computer Science and Creative Industries, and Bala Goudar was recruited for the two-year project.

Goudar, who has a PhD in Climate Physics (RD colleagues came to refer him as ‘weatherman’), had a particular skill in analysing data and a keen interest in financial markets. RD introduced him to fund management, helping him adapt to the company’s way of working. “KTP helps move people from the academic to the business environment,” says RD Chief Operating Officer Ben Cooper, “but the pressures in both worlds are different.”

To cater for clients with smaller amounts to invest, many fund managers’ online systems offer ‘robo-advice,’ algorithm-generated information about how to invest. RD’s new platform, once fully developed, will also offer such a service, but it wanted to take this one step further – by making the interface ‘intelligent.’ The KTP provided the innovation and knowledge a to achieve this.

During the KTP, which began in 2015, Goudar grew his skills in data analysis in a business context. In his second year, he began designing the algorithms, which RD’s software development team implemented. By having a data expert apply his knowledge to their business, RD began to look at data in a new way. “Data is an asset that is becoming increasingly important and Bala helped us realise that you can bring together seemingly unrelated data but still find a correlation,” says Cooper.

The KTP experience at RD also gave Goudar insight into the financial services industry. “I have had to learn the way a wealth management company firm such as RD operates before building anything,” he says. “These are all skills we don’t necessarily use in academia.”

Overseeing the project from an academic perspective, Paul Matthews brought to the table, among other skills, his knowledge of UX, ensuring that the system is highly intuitive for users. He also set up focus groups between UWE Bristol academics and RD directors around machine learning. “The KTP has also given UWE Bristol a foot in the Fintech [financial technology] world, which is becoming bigger and bigger, and where there is a lot of scope for us to be further involved from an academic perspective,” says Matthews.

With the new interface, still in development, if someone new to investing approaches RD to enquire about investment, they will first carry out a search through the online system. In the next step, the enquirer meets with an adviser to set up their portfolio. The data generated from this interaction then loops back into the platform to help feed the information provided to future investors. Through machine learning combined with human feedback, the ‘cyborg’ therefore teaches itself to yield even better advice next time.

This Partnership received financial support from the Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme (KTP).  KTP aims to help businesses to improve their competitiveness and productivity through the better use of knowledge, technology and skills that reside within the UK Knowledge Base.  KTP is funded by Innovate UK along with the other government funding organisations.

How funding through UWE Bristol helped a panel manufacturer turn ideas into reality

Thanks to an Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) government grant made available by way of UWE Bristol, Gilcrest Manufacturing was able to develop an extremely strong ceiling panel for use on cold storage rooms and other enclosed areas such as hygienic environments. In this video, the company’s Engineering Manager Stephen Griffiths explains how the funding, as well as support from UWE Bristol, was critical in bringing the project to fruition.