Tag: Innovation

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

BDAS_bilimoria
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

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.

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’s biosciences research centre: an overview

TOLENA DORAN 043.jpghe University of the West of England (UWE Bristol)’s Centre for Research in Biosciences (CRIB) is its largest research centre and therefore covers many areas. We caught up with CRIB’s Director Olena Doran to hear some of the highlights and plans for the Centre in 2017.

CRIB addresses a broad range of projects in the main three strategic directions: biomedical, bio-sensing and analytical, and agri-food, plants and environment. “Our strength is in cross-disciplinary research, as technology development doesn’t exist on its own,” says Doran.  “Through this, we focus on research with impact and research that informs teaching.” Although Doran says she is proud of all work going on in CRIB, the scientist highlights some ongoing projects.

Biomedical area

CRIB currently works with over 60 companies and one of its researchers within the biomedical group is Dr Saliha Saad, who works with well-known companies like Johnson & Johnson, Colgate-Palmolive, and Procter & Gamble to help them develop oral hygiene products that could reduce oral malodour. A third of people have bad breath that others can detect (called halitosis). The cause of such malodour is attributed to a community of billions of bacteria knitted together in a ‘biofilm’ on our tongues. Using an artificial tongue, made from a cellulose matrix to which is fed a continuous medium representing saliva, Dr Saad and her co-workers are running trials to test antimicrobial compounds and see how they affect bad breath. To help them achieve this, they also use a complex machine that can detect numerous gases that are thought to contribute to oral malodour.

Bio-sensing and analytical research

While Dr Saad’s research looks to eliminate bacteria, another group of CRIB researchers is using bioluminescent bacteria to develop bio-sensors, devices that use a living organism to detect the presence of chemicals. Dr Elizabeth Anderson and Dr Gareth Robinson have managed to harness the glow-in-the-dark properties of bacteria to help some leukaemia sufferers receive swifter and more effective treatment. Bioluminescence – light emission from living organisms – increases in some bacteria when they come into contact with certain drugs. By engineering an e-coli with a high sensitivity to a chemotherapy drug, the scientists have developed a fast method to test whether the compound is the most suitable to fight acute myeloid leukaemia tumour cells.

Agri-food, plants and environment research

More harmful bacteria could be behind Acute Oak Decline (AOD), a condition that attacks thousands of oak trees in the UK and can kills the trees in four to six years. Professor Dawn Arnold is leading research projects that look to determine whether bacteria is causing AOD and, if this is the case, which one is the culprit and how it infects the tree. So far, the team has identified two previously undiscovered species of bacteria that could be responsible for the tree disease. By identifying genes in the bacteria that allows it to enter the oak tree and cause the disease, the team could find a way of using a chemical to disrupt that function without harming the plant.

Meanwhile, Dr Neil Willey’s work looks at what happens when plants absorb small amounts of radioactive isotopes. How quickly a plant takes up radiation depends on the type of plant, the soil and the isotope. In the laboratory, he and his team grow plants in contaminated soil samples collected from different locations. The research is part of a consortium called TREE that aims to reduce uncertainty in estimating the risk of humans and wildlife associated with exposure to radioactivity. He also conducts research activities in the vicinity of the Chernobyl exclusion zone. Says Doran: “His work nicely links to our ambition to include research in teaching and enhance students’ experience.” Dr Willey has also helped organise a summer schools for PhD students in unique places like Chernobyl, where a massive nuclear accident occurred in 1986 at its power plant. In September 2016, the trip was filmed and the video is now available as training material for students. Last year, TREE won a Times Higher Education Award for research project of the year.

As for CRIB’s plans for 2017, Professor Doran says this includes further developing the Centre’s links with industry and other stakeholders. Despite already involving itself with 100 national and international collaborations with universities, research institutions, industry and government bodies, CRIB still wants to expand its reach even further. Doran is particularly interested in developing close links between CRIB and the University’s new Enterprise Zone that provides unique opportunities for collaboration with businesses. “We don’t want to miss an opportunity to showcase our research or to collaborate further with industry,” says Doran.

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.

Tom-MitchellAtMixd

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.