purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
One of the odder things that happened to me at the tail end of last year was the below appearance in the EPSRC's Pioneer Magazine. It was bizarre chiefly because the first I knew about it was when a colleague showed me the article. The text is cut-n-paste from a piece the University Corporate Communications department wrote about me at the time of the first NASA Space Apps challenge (so approx. 5 years ago) and the pictures were lifted from my website. Still, not complaining...

purplecat: Programming the Eniac Computer (computing)

Image of a Lego Rover on top of a giant abacus in front of a reproduction of the Manchester Baby (the first stored-program computer).
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
Sunday: 16k run (thought I might work slowly up to half marathon distance and see how I feel about it). Usual household chores and catching up. Sausage Casserole for supper (may the various packet sauce companies never stop making Sausage Casserole packet sauce!)

Monday: Gave a talk at work (a re-run of my TAROS talk), seemed to go OK. Read project specifications from some of my students.

Tuesday: Wrote up a quick guide to software engineering for my project students in the hopes that their project plans would become more realistic as a result. Had some rather frustrating conversations with them in the afternoon. E.g.

Me: Why did you add all this complicated stuff into your project plan?
Student: Because it says the robot should explore the room in the project description.
Me: I'm sure it doesn't, let's take a look.
* We look at the project description. I read it out to the student. Including the bit about finding and displaying Mars surface data in a 3D simulator *
Student (panicked): But I don't know anything about 3D simulators!
Me: But it says in the project description "student must be familiar with 3D simulators"
Student: I didn't read that bit

Bear in mind that the project description is only 3 paragraphs long, I wasn't expecting him to have read and understood 10 pages of fine print. I've no idea what project he thought he'd chosen. I keep telling myself that, with 8 students, there was always a high chance that one would be at the lower end of the bell curve and I shouldn't invest too much time and energy in trying to rescue him. As B. has pointed out, there's a reason why I was so happy to give up teaching when I stopped being a lecturer. I'm definitely going to have to work on keeping my stress levels down, even with the fairly minimal amount of teaching that comes with the new post.

Wednesday: Went to a briefing meeting for an "Inreach" project in which I will mentor a bunch of undergraduates producing an activity for a University "Science Jamboree". Actually got some work that might pass for research done!

Thursday: Drove to work in order to collect the "robot table" that I use for some events. Problem project student emailed asking for a meeting because he couldn't get his Raspberry Pi onto the university Wifi network. Although I did actually have time I figured I could waste quite a lot of it on a day ear-marked for research doing this for him, so emailed back to say I wasn't available and he should familiarise him with running his Raspberry Pi powered robot directly, rather than over the network (was terribly proud of myself). B's older brother was at home when I arrived, though he left before my sister turned up to stay the night (she was speaking at a conference in Manchester).

Friday: Went out for lunch with B. We tried the new(ish) restaurant at the Whitworth which had been much trumpeted when it opened (indeed last time we tried to go there for lunch we couldn't get in). It was something of a disappointment the starter arrived after the main course (though B. thinks this was because we messed up when ordering) and my burger was burnt (B. tried to persuade me it was artistically char-grilled, but I'm fairly sure it was burnt). Conference call in the afternoon with the IEEE committee that's trying to come up with guidelines on the ethics of artificial intelligence and personal data.

Saturday: Spent the day at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry running a Lego Rover stand as part of International Day of the Girl. The plan was that groups of Brownies and Girl Guides would go around various stands to experience structured activities. Initially this was pretty chaotic with random children turning up and leaving, but by about midday they had sorted themselves out and a small group would, indeed, come to the stand to be lead through what was going on. I also talked to a fair few members of the general public and some people from Computing At School North West who seemed interested in the idea of adopting the Lego Rover activity as something primary schools might use, so all in all a useful (if tiring) day.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
As ever, I have got behind on posting about events. I knew the end of May and early June were going to be hectic with trips to Dagstuhl, Bristol and Cheltenham all happening in short order, but somehow things never really let up and it was only last week that I began to think life was beginning to get back to normal a little.

Last year Cheltenham proved to be a major undertaking which swallowed a good part of my time for four to six weeks for, I felt, somewhat dubious returns in terms of actual engagement with the public. This year we were actually approached to participate, rather than volunteering via various contacts which was nice. The Research Councils were jointly sponsoring a marquee with a space theme (the Space Dome) in order to capitalise on all the excitement around Tim Peake.

We took the decision that we would participate for half the week. The Space theme meant we wouldn't have to alter the Lego Rover activity in anyway to make it work with the marquee theme and I thought that three days would actually be considerably easier than six to manage in terms of the number of volunteers required etc. Instead of taking a team of eight people, some of whom only did a few days, I took a team of two. I worked them pretty hard but over three days that didn't actually exhaust anyone. Apart from the discovery that we didn't have enough hotel nights booked, everything went pretty smoothly and the amount of preparation needed in advance was minimal.

I think our stand worked a lot better as well. This was mostly a case of the additional programming work that had taken place over the summer. Thanks to some money from the STFC we'd hired a student to implement the activity on Android tablets, rather than on laptops. But I think the practice we'd had running the activity at various local events during the year meant we were much better at actually moving children at the stand beyond the "drive a robot" stage and into discussions of sensors and programming and so on.

It still cost in the region of a couple of thousand pounds to do, so if we get asked in future we'll have to think about budget and what we get out of it. I think it is fun, is a good experience for the PhD students who help out, and raises our profile as a public engagement activity. I think we did better in terms of actual engagement with science this year, but I find it hard to evaluate how much value we actually deliver in those terms and I continue to think that school visits are more worthwhile on that front. All in all I think the costs versus the benefits are fairly borderline. I certainly think we'd need something more (which might involve broadening our stand to include more of the robotics work at Liverpool or some such) before I'd contemplate putting the resources into a whole week.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
Sunday: Ran in the Great North 10K with [livejournal.com profile] kargicq (will write up in due course!). Had a very pleasant lunch in the garden with his family before heading back to Manchester.

Monday: B. left for Texas early in the morning, while I headed to work arriving just in time for a morning of meetings.

Tuesday: Spent the day tying up various public engagement loose ends.

Wednesday: Two back to back Dangerous Science workshops sessions on "Programming AI" aimed at (I think) 17 year-olds which I'd got roped into running via a complicated sequence of events. The first was a bit dicey so I skipped lunch in order to regig the material. The second session went well. I then spent a hurried hour printing out leaflets and re-writing a brief for publicity material before getting to the railway station only to discover my train had been cancelled and the next train to Manchester only had two carriages so I was standing as far as Birchwood. I was fairly out-of-it by the time I got home, fortunately supper was planned to be pizza which has the virtue of being fairly mindless to prepare.

Thursday: More public engagement loose ends, plus reading things for the thing I'm doing tomorrow (apologies for the vagueness but a) I signed an NDA and b) the organisation involved seems to want everyone to believe they are one step behind the step they are actually at).

Friday: Read more of the things. Last day of school for G who was delighted to discover that nearly all her friends will be in her class next year. So delighted she recorded herself squeaking for joy on her phone as she walked home. She was less delighted with the sentence "She appears to enjoy Physical Education" that appeared in her report and spent some time complaining about it before conceding that Rounders and Netball were probably all right.

Saturday: Spent all day at the Daresbury Open Week Family Day with the Lego Rovers. 9,000 people had registered and I had over 250 at the Lego Rover stand. Daresbury supplied several volunteers to help me and I was impressed with the way they picked up the essentials of the activity and were able to communicate them to kids after minimal (and in one case non-existent) briefings. Unsuprisingly I had once again planned pizza for supper, though at least this time I had known I would be exhausted when I got back since I was going to be there for 10 hours with only a half hour break for lunch.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
We are pleased to confirm that your paper:

Agent-based Autonomous Systems and Abstraction Engines: Theory meets Practice

has been accepted as a full paper at TAROS 2016, the 17th Towards Autonomous Robotic Systems conference.

This paper is more a set of system descriptions covering work on autonomous robot arms (done as part of the Reconfigurable Autonomy project I was working on until a couple of years ago), work on autonomous vehicle platoons (done as part of the Verifiable Autonomy project I'm currently working on) and the Lego Rovers work - and noting some incremental changes the practice of building these systems has had on the theory behind them.

However since we spend quite a lot of time system/demo building and they are really hard to write up and get published I'm quite pleased to get this published, even as a minor conference paper. It also helps maintain the link to research in the Lego Rovers work which I think is good in principle, and will help with any putative impact case.


Jun. 25th, 2015 10:10 pm
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
I wrote something about Cheltenham Science Festival for the Verifiable Autonomy project blog. Most people following here, probably already know all about it anyway, but it saves me writing something thoughtful about Gareth Roberts' Shada novelisation.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
I'm still hoping to write something vaguely coherent about Cheltenham, but in the meantime have a pic spam.

Under the Cut )
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
I've still not really recovered enough to be coherent about Cheltenham Science Festival. However here is a photo of myself, boss and minion#1 in the DinoZone

And a link to the university write up of the visit
purplecat: Programming the Eniac Computer (computing)
The robot table was delivered to Manchester Earth Sciences today and will hopefully make its way to Cheltenham over the weekend.

Meanwhile I have trained some minions (which included my boss, so possibly minions isn't the right term) and taken a delivery of T-shirts which turned out to be for the Department of Law and Social Justice. I continue to live in hope that the team will all match next week, although there are only two days left for the T-shirts to put in an appearance.

Here is a photo of Hedy Lamarr, after which one of the lego robot dinosaurs is named. I had to explain to minions that she co-invented the frequency hopping spread spectrum system that underpins modern Bluetooth and Wifi communication. It's interesting that I tend to think the stories about the various female pioneers in Computing are somewhat overused as part of the general drive to encourage more women into the subject and yet then I find out that actually most people haven't heard them. I particularly love the idea that she teamed up with an avant-garde pianist in order to prevent the Nazis jamming allied ship-to-torpedo communication because obviously the team needed to improve the US torpedo technology should consist of a Hollywood actress and an avant-garde pianist - it sounds more like the premise for a spoof spy show than something in real life. I'm wondering if I should ask for Hollywood actresses vs. Nazis for Yuletide this year. I also love the idea that the patterns of frequency hopping used in their original system are based on piano rolls (because, of course).

I think they had all heard of Grace Hopper though B. hadn't. I forgave him because he's only a biologist.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)

Cheltenham Science Festival continues to consume most of my attention. This is me painting the "robot table" the lego robot dinosaurs will be on. The idea is that there should be some "water" and a "path" which the dinosaurs can follow to find the water.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)

Because Lego Rovers is now funded by the Strategic Facilities Technology Council, we have an opportunity to present it in the STFC funded marquee at Cheltenham Science Festival. Despite the fact that the STFC mostly funds particle physics and astronomy this is the "DinoZone" because, well, because Phil Manning (who I refuse to come up with a pseudonym for on the grounds the man is a minor celebrity, even if he is also a neighbour). Since it is the DinoZone, obviously, the Lego Rovers have to look like dinosaurs.

Hence Ada (shown above), named after Ada Lovelace. I also have a Grace though she doesn't look much like a Triceratops yet, and several lists of other prominent female programmers, computer scientists, and other computing professionals.

B. will also be there (he has a kinect-based make the dinosaur dance demo) and will be taking part in Variety Night: An Evening of Unnecessary Detail (for which he has remarkably few details unnecessary or otherwise).

The DinoZone will be open to the public from 3pm-6pm on the 2nd and 3rd June, 3pm-9pm on the 4th and 5th June, and 10am-9pm on the 6th and 7th June. We won't be there the whole time (there are minions) but if you are in the Cheltenham area and may drop in, let us know and we can see how timings match up.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
STEMNet picked me (along with some other STEM Ambassdors) to take part in a series of training videos. They've just been released on the web (the full set, The Lego Rover video, and a Tips and Tricks video which has a few clips of me in it).

I always hate seeing myself on film (doesn't everyone?). This is easily the most professional such thing I've been in and I was still cringing. It was a lot of fun to make though and involved much rapid changing of jumpers to give the illusion that it was filmed over several days.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
As a follow up to the NASA Global Space Apps Hackathon we were invited to take our outcomes for the weekend to the V&A for an exhibition somewhat mysteriously, I felt, named Digital Futures: Urban Open Space. Not one to pass up the opportunity to add "Exhibited at the V&A" to my CV, I agreed. At various points other members of the team hoped that they would also be able to make the exhibition but, at the end of the day, I was the only person who a) wouldn't have to take time off work and b) could claim travel and hotel costs on expenses.

I was a little nervous. In particular, although pretty robust, I wasn't sure if the robots would survive a day in the hands of the sort of visitor numbers the V&A gets. I was also a little worried, given that our front end only worked on a touch sensitive mobile device and didn't really scale small enough for an actual phone, that I would turn my back at some point and B's iPad (borrowed for the occasion) would (not terribly) mysteriously vanish. In the event we were tucked away in a side room with the lights down low (because the Royal Academy of Art were also taking part and their exhibits required low lighting). As a result we looked rather more like an office or workshop where the door had accidentally been left open, than we did an honest to goodness exhibit. Visitor numbers were, as a result, more than manageable. On the second day a more concerted effort was made to get members of the public through the exhibit including several school parties - which was good both for the lego robots and various exhibits brought down by the University of Dundee which were also very focused on children. It was perhaps less good for some of the other exhibits which hadn't been created with primary school kids in mind.

It turned out the exhibit was a mixture of outcomes from the Space Apps hackathon, an Urban Prototyping Hackathon and a Royal Academy end of course exhibition. I was sandwiched between two of the Urban prototyping outputs - a helmet for firemen that would vibrate if the temperature reached a certain level (I was impressed they didn't set fire to anyone's hair when demonstrating this), and WiFungi, a sound-scape device, based on android phones, aimed at bringing the sounds of London's inaccessible green rooves down into people's homes. I was opposite an exhibit from the royal academy that rotated and changed colour based on atmospheric conditions.

I definitely spent more time talking to the other exhibitors than I did to members of the public, though it was great to see [personal profile] sir_guinglain, Sir Kay and [livejournal.com profile] gabcd86 who all dropped by to say hello. [livejournal.com profile] gabcd86 and I also sloped off to look at pictures of abandoned Star Wars sets at the Tate* and then wandered aimlessly around the north bank looking for somewhere to eat (so much for [livejournal.com profile] gabcd86's act as a born and bred londoner). My mother also dropped by to admire the robot, have lunch with me, and let me fix her Access database.

While we were all there the global results came in from the hackathon. One of the London teams had won "Most Inspiring" and both the Exeter winners had honourable mentions in "Best Use of Hardware". The Met Office were very pleased.

*These were considerably smaller pictures than I expected, and it wasn't possible to buy them as prints or anything in the shop which was disappointing. Have been reduced to downloading them from the internet and using them as wallpaper on my computer.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
Over 30 teams worldwide decided to take on my Lego Rover challenge. Having poked around a bit on the Space Apps web site, I reckon that is a pretty good uptake, especially considering I had very little idea of what was expected or wanted from a challenge creator.

One thing I hadn't appreciated, which is a definite beneficial side effect of all this, was that by giving people a challenge to create something, rather than presenting them with some software to download, you give them real ownership of the outcome. I'm overwhelmed by the number of project teams who took on Lego Rovers who are now planning to take their own version of the system in schools in their country. There is absolutely no way, without the NASA Global Space Apps challenge, that my idea for a school-based activity would now be being used to inspire children as far afield as Mexico and Nepal.

An overview of the solutions under the cut )
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (lego robots)
I vaguely promised to keep people posted about the Lego Rovers/Exeter Space Apps hackathon, but everything then got so hectic it all fell by the wayside a bit.

I actually got very little opportunity to talk to people working on my challenge in places other than Exeter (I'll do a second post talking about what some of the other groups achieved!). At Exeter I got to give a short 5 minute talk on my challenge and what it was about and then we were all divvied up into rooms. At this point my project vaguely got attached to a large group from Dundee who were interested in "making data physical". This meant we were in an office with a 3D printer and miscellaneous other toys that eventually proved useful.

If you are interested in what we achieved then [livejournal.com profile] sophievdennis has produced a two minute video about how wonderful we were/are:
Under the Cut )


purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

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