Robots will be given the human touch at this Nottingham lab

This post first appeared on Nottingham Post. Read the original article.

Robots will be taught how to pick up human qualities - to improve how they are used in factories - at a new £11m Nottingham Trent University science building.

Researchers will look to develop techniques that can improve hand-eye coordination for humanoid robots that are used by industry in automated production.

Based at the Clifton Campus and part of the College of Science and Technology, the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Centre (ISTeC) includes two floors of laboratories also dedicated to teaching and research for bioscience, computer science, maths, physics, chemistry, sports science and engineering.

Speaking as the facility was unveiled at a ceremony today (Monday, November 20), college head Prof Martin McGinnity said research in the robot arena tied into Industry 4.0 – the so-called “fourth industrial revolution” that describes the trend of artificial intelligence and machine learning being used to create more efficient factories and better production systems.

Professor Martin McGinnity pictured with a robot in the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Centre at Nottingham Trent University

“As humans, we’ll automatically grasp an object if someone holds it out to us, but challenges like that can be harder for robots,” he said.

“Our visual and auditory perceptions are different. Giving robots those capabilities so they can work safely and effectively alongside humans is one of the things we’re looking at here.

“At the moment those movements are quite crude, like if our fingers are frozen and we can’t open a bottle very easily.

Postgraduate researcher David Adama demonstrates the use of a robot at the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Centre at Nottingham Trent University

“If you can give a robot that sense of touch, it can allow them to sense something that’s very gentle and do more fine manipulation tasks.

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“It’s capabilities that we take for granted as humans and they need to be developed from scratch for robots.

“This is coming – robotics and automation are a big issue for the UK right now and we need to make sure we’re equipped in terms of the skills and capability to take advantage, bringing products to market faster, cheaper and more efficiently.”

Inside the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Centre at Nottingham Trent University

The robots include a Sawyer robot arm, with its hand and fingertips created using parts from different manufacturers to increase its tactile sensing capability, and the £100,000 iCub humanoid robot that is designed for research.

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The science and technology centre will be used by undergraduate and postgraduate students, as well as research scientists.

It aims to enable students to engage in advanced technical, team-working and industry-relevant project work, helping to increase their skills and knowledge for the workplace and leading to enhanced employability.

Inside the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Centre at Nottingham Trent University

It will bring STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – subjects together to support collaboration between different subject areas and between students and researchers.

Integrating various disciplines is part of the building’s ethos and the university hopes to find new ways of collaborating with industry.

The 30,000 sq ft development comes after the university secured £5 million from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) in recognition of the importance of teaching and learning in STEM.

Dame Judith Hackett, chairwoman of the UK Health and Safety Executive as well as the Engineering Employers Federation, officially opened the building.

The new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Centre at Nottingham Trent University

Nottingham Trent University vice-chancellor Edward Peck said: “It gives us much more capacity to develop our science, which both helps to develop students who can boost the local economy while driving research and innovation/

“We do research here that stands comparison with any other research in the world, and this is the latest example.”

PhD student Nikesh Lama demonstrates the use of a robotic arm at the new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Centre at Nottingham Trent University

Computational neuroscience student Nikesh Lama, of Clifton, uses the robot arena lab.

The 29-year-old said: “This is really big for us because for robots we need a fairly large area to do experiments.

“It will attract more students wanting to get involved in robotics because of the facilities on offer here.”