Tag: Business

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.

The post-Brexit silver lining: how working with SMEs could provide a springboard to export

Originally posted in Business Leader Magazine

Far from Brexit creating a sense of doom and gloom for SMEs wanting to export, leaving the EU could provide opportunities to sell to emerging markets. That, at least is the view of two economists who are setting up a project to bridge the gap between SMEs and Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), which provide a link between local authorities and businesses.

Catherine Cai, who is senior lecturer in Strategy and International Management at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) said: “We are trying to see the silver lining of Brexit and there a lot of opportunities for SMEs to export to non-EU countries, but they need support.

“The LEPs provide a network for SMEs to meet and learn from each other and this is very important, because most of these firms don’t have experience of exporting to countries like China or India.”

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Along with colleague Dr Rekha Nicholson from Newcastle University London, which is leading the project, Cai is in the planning stages of an activity involving work with two LEPs.

Cai says SMEs in the UK often think locally and either tend not to think about exporting or, if they do, invariably consider European countries. Exporting to emerging markets like the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is still quite a new idea.

By developing working practices with the LEPs and providing workshops in the South West, the economists plan to help businesses think about how to penetrate and position themselves in these new markets. Their knowledge will also help companies understand the logistics of exporting and how to protect their intellectual property rights.

The project is set to begin at the end of 2017 and, initially lasting one year, will focus on two industries: creative and manufacturing.

Reducing bad breath: how 20 years of research have helped us better understand halitosis

Reducing bad breath: how 20 years of research have helped us better understand halitosis

A researcher at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) has devoted her work to a subject that some might find unpleasant or embarrassing: bad breath. Over the past two decades, Dr Saliha Saad and colleagues have tried to pinpoint the mechanisms behind oral malodour, also called halitosis, and how best to reduce it.  

A link between the biofilm on our tongue and oral malodour

While bad breath can be the result of eating strong-smelling foods like eggs, a meat morsel caught between the teeth, or gum disease, these lead only to temporary oral malodour. Dr Saad’s research examines more long-lasting, chronic halitosis in people who, despite living a healthy lifestyle with good oral hygiene, experience the symptom on a regular basis.

We humans carry 1.5kg of microbes, also called human microbiota, on the inside and outside of our bodies, found on our skin, in our intestines and in our mouths. At the back of the tongue is a biofilm, a collection of millions of bacteria within a thin, robust protective coating (which the bacteria excrete). Although researchers are still trying to identify all the possible causes of halitosis, they believe this film of microbes is responsible for oral malodour. “Our theory is that the more bacteria on our tongues, the higher the instance of smelly compounds found in our breath,” says Saad.

Through her research with Professor John Greenman, Dr Saad has learned that people with oral malodour may have it their entire lives. As a result, Saad and her team have worked with Colgate Palmolive, Philips, GSK, Procter & Gamble, Healthcare International, Boots, GABA and other oral hygiene companies to help them develop more effective toothpastes, mouthwashes or cleaning devices. “Brushing and flossing can reduce bad breath for a certain amount of time, but the challenge is to cut bad breath for longer. Our job is to show these companies whether their product has a longer lasting effect on oral malodour,” explains Saad.

Testing products that counteract bad breath

To try to achieve this, the researchers test anti-microbial samples the companies send them using a biofilm perfusion system. This involves gently scraping volunteers’ tongues to obtain the collection of microbes, before injecting the resulting liquid onto cellulose, a material that best represents the surface of a tongue. A fluid almost identical to saliva is then slowly drip-fed onto the biofilm to emulate the environment (including pH and temperature) found in a human mouth.

Once the bacteria reaches a steady state, the scientists inject controlled amounts of the unlabelled oral hygiene sample onto the microbes. “These products are invariably a type of toothpaste but we often don’t know what active ingredients they contain,” says Saad. The process of reduction in bacteria and smell is then measured over time.

Following this in vitro testing, the scientists conduct clinical trials by asking some 150 volunteers to test toothpastes or other oral hygiene products such as mouthwashes. The intensity of their malodorous breath is assessed both before and after the treatment using a SIFT-MS machine. The device uses a technique called ion flow-tube mass spectrometry to ‘smell’ the breath by providing a breakdown of the gases contained within it. “Generally the most odorous gases are the sulphides,” explains Saad.

Because machines and other measuring devices can sometimes be inaccurate, Saad herself also smells the volunteers’ breath. As a qualified organoleptic judge, she can categorise the odour by intensity and unpleasantness according to a set technique and scale. The participants are then provided with a toothpaste or mouthwash to test, with Saad checking their breath in the subsequent hours. Test results are subsequently analysed and sent on to the oral hygiene companies concerned.

UWE Bristol is unique in that it provides a course to train scientists to become organoleptic judges with Saad as their trainer. By the end of the five-day course the professionals, who are from all over the world, learn to use the sniffing test to diagnose oral malodour and assess the effects of treatment interventions in their own practices.

As for those who suddenly recognise that they have momentary smelly breath, perhaps just as they are about to walk into an interview, Saad proffers her advice for quick remedy. “Gently brush the back of your tongue,” says Saad. “But be careful not to damage it because if you brush too hard you could cause injury and infection.”

UWE Bristol & TechSPARK: Showcasing innovation

UWE Bristol & TechSPARK: Showcasing innovation

UWE Bristol has partnered with TechSpark to showcase some of our most innovative technology projects and research.

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In the latest guest blog, we look at Dr Tom Mitchell’s electronic gloves that can be programmed for performing musicians to trigger sounds and virtual instruments using hand and arm movements.

Visit TechSpark’s website to read more about the Mi.Mu gloves and Dr Mitchell’s involvement in the technology.

How a grandfather inspired a fascination for the human mind

How a grandfather inspired a fascination for the human mind

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we look at Anita Gulati’s research on mindfulness and its role in enabling creative, sustainable leadership and re-enforcing resilience. Gulati works at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and is Associate Director of its Bristol Business Engagement Centre (BBEC). She says her grandfather’s story has served as inspiration in her work.

Harbans Lall Gulati came to the UK as an Indian immigrant in the 1920s and hearing about his life has helped Anita Gulati understand why she is so interested in mindfulness and meditation. “Despite working as a doctor in a busy practice in London, every day my grandfather used to close his consultation room door for 20 minutes to meditate. I discovered this recently and it gave me a very strong sense of connection to my ancestors,” says Ms Gulati.

Her aunt, Dr Meira Chand, who recently took up yoga aged 75 ­-­ three years after completing a PhD – is now writing a novel about Harbans. Ms Gulati believes that if there were ever an example of resilience in the face of adversity, it is to be found in the story of his life.

After completing his medical training in the land of his birth, Harbans emigrated to England with the intention of working as a doctor. On arrival, he walked all the way from Liverpool Docks to London and slept in Hyde Park, only to discover that his medical qualifications were not recognised in the UK. He repeated his training at Charing Cross Hospital, and eventually requalified. The colour of his skin, however, resulted in him being shunned when looking for premises in which to practise medicine. This challenge was overcome thanks to a Jewish jeweller in Battersea Rise who let him use part of his shop as a consultation room.

Throughout the Second World War Harbans served the local community, treating the injured and assisting the poor, eventually helping to set up Meals on Wheels (the service that today still delivers meals to those who cannot cook for themselves). He also became involved in local politics, becoming a councillor for Battersea South ­– a rare occurrence for someone from South Asia in those days.

Inspiration from her grandfather and her experience as a sociologist and psychologist has ignited in Ms Gulati an interest to know more about mindfulness, a form of meditation involving focusing on the present moment. “It is perhaps my grandfather’s tale that inspired my passion for the human mind,” says the researcher. Gulati and her colleagues are now exploring why mindfulness seems to help people deal with life’s stresses, how it can sometimes make us more resilient, especially as leaders, and why alongside the notion of leadership, it has become an increasingly important concept.

Three years ago, Ms Gulati attended a conference on the neuroscience of mindfulness and scientific impact, where she met Dr Peter Malinowski after he gave a talk on the mind and meditation. “I have since been collaborating with him and Dr Carol Jarvis (UWE Bristol) to explore the role of mindfulness in compassionate and resilient leadership,” says Ms Gulati.

The three researchers have found that, in today’s uncertain world, the fastest does not always win the race (as shown in Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, believed to date back some 2.5 millennia). This idea seems to have lost currency in contemporary organisations and their research explores the challenge of learning from, and injecting some ancient wisdom into, contemporary organisational settings. “As my grandfather perhaps discovered, stopping to ‘smell the roses’ rather than rushing to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ can impact organisational sustainability and resilient leadership,” says Gulati. “We are exploring how this works and assessing the creative tension that may emerge from this juxtaposition,” she adds.

Enabling people with disabilities: using innovation to provide cycling mobility

Enabling people with disabilities: using innovation to provide cycling mobility

In 2013 Bob Griffin was ushered through the gates of Buckingham Palace to meet the Queen. The entrepreneur who set up Tomcat, a company in the south west, was there to collect his Queen’s award for Enterprise in Innovation. The company manufactures trikes for children and adults with mild to severe disabilities, whether learning, visual or physical.

Based near Gloucester, Tomcat is known for its bespoke trikes, the unique design of which means carers accompanying the rider can control the vehicle from behind using a steering and braking lever.

Just a year after shaking hands with the monarch, Bob was looking to design a new wheelchair product called ‘Sunfly’ and was successful in receiving a grant through the University of the West of England’s (UWE Bristol) Innovation 4 Growth (I4G) scheme, which supports SMEs in the South West to develop innovative products.

Inspired by families whose children sometimes became severely disabled because of illnesses like meningitis, Sunfly has multiple purposes. Due to launch in 2017, users can modulate it to allow a child to nap, eat, and sit in different positions. Its clever design means the structure can house various types of specialised seats and can be broken down into separate, easily transportable parts. Sunfly also doubles as a trailer to carry a child behind a bicycle.

The R&D took over a year, as there was an intense focus on safety. “Turning Sunfly into reality was a real challenge, but without UWE Bristol’s I4G funding, it would have been even more difficult and perhaps unachievable,” says Bob.

The story of Tomcat goes back 20 years. Bob’s stepson, Tom, had severe learning difficulties and was keeping the adults awake at night because of surplus energy he was unable to expend during the day. Although Tom had a trike, it was hard to control and so it gathered dust in the shed.

Bob, at the time a Merchant Navy engineer, realised tricycles were very basic. “In terms of blindness, learning difficulties or spatial awareness, there was nothing out there,” says Bob. While on a posting, he used the ship’s workshop to build a system to add onto Tom’s existing trike. Tom and his mother, Anne, were delighted.

Usually Tom would walk for 100 yards and get bored but, thanks to the trike, Anne could control it from behind and he was able to ride up to three miles. “To see him achieve that was quite emotional,” recalls Bob. After a subsequent visit to the school Tom attended, other parents asked Bob to build trikes for their own children.

Two decades later Tomcat products (the firm’s name is derived from his stepson’s name) are as popular as ever. Bob is now developing new products thanks in part to a second round of funding from UWE Bristol’s I4G. The grant is helping with the development of both an adult trike and a semi-recumbent tricycle. The products will target those with mild sight, balance and age-related difficulties, as well as people with profound and multiple disabilities.  A major feature of the new machines will be the way they enable users to get on and off more easily.

The semi-recumbent trike, due for release in February 2017, will be more upright, with higher seating and a straighter back than competitors’ products. Another objective will be to incorporate a swivel, or height-adjustable saddle, on the pedal vehicles.

Of course developing these products has once again presented Bob with a number of challenges, like how to achieve greater transportability with such a large machine. Again, support through UWE Bristol’s I4G programme will help him overcome those issues.

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Bob Griffin, Tomcat, meeting the Queen in 2013

To find out more about Tomcat please visit their website: http://tomcatspecialneeds.co.uk/

KTP Success Story: West Technology Systems

The collaboration between West Technology and UWE Bristol is a fantastic example of the University’s involvement in the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) programme. Since West Technology recruited a graduate through the programme, sales of its fingerprint-detection machines have gone through the roof. Managing Director Ian Harris also says the KTP further boosted the company’s credibility in the forensics world.

UWE Bristol and forensic engineering firm could help police catch more criminals

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©West Technology Systems Ltd.

A machine that has helped solve numerous cases by revealing fingerprints on evidence could help catch even more criminals thanks to a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and the world-leading manufacturer of this forensic fingerprint development equipment.

In May 2007 serial killer and rapist Peter Tobin was sentenced to life imprisonment after he murdered Polish student Angelika Kluk and buried her body under the floorboards of a church. Subsequent fingerprint evidence found on the tarpaulin covering her remains helped put Tobin in jail for life. The machine enabling police to identify these prints was built by West Technology Systems, the leading manufacturer of these devices.

West Technology, based in Yate, realised it lacked crucial forensic science expertise to develop the system. The VMD (vacuum metal deposition) machine works by evaporating metal particles onto an evidence exhibit to reveal fingerprints. This method has proven successful in developing palm prints on fabric and this can aid in targeted DNA recovery.

But while the VMD method was successful, the company wanted to learn about the science behind it and optimise the machine. “The process was a black art and not even the Home Office knew entirely how it worked,” says  Managing Director Ian Harris. He needed someone with specialist forensic knowledge to research and extend the equipment’s capabilities on black bin liners and polymer banknotes, both notoriously difficult surfaces for revealing finger or palm prints.

Finding the right expertise

The firm therefore looked for these skills externally and approached UWE Bristol. Together, the company and University began collaborating on a KTP, a government-backed programme that connects skilled graduates with businesses and universities. Funded by Innovate UK, this is a great opportunity for a company to develop its business by benefiting from additional know-how and academic support. For West Technology’s purposes, UWE Bristol forensic science graduate Eleigh Brewer proved to be the perfect match.

“Since Eleigh started, our orders on the forensics side have gone through the roof and she has been critical to the success of the company,” says Ian. The KTP meant Eleigh spent two years between the University, where West Technology supplied a VMD machine to use for testing, and the company itself. “This was a fantastic opportunity for me and we were able to get results from our research that the company could use,” says Eleigh

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Ian Harris and Eleigh Brewer in front of the VMD machine – ©UWE Bristol

Metal and money

The forensic scientist tested the system’s functionality with different metals. The most common method uses gold to cover the piece of evidence, then zinc to highlight any fingerprints. But gold and zinc are not necessarily the best metals to use according to some experts – especially on certain polymer materials like banknotes.

Knowing the UK was due to release a new polymer five-pound note as legal tender, Ian asked Eleigh to test and adapt the machine for use with these notes. With samples provided by the Bank of England, Eleigh set to work, forming a working relationship with the Home Office’s Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) along the way.

Dr Carolyn Morton, Eleigh’s academic supervisor throughout the KTP, says her research was beneficial to UWE Bristol and has cemented its reputation as an important centre for forensic research. “By linking us with CAST and connecting us to a national network of fingerprinting research teams, this KTP has put UWE on the map,” says Carolyn, who is a senior lecturer in forensic science at UWE Bristol.

With Eleigh’s help, Ian now wants to make it easier for the VMD to highlight prints on fabric, another notoriously hard material to work with in criminal cases. “If we could determine the strength of an assault by looking at grab impressions, we could make a big difference,” says Ian.

And perhaps help catch and convict more high-profile murderers like Peter Tobin.

If you are interested in finding out about  KTPs with UWE Bristol, please get in touch or leave a comment.