Tag: Innovation

UWE Bristol Fellowship to combine traditional printing with cutting-edge technology

A T-shirt print capable of warning its wearer when dangerous chemicals are in the air, and pharmaceutical packaging with ink signifying when pills are counterfeit are just two ideas likely to emerge from a new research project involving the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and a leading scientist and print industry expert.

Starting in January 2018 at UWE Bristol’s Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR), a five-year £1.5m project funded by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council) will combine elements from 19th century reprographic methods used in security printing with modern day techniques. This is set to give rise to a new design of print head for commercial printers, development of the next generation of inks with distinctive properties and new ways of printing.

The Manufacturing Fellowship grant from EPSRC has been awarded to Dr Susanne Klein, making her the first woman to receive it since its launch in 2012. Dr Klein is a renowned expert in the fields of physics and material science and previously held a senior research position at Hewlett Packard. For the research, Dr Klein will set up a laboratory in and collaborate with the CFPR.

Susanne_KleinThe research will combine the CFPR’s knowledge of traditional photomechanical printing methods, such as Lippmann and Woodbury, and re-adapt the techniques for use on a 2.5D printer, which creates texture as part of an image on a substrate.

Using her expertise in colloidal chemistry (working with particles suspended in a solution), and liquid crystals, Klein will also develop specialist inks that can change colour in certain environments.

Such properties could mean a T-shirt print might be able to detect chemicals in the environment that have a proven link to cardiovascular disease, and change colour to warn the wearer. Similar ink on the garment could also react to heat and change colour when the wearer has spent a long time in the sun.

Smart inks could also help manufacturers trace a product as it passes through the supply chain, or curb counterfeiting.

Dr Klein said, “There are lots of problems with counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals and sometimes products are found to be counterfeited where the packaging is identical to the original. We will produce packaging with printing ink that will change colour every time it passes through and is authorised at a different stage on its way to the customer.

“Another application could be in the case of food that needs to remain cold in its packaging. The technology could lead to labels that react to heat, switch to another colour if they have warmed and stay that colour.”

The UWE Bristol research is likely to impact the printing industry, although this is not a change that will happen immediately, said Klein: “The printing landscape is changing and I think our research will contribute to that, but the industry is traditional with its own way of doing things, and no big printer will make any radical changes. Our plan is to feed in little advances, bit by bit, so that commercial printers can adapt slowly to new technologies.”

The funding will provide £300,000 per year for five years to the University and Klein will set up a team comprising a post-doctorate student and a technician to work with the CFPR to develop this new printing approach.

Professor Carinna Parraman, Director of the CFPR said, “We are honoured to receive this grant, in a context that is unprecedented nationally in an art school environment. This is a unique opportunity to pair an experienced material scientist, coming into academia with industrial and manufacturing process knowledge and skills, with the CFPR’s expertise in photomechanical processes invented in the 19th century.”

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Top UWE Bristol marketing graduate to explore new markets for award-winning engineering firm

A graduate from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) who worked on the Bloodhound Supersonic Car project while studying at the University has secured a job as Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) Associate with Viper Innovations. Kim Mahoney, who graduated top of her year in 2017 with a first class degree in Marketing Communications, will help the engineering company to take its technology to new markets.

Viper Innovations was named West of England Business of the Year 2017 (for a business with a turnover of less than £30m) at a ceremony organised by PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in September.

The engineering firm develops fault detection systems that can monitor structural defects in cables and their insulation. Historically, it has worked with the oil and gas industries, but saw opportunities to transfer the highly sought-after technology to other sectors. To pave the way for this diversification, in 2016 it underwent a re-branding, changing its name from Viper Subsea to Viper Innovations.

Part-funded by Innovate UK (the UK’s innovation agency), a KTP is a three-way partnership between a business, an academic institution and a high-calibre graduate (called an ‘Associate’) with technical expertise.

Although UWE Bristol is one of the partners on the KTP with Viper Innovations, the job was advertised nationwide and Kim Mahoney was selected from 30 candidates, following a series of interviews.

Viper Innovations, based in Portishead, has already started working with Network Rail and its supply chain partners to develop and apply its technology to the rail signalling power systems. Kim will support the engineering company identify, screen and evaluate additional new markets where its technology can be applied, before ranking them in order of best rate of return.

5717While studying for her degree, Kim directly applied her learning and honed the skills gained on the course by working as a Sponsorship Manager on the Bloodhound project. Her work supported the team working on the car, who are aiming for a land speed record of 800mph.

Kim said the KTP is providing her with invaluable experience, “This KTP presents not only a high-tech marketing opportunity, but also the experience to work with different cultures and practices, and truly shape my global marketing skills.”

Tracy Hunt-Fraisse is UWE Bristol’s academic supervisor on the project and is overseeing Kim’s work. Tracy has previously worked as Global Head of Marketing for Speedo and as Planning Director at Levi’s Europe. She said, “We will bring business development expertise and apply tried and tested marketing methods to help Viper with their client in the rail industry to help them learn how best to approach other new markets. We will then look at markets where power outage or downtime is potentially very expensive, like hospitals or airports, for instance.”

“It’s not very often you have a marketing communications student who is interested in engineering. Kim’s background with Bloodhound has placed her in a strong position and she has a passion for finding out how things work.”

Peter Alexander, Marketing and Business Acquisition Manager at Viper Innovations, said the company aims to enter two new markets by the end of the KTP, “The University’s knowledge and experience of entering new markets with new products in different parts of the world will lead us to having a toolkit to verify and validate our ideas, and make us think differently.” We now have the essential ingredients: the right associate and a team in place to achieve what is a challenging target.”

For more information about Knowledge Transfer Partnerships at UWE Bristol, please visit: www.uwe.ac.uk/business.

 

Do you have a hi-tech business idea? Launch Space offers free desk space for one year

Recent graduates from across the UK who have a bright idea for a high-tech business are invited to apply for a free residency in ‘Launch Space‘ at the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol).

‘Launch Space’, a graduate high-tech business incubator that provides start-ups with one year of free desk space and innovation support, is now accepting applications for new residencies that will commence from the end of October 2017.

High-tech, innovation and research focused graduate start-ups can benefit from the chance to develop business contacts, gain access to mentorship and talks by visiting companies.Press release image with logo

They are also able to access UWE Bristol’s research community, tap into student talent through work placements, internships and recruitment, and make full use of all the facilities offered on campus.

The Launch Space incubator forms part of a larger UWE Bristol innovation support programme funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Located in the £16m University Enterprise Zone on UWE Bristol’s Frenchay Campus, alongside the Future Space technology incubation centre and the Bristol Robotics Laboratory, its residents benefit from co-location with other growing, innovative enterprises.

“We are particularly excited that, through launch Space, we can provide office space and innovation support to graduate-led start-ups. This helps the West of England to retain and nurture entrepreneurial talent and the University to build on its commitment to supporting enterprise,” said Professor Martin Boddy, who is UWE Bristol’s Pro Vice-Chancellor for Research and Business Engagement.

Residency in the incubator is available to individuals who have graduated from any UK university in the past three years. Those applying are required to have a UK-based business located or operating in the West of England (Bristol, Bath, South Gloucestershire, and North Somerset). If they are a pre-start enterprise, and have not yet registered their business, the Launch Space team can help with this process.

Interested graduates can apply for the new residencies online until 30 September 2017, with interviews planned for the first week of October. Those selected will then attend a three-day induction.

Current residents of Launch Space span a wide range of innovative technology ideas. One entrepreneur is designing an environmental mask that filters out harmful pollutants and automatically notifies the user when contaminants are present in the air. Another is designing an app to make it easier for the rental of student accommodation. The platform bypasses estate agents and removes the need to pay a deposit upfront.

Launch Space is part of a larger UWE Bristol programme that is receiving up to £2,000,000 of funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIF) Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) is the programme’s Managing Authority.

Established by the European Union, the ERDF helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects that support innovation, businesses, job creation and local community regeneration.

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.”