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Our Project Managers

Rowanne Miller
David Morrison
Ruth Plant

Rowanne Miller

What is your background and areas of expertise?

I graduated from The University of Glasgow in 2020 with an MA in Business and Management and completed my dissertation on the impact of emotional intelligence on project management leadership styles.  Since then, I have worked my way up through project management roles, starting as a project controller managing the finances and timelines of projects, before completing my APM PMQ and Advanced Agile Practitionership, and moving into a Project Manager role. Throughout the various sectors I’ve worked in, there’s always been an element of emerging technology and engineering, which was incredibly useful when joining the National Robotarium in 2022.

What attracted you to working at the National Robotarium?

The culture! The National Robotarium is a place where everyone is encouraged to share ideas, collaborate effectively, and work with empowerment and autonomy. Having worked under more traditional leadership styles, I was excited to work where my views were valued and heard, and where I had the ability to share my knowledge and learn from others. Spending every day with robots was also a bit of a bonus!

Describe a typical day as a Project Manager at the National Robotarium

There really isn’t a typical day as a PM – one day I could be hosting a full-day technical workshop with a new client or completing a financial review of a project, the next I could be helping to move a giant robot tentacle! If I had to summarise a day, it would be a lot of collaboration with every team at the National Robotarium to make sure every aspect of a project runs smoothly.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

The people – everyone at the National Robotarium is incredible to work with and I have learned so much over the past two years. Everyone is supportive of your goals, works together to deliver high-quality projects, and believes in the benefits of robotics for society – and we have a laugh every now and then!

What skills and attributes make a great Project Manager?

You have to be a great communicator, but an even better listener. A lot of a PM’s role at the National Robotarium is about communicating engineering concepts and problems with customers who might have no prior knowledge of robotics. To do this, you have to be able to listen and learn from our engineering team, learn from feedback, and truly understand the business needs of our customers. A good PM is constantly learning and adapting.

David Morrison

What is your background and areas of expertise?

I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Heriot-Watt University and worked in the offshore energy sector for a decade, initially as a design engineer progressing to manufacturing support, project engineer, and then client engineering representative on offshore inspection maintenance and repair campaigns.  In 2016 I retrained through CodeClan which enabled me to work as a QA Engineer, Developer then Agile Project Manager on mobile and web app projects in the finance and agritech sectors.

What attracted you to working at the National Robotarium?

I mean who doesn’t want to build cool robots?!  I grew up with Lego, Star Wars, Transformers, Iron Man and all the 80s Sci-Fi films.  This directly influenced my decision to become an engineer; I wanted to build the machines of the future.

Working in the offshore sector gave me access to ROVs (submersible robots),  remote control and sensing projects.  The tech sector gave me exposure to analytics, user experience design and AI so when I saw the job at the National Robotarium it immediately felt like I could bring all my experiences together in this one role.  The opportunity to work at the bleeding edge of technology, applying robotics research to solve societal and industry problems is just too exciting!

Describe a typical day as a Project Manager at the National Robotarium

It’s cliché to say but no day is typical because we have such a wide variety of projects, events and engagements going on and as PMs, we span it all.  Currently, my day is mostly dedicated to a large research programme I am managing, which has team of around 26, encompassing industry partners, academics and subcontractors. I’m the point-person for any issues and development which can range from contracts, finances, resources, equipment, safety and logistics.  The team is distributed between the four sites, one of which is overseas so ensuring good team cohesion, managing expectations and maintaining constant communications are probably my most important tasks.  In addition to the four projects in that programme, I also have two smaller unrelated projects to manage, one in the fisheries sector and one in logistics.  Outside of managing projects I regularly contribute to project proposals with the Business Development Team and Engineers, host and participate in internal and external industry workshops, attend site visits, and host tours with potential collaborators.  I also regularly organise social events for the team, such as Fringe days, pub quiz or team hikes.  It’s busy but really fun!

What do you enjoy most about your role?

It’s hard to pick one thing; I work with some great people, many of whom and leaders in their field of expertise which is very cool, but we also get to engage with robot enthusiasts young and old because tech is for everyone, and that’s fun.  All the projects are about trying to make life a little better for someone either doing a job no-one does because of labour shortages, or no-one wants to do it because it is dull, dirty or dangerous so the role is socially rewarding for me. But most of all, have you seen the cool robots we use daily in our workshops?!  That has got to be the best part.

What skills and attributes make a great Project Manager?

A great PM must be adaptable -one minute you will be talking contract law, and the next it could be technical detail on control systems so being able to context-switch.

Networking is the partner skill to context-switching because whilst you’ll need to know a little about a lot, you also need to know the experts you can lean on.

The PM is a “fixer” role.  You deal with problems head-on and wrestle with different people, systems, organisations, and legal frameworks to get your project over the line.

I think a large part of being a PM is understanding people.  Everyone works differently and has different personality traits, strengths and weaknesses.  The core of my job is to deliver projects and I can only do that if everyone in my team is empowered to make and take decisions.  It’s also important to adapt the communication style across the team to suit everyone so you get the best out of everyone.

As a PM you need to be able to be calm in the face of adversity.  It’s important to use the skills and knowledge of everyone around you, even outside your team and above you to find solutions.

Lastly, I think it is important to be trustworthy and accountable, to everyone involved on the project and its stakeholders.

Ruth Plant

What is your background and areas of expertise?

I have been working in the higher education sector since 2015. In my previous role in Business Development, I was responsible for identifying, developing, and securing commercial opportunities, supporting strategic projects, and building long-term, valuable relationships with stakeholders. Before that, I worked as a Business and Memberships Manager, where I led business activities and membership sales, developed and trained the operational team, and lead key projects.

What attracted you to working at the National Robotarium?

I was attracted to working at the National Robotarium because of its cutting-edge research and innovation in the fast-developing world of robotics and artificial intelligence. The role sounded incredibly exciting and dynamic, offering the opportunity to collaborate with leading experts and help drive impactful projects forward.

Describe a typical day as a Project Manager at the National Robotarium

I would say there is no ‘typical day’, each day is varied and diverse, depending on the current projects and their phases. Tasks include project team check-in meetings/project stand-ups, responding to emails, hosting stakeholder meetings, creating and reviewing project work plans and other project documentation, procuring project resources, and updating project workboards and tasks to ensure projects run on time, within budget, and to the required quality standards.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy the variety and range of interesting and unique projects I am involved in. I find this diversity of projects and the impact they have really fascinating, and I love being a part of it.

What skills and attributes make a great Project Manager?

I would say listening and effective, clear communication skills would be up there! These skills are crucial not only for collaboration within the project team but also for building strong relationships with project stakeholders. However, having a high degree of adaptability and the ability to lead and organise teams are also really important.

Professor Oliver Lemon

Academic co-lead at The National Robotarium

Professor Oliver Lemon

Welcome to the National Robotarium Oliver! Can you tell us a little bit about your research and what you’ll be bringing to the team?

My research is focused on building AI systems and robots that can talk to humans like real people. For effective collaboration between future AIs and robots, it’s important they should be able to converse using natural language rather than by using commands on screens and keyboards. That means both being able to understand human speech and to generate useful and appropriate responses for people, for example when answering questions or assisting in a task. I’m especially focussed on conversational interactions, where people and machines collaborate using sequences of utterances, and where there is a context of interaction, for example a shared task, or an image or video.

Currently, we’re working on developing Large Language Models (LLMs), like ChatGPT, for robots. This is really exciting as it means humans and robots can collaborate more effectively as the information shared is more accurate and trustworthy than before. It can also be used in visual situations, talking about images or videos for example, and can handle conversations that involve more than one person in noisy or complex settings.

My role as academic lead at the National Robotarium means I’ll oversee the facility’s research strategy and strengthen academic collaborations across both partner institutions, Heriot-Watt and The University of Edinburgh.

As well as providing academic oversight to t he National Robotarium, I also work at our spin-out company Alana AI. Most of my time there is working with other scientists to develop new systems and models for human-language processing, collecting data to train the systems, and then evaluating them in different experiments with people.

What have been your career highlights so far?

As I’ve been doing this work for over 20 years, I have several! The first would be at Stanford University where, back in 2001, we created one of the very first systems for humans to interact using conversational speech with robots. This led to a collaboration with researchers at NASA.

The next was when I was collaborating with researchers from Professor Steve Young’s group at Cambridge University. Together we pioneered Reinforcement Learning methods for conversational AI in a series of EU-funded project.

More recently, a highlight has been competing in the Amazon Alexa Prize for several years, where we deployed our conversational AI systems across the US, reaching the final each time. That real-world experience led to the formation of our spin-out company Alana AI, which is now working on medical applications of conversational AI.

What impact do you think robotics and AI research can have on the world?

I hope my research will lead to everyone in the world having access to their own private and personal conversational AI assistant that can support their effectiveness, creativity, critical thinking, and wellbeing. That said, as well as huge opportunities, there are also potential pitfalls in the recent development of LLMs and conversational robots. It’s important to me to engage with a variety of perspectives and experiences that are relevant for how we develop such technology in the future.

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

Fernando Auat Cheein

Associate Professor in Robotics and Autonomous (RAS) Systems

Fernando Auat Cheein

Tell us about your research – what does it involve?

My work is primarily focused in robotics and perception in the agricultural context. It goes from new sensors and sensing techniques to new robotic platforms and motion strategies that could benefit the agriculture industry. Although lately my work has been focused on new ways to characterise groves, it still essentially looks to address fundamental problems in robotics, such as new motion strategies conditioned to environment, task and energy constraints.

I am committed to supporting and developing the talented researchers of the future. Currently, sustainable agriculture is a very important global issue and I feel it is my duty to encourage and inspire the next generation who will help solve the problems that are still to come.

However, I would like to emphasise that my work is divided into two: 1. the work that I do as part of my research and 2. the work I do when an industrial challenge appears. The best times are when both dimensions converge!

What is the potential impact of this work? Robots and agriculture don’t seem like the most obvious bedfellows.

Nowadays, worldwide agriculture is part of a new technology revolution that aims to address modern challenges, such as the carbon footprint, green agriculture (the replacement of combustion engines for electric ones), and the lack of human workforce, which has been a latent problem in the last few decades. World population grows but farms are emptier now than in the 1980s. New generations are leaving farms to live in cities where they can get new job opportunities and that leaves farms in a very difficult situation. Robotics and technology in general seem to be a solution, even partially, to the problems faced by the agricultural sector and this is where our work can achieve positive impact. Agriculture, from a robotics perspective, is still an unknown scenario and there is a lot of work to be done to improve the efficiency of the agricultural process as a whole.

What has been the proudest achievement in your academic career so far?

At this point, I could cite a few publications or patents but, instead, I prefer to mention my graduates. They represent the greatest achievements in my career. They are working as researchers or academics in several countries, and some of them are working with the finest researchers in the field. I’m happy to see that they are following the path they started with me.

I’m also particularly proud of being an Associate Editor of the two top journals in the field: Computers and Electronics in Agriculture, and Biosystems Engineering. They are the reference journals for robotics and perception in agriculture.

Finally, coming to the School of Engineering and Physical Sciences at Heriot-Watt and being part of an amazing team of researchers from the National Robotarium, has been a very notable step in my career to date.

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

The National Robotarium represents an amazing opportunity to create robotic solutions to the challenges faced by industry and society. It recognises the intensive work undertaken by the researchers and academics, and their students, with support of the institutions that are part of it. In time, I have no doubt that the National Robotarium will be recognisable worldwide for its excellence, not only in research but also because of its innovate solutions to the industry problems of today.

Dr Jonaton Scharff Willners

Senior Robotics Engineer and Director of Frontier Robotics

Dr Jonaton Scharff-Willners

What does the role of National Robotarium Engineer involve?

The role is very varied. I am mainly focused on writing software for autonomy and path-planning, but get to join in on the design process for hardware too as well as leading technical projects and going on lots of field trials. In addition, as I come from the academic side, I am still able to continue my research when projects we’re working on overlap with my field of interest.

What appealed to you about joining the team?

I have the honour of being the first engineer hired for the National Robotarium. Prior to that, I held a postdoctoral position within the ORCA Hub, which I started after completing my PhD in Marine Robotics from Heriot-Watt University. As the ORCA project transitioned to the National Robotarium, where we can apply the latest research to solve problems that industries are facing, it was the ideal next step for me.

When did your interest in robotics engineering begin?

It started in 2010, when I started studying robotics at Mälardalen’s University in my home country of Sweden. I was first drawn to it to build prosthetics for amputees but during a project course, we built an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) to compete in RoboSub. I found my true passion in this project and marine robotics has been my main focus ever since.

What makes you passionate about marine robots in particular?

I grew up on an island, Gotland, in the middle of the Baltic Sea, so the ocean has always held an important role in my life. It can be a place of calm and relaxation and yet it is also a very treacherous environment for humans to work in. As the UK expands its energy to offshore wind farms, it is becoming increasingly important to keep people safe in these environments. The deployment of marine robots enables operators to manage inspections and repairs from land instead of offshore. From a research perspective, there are so many problems in marine robotics left for us to solve. For example, there is no reliable way for fast communication in water and, as autonomous systems need this to be robust and reliable, it’s a very interesting challenge to work on.

How can we inspire the next generation of roboticists?

The National Robotarium has been doing great outreach to show the benefits of robotics and AI. We are often showcasing our robots, both on land and in water, demonstrating tasks that they can accomplish in real life. So far, I have not seen anyone who has not been impressed – seeing a remote-controlled mechanical dog or an underwater robot move around is mesmerising! I’m sure that by continuing to show children and the public that they too can be future roboticists will make many of them start tinkering with one of the  robot beginner kits that exist today.

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

The National Robotarium bridges the gap between industry and research. We want industry to be able to use the latest research to deliver safer and more efficient operations and collaborating with the National Robotarium is a great way to utilise our specialists’ knowledge and test how far a project can go in a short period of time.

Dr Karen Donaldson

Project Manager

Dr Karen Donaldson

Tell us about your background. How has it led you to a career in robotics?

Since I was very young I have always had a strong interest in science and engineering, with a particular passion for space science and engineering.

My first degree was a BSc (Hons) in Physics from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow followed by an MSc in High Power Radio Frequency Science and Engineering, and PhD in Space beam-wave interaction Physics. I had not necessarily thought about my career ‘path’ when I was much younger and just starting my undergraduate degree, however by the time I finished my degree, I knew I wanted to work in positions that were conducting space related research.

My step into the robotics sector came through my first role as a Research Associate in the Space Mechatronic (SMeSTech) Laboratory at the University of Strathclyde, working across engineering, physics and chemistry. After working in the Mechatronics laboratory as a space systems design engineer, I got a position in the Soft Systems Group at the University of Edinburgh where I worked briefly on the ORCA (Offshore Robotics for Certification of Assets) project and set-up a Robotics SuperLab with Prof. Adam Stokes, who is now one of the co-academic leads for the National Robotarium.

What do you enjoy about working in robotics?

I love working in the field of robotics as it is consistently interesting and demonstrating great innovation.

As a disruptive technology, it is always radically changing and contributing to advances in technology. There are also different forms of robotics such as modular (micro to industrial scale), wearable technology and soft robotic solutions. It is completely multidisciplinary with applications for a huge variety of sectors such as space, agriculture, healthcare and manufacturing, all of which add to the excitement for my curious mind.

I am always asking myself why does this happen and how does this happen. Science and engineering give me the ability to investigate and explain how things work, including the natural processes of the universe. My mother told me that from an early age my favourite question was “Why for?!” which I would ask my parents over and over for an explanation as to why things were doing what they do, and this is still the case today!

What is a typical day like for a Project Manager at the National Robotarium?

I love new experiences and being a Project Manager at the National Robotarium allows me to meet people and go to places and have discussions with a variety of sectors that I ordinally may not.

Day-to-day, the job is very busy. My tasks involve keeping track of the progress of various different robotics projects, devising mitigation plans to ensure deadlines and deliverable goals are met, meeting with industry stakeholders and working closely with our team of Robotics Engineers.

International Women’s Day was this month. What advice would you give to women and girls who are interested in a STEM career?
My advice would be to just get into it. If this is what you want to do and you have a passion for science and engineering, then get involved.

It is also good to surround yourself with like-minded, ambitious people and take advice from those who have gone before you and established themselves in similar fields. I am privileged to have been a finalist for the WES (Women in Engineering society) Top 50 Women in Engineering (Sustainability) 2020 as well as the winner of WES Top 50 Women in Engineering (Engineering Heroes) 2021 and it was wonderful to get recognition from my peers and mentors.

Remember, no two people’s paths are the same, so don’t compare yourself to others. My path to where I am now was a winding one but that didn’t stop me from getting there. So keep your head down, eyes up and remember: failure is not an option!

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

The National Robotarium is always considering the future of robotics and its integration into our society. It is a world-leading centre that strives to have impact on society through the development and adoption of robotic solutions, with collaborations across academia and industry around the world.

Cate Sutton

Graphic Designer, Heriot-Watt University

Cate Sutton

What were your inspirations and goals when creating the National Robotarium brand?

It’s important to have a clear understanding of the purpose and scope of the project. For the National Robotarium, I received a concise brief and worked in close collaboration with a small yet highly knowledgeable project team throughout my design process, which was invaluable.

Starting with scribbles as a visual exploration of thoughts, I approach design with the intention to arrive at a solution with a strong rationale, a clear purpose and meaning.

I also got inspiration from immersing myself in design research, reading relevant research papers, watching NASA talks, and aligning my findings to nature and wellbeing. It was this process that helped me arrive at the ‘origami’ approach - a true eureka moment! The rationale was sound and made perfect sense for The National Robotarium. I was inspired, excited, and motivated to develop the design further.

How does the design fit in with the new facility itself?

When creating a brand identity, it is important to consider many applications and scenarios. I intended the finished design to simply fit wherever it was placed, appearing effortless in its presence – subtle and bold in equal measure.

I was fortunate to collaborate with the architects and project teams and get access to building plans early in the project. It was important to me that the brands pattern design flowed through the building with consistency in size on manifestations and wall graphics.

You developed the newly-launched National Robotarium website – how did you approach this and what do you think makes a good science and technology website?

For any design challenge, understanding the brief, the platform, the story, and the audience is critical to a successful solution. At this stage the brand identity was like a creative muscle memory to me, so this was a relatively easier solution to solve. I had a clear creative approach in my mind for an impactful website design. The team at The National Robotarium thankfully agreed.

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

Science and technology is inspired by nature and people’s needs. The National Robotarium creates the opportunity for researchers and businesses to responsibly develop robotics and technology, with people and their challenges at the heart of the process. The global impact of their creative solutions in healthcare, wellbeing, security and safety will positively impact future generations.

Read more about the National Robotarium brand.

Martin Ross

PhD student in computer science

Martin Ross

What does your research entail?

My research project is investigating how and to what extent an adaptive robotic coach can be used to aid the process of long-term rehabilitation after stroke and adherence to repetitive solo practices in squash. So far I have run a study using the Pepper robot in which it coached participants through 15-minute solo practice sessions.

Next, we will be investigating if a very similar system can be used to coach users through individual rehabilitation sessions. If this is successful, the final stage of the project will be to investigate the long-term effects of such a system on the motivation and adherence of both groups of people to their respective individual exercise routines, when the system adapts its behaviours to individual users.

How do you expect your research will impact society?

I hope that the work I do in my PhD can have a real impact on the lives of people recovering from a stroke by motivating them to adhere to an at-home exercise routine. Likewise, I hope that this project can contribute to the growing body of research concerning technology in sports. Not only this, but the methods used to develop the robotic coaching system could be replicated in other domains to produce systems capable of motivating people in different scenarios.

What’s the biggest challenge you face in your research?

Other than the obvious challenges that COVID has thrown up (e.g. not having access to the lab, being unable to run in-person experiments for an extended period of time), one of the biggest challenges has been integrating different technologies to implement a working system. For example, the robotic squash coach uses a racket-mounted sensor to gather data on a player’s swing which is then processed by our algorithms to give appropriate feedback through the Pepper robot.

How did you become interested in robotics?

About 9 years ago I went to an undergraduate open day at Heriot-Watt and saw a demonstration of SoftBank’s humanoid Nao robot. Ever since then, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. Here I am, 9 years later, and it has become a reality for me!

Talal Shaikh

Associate Professor, Heriot-Watt University Dubai

Talal Shaikh

Why is it important to showcase the work of the National Robotarium on a global stage like Expo2020 in Dubai?

Globally, Expo 2020 Dubai provides a showcase of what countries have to offer. Expo 2020 Dubai is the ideal place to showcase all that can be done to contribute to a better world in the future. We are perfectly suited to the theme, Connecting Minds and Creating the Future, of Expo 2020.

What does your work involve?

Currently, I teach courses in Artificial Intelligence and Intelligent Robotics at Heriot Watt University’s Dubai campus’s School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences.  In addition to teaching, I work with students on different research projects that range from Food Computers, Contactless Smart Home systems to Robotic Navigation in airports.

After switching to the academic world from the corporate world, I’ve been able to help the students bridge the gap between what’s taught in a classroom-setting versus what’s done in the actual workplace. As a teacher, it is my goal to promote deeper understanding and stimulate interest in the subject.

In my role as a researcher, I currently focus on the health domain where I work on contactless sensing of vital signs to better support people in smart home environments and when they are interacting with a robot. One of the major goals is user experience and satisfaction in smart spaces, as well as safety and security. Digitally understanding human emotions is also crucial for smart spaces and human-robot interaction research.

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

The Robotarium is developing innovative solutions to global challenges by being a leader in the field of robotics and artificial intelligence. By taking research from the lab to the marketplace, the facility contributes substantially to society.

What message do you want to share at Expo about your work?

Since a young age, I have been intrigued by how machines talk with each other. This led me to make things like machines, devices, robots, software etc. talk with each other and thereby achieve a common goal. The impact of this is much more amplified if the task is to solve some human-related goal. For that to happen it has to be solved through machine understanding of various human nuances that make up interactions.

There is research that was funded by Expo Live 2020 team to look into Human Lip reading from videos to help hard of hearing people interact with people in noisy environments. This was implemented as an intelligent kiosk and the information was generated from fusing the audio and lip movement to generate the corresponding text. Projects like this will help in better understanding human interactions and will make it easier for people inhabiting smart environments. Currently, my focus is to detect in a non-intrusive way to detect the vital signs of people using ubiquitous available devices like wireless routers at home using Wifi waves.

In the past, I have run events for school children to interact with robots like Romo, Lego Mindstorm, and Cozmo using social media platforms like Twitter. I used the robots in many different ways like races, wrestling etc, and I was thrilled to see how such events impacted the children’s perception of human robot interaction.

Steve Maclaren

Chief Operating Officer

Steve MacLaren

Welcome to the National Robotarium Steve! What excites you about joining the team?

Thanks very much, I am absolutely delighted to have joined the National Robotarium! This has to be the most exciting role I have taken on in my career, a real opportunity to be part of something that has such significant meaning to society as a whole. And to be a part of it right from the very start is an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

The cultural and educational environment where our facility is established, is second-to-none – we are in an area that nurtures and supports the best academic minds in our field and I am very excited to be able to work with and learn from those experts on a daily basis.

Add to all of that, the amazing surroundings, a state-of-the-art building to operate from and a fantastic team to work with makes it the most exciting role I could have wished for.

What is your background and what experience do you bring to this new role?

My background is quite varied which I hope will help me deliver the responsibilities of COO successfully. I started my career in the Royal Navy as a helicopter engineer due to a love and fascination with all things that fly, in particular helicopters appear to defy all logic when it comes to flight!

I served on a number of operational units during my long career as an engineer but also developed an interest in mathematics and computer science, which led me into a number of data-oriented roles during my service. I then left the Navy and took up a number of aircraft service delivery roles within Leonardo, including managing complex multi-million pound support contracts, technical support, management of engineering facilities and front line operational support on military bases.

An interim period with General Electric also gave me great experience with the exploitation of digital tools in the creation of a digital enterprise that focused on maximising product efficiency, engines, avionics etc.

I feel that having been responsible for complex financial contracts, customer-focused services, and digital enterprise development, I have a good deal of experience across the entire end-to-end lifecycle of products, as well as all of the cross-functional support that an enterprise needs to deliver.

I will certainly look to draw on all of that experience to help make the National Robotarium a success!

As Chief Operating Officer, what will be your main areas of focus?

My focus is going to be customer first and making sure they get an outstanding service and experience from the National Robotarium.

Our vision is to be completely digitally-enabled throughout whilst ensuring our processes are simple and effective. That applies to how we engage outwardly with people and how we manage activity and partnerships through joint projects. It’s vital that we are clear, transparent and trustworthy at all times, ensuring we demonstrate value for money and always deliver quality outcomes on time.

I’ll also be looking to work closely with all of our sponsors and stakeholders with the same values to ensure that we are collaborative at all times. In order to achieve all of this I will be working with the team as we develop our core operating themes and processes.

Underpinning all of this will be a core digital backbone. I’ll be working closely with our digital and IT experts to design and create our National Robotarium digitally enabled enterprise.

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

I think we are globally significant as we are looking to address problems for the overall good of society, on a global scale. By advancing the research and application of robotics and AI, we can automate the predictable, help keep people safe, and deliver better outcomes for healthcare, manufacturing, labour markets and quality of life.

The UK is renowned for innovation and has a thriving research and development culture. I see the National Robotarium becoming a shining example of these values ensuring that we attract partners and investment from across the globe.

Carlos Mastalli

Assistant Professor, Robot Motor Intelligence (RoMI) Lab

You are the head of the Robot Motor Intelligence Lab – what does that involve?

In the Robot Motor Intelligence (RoMI) Lab, we focus on creating motor intelligence in robots with arms and legs. Motor intelligence technology means robots can replace human beings in dangerous or repetitive tasks and could unlock a wide range of concrete industrial applications such as offshore inspection and intervention.

We look for computational principles that help us understand the motor functions in relation to rich sensory data, multi-contact motions and unmodelled environmental dynamics. As head of the lab, my main responsibility is to conceptually design this vision, to inspire and train young scientists in developing their research, and to translate findings into opportunities for industry.

Tell us a bit about your academic career – what’s your background?

Since a very young age, I have been fascinated by our world and its beautiful complexity. I pursued a degree in mechanical engineering so I could build complex systems, such as human propulsion technology, which led to an interest in building autonomous machines and robots, especially those that move with the agility of living beings.

I learned how to build legged robots, from mechatronics to perception systems, during my PhD in Robotics at the Istituto di Tecnologia and then moved to LAAS-CNRS in Toulouse, France to understand more about numerical optimisation and optimal control.

Since then, I created Crocoddyl, an open-source library for multi-contact optimal control that is having a significant impact in the robotics community, and have had the opportunity to work at the University of Edinburgh, ETH Zurich, the Alan Turing Institute and other research labs all over the world.

What inspired you to work at the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics?

The Edinburgh Centre for Robotics has very impressive laboratories, equipment and robots – anyone in this field would agree! I also heard lots of nice stories about Edinburgh from various colleagues and certainly agree, it is a lovely place to live.

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

In the last few years, we have seen the use of autonomous robots shift from research labs into industrial application and I believe this is the right time to speed up investment in this technology. The National Robotarium will help us boost the deployment of autonomous robot systems into industry, creating a global impact.

Liza Masson

Joint President of the Robotics Society at Heriot-Watt

Liza Masson

What made you interested in studying robotics?

The main reason comes from my personal experience. I have been deaf since I was born and, as I grew older, I started imagining solutions to problems I was facing regularly. My dad was working a lot with electronics and that also inspired me to follow the path to become a Robotics Engineer.

I think that robotics is the right field to improve deaf people’s lives as well as the whole disabled community more generally. I’m a firm believer that ultimately, anything that benefits the disabled community can serve the wider society.

What do you enjoy about your course?

I really enjoy Heriot-Watt University’s teaching method, which offers a lot of ‘hands-on’ classes as soon as you start in first year. We still have lectures and tutorials that are more theory-based but we then have practical labs and projects to apply the theory. This is something that makes me more motivated and helps me properly understand what I’m learning.

I just finished my third year, and I can say that the highlight of those past three years is the group project we’ve just finished. The project outline was very wide, giving us a lot of freedom on how we should tackle the problem. I think it was a great way to introduce us to the engineering culture of ‘problem-solving’.

You are Joint President of the Robotics Society at Heriot-Watt. What does that entail?

Being Joint President of the Robotics Society is a great experience that is teaching me a lot about myself as well as robotics outside of the academic environment. I co-founded the society in my first year and it has been amazing seeing the society grow and gather more and more people interested in robotics.

We organise workshops, training and multiple events that are open to any students interested in electronics and robotics.

I’ve also recently led the creation of our first society newsletter. The EECE (Electronics, Electrical and Computing Engineering) newsletter includes updates on different student-led groups, researchers, PhD students and even the National Robotarium!

In what way do you think robotics and autonomous systems will fit into our future society?

I like to think that robotics and autonomous systems (RAS) will be an extension of our society, as well as a way to help and support people. We are already seeing a growing presence of intelligent assistants and smart home agents, which are already helping people in their lives. In time, I think these systems will be able to assist in doing time-consuming, repetitive tasks, which will enable us to focus more on the things that matter, like work or family.

And, speaking personally within my own circumstances, I believe that RAS will allow minority groups such as the elderly or disabled to integrate more fully into society than they do now.

Why do you think the National Robotarium is globally significant?

The National Robotarium is something that robotics students at the University are very excited about and confirms that I made the right decision to study here.

Creating a place that gathers world-class specialist facilities, research labs and expert people from all over the country is a brilliant and powerful idea, which will allow different sectors to work together to generate solutions to the world’s problems.

Our Robotics Engineers

Hari Lakshman R.B
Dr Alix Partridge
Rahul Ramachandran

Hari Lakshman R.B

What does the role of Robotics Engineer involve?

Robotics engineers involve themselves in various fields of engineering. It is always a big learning curve, sometimes building robots feels like creating a human child. We have knowledge in coding, software development, and designing prototypes, which involves an extensive understanding of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and control systems. We try and implement cutting-edge machine learning and AI algorithms to make the robot more intelligent and more efficient. For me, I’m still learning lots and lots to become a fine-tuned robotics engineer.

What skills are required to be a good engineer?

Robotics engineers should have skills such as critical thinking and design thinking, programming, active learning, teamwork, safety skills and leadership qualities.

How does engineering improve people’s lives?

Engineering helps to improve people’s lives in every possible way: economically, and ethically, it helps to improve quality of life, solve societal problems, fight against climate change and more.

At the National Robotarium, we use our engineering skills to build robots that can help people with physically or mentally challenging tasks, and improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Dr Alix Partridge

What does the role of Robotics Engineer involve?

For me, the role of robotics engineer is about combining creativity and logical thinking to come up with novel solutions to complex challenges. My specific role within the team is soft robotics engineer, so most of my time is spent playing with interesting materials and structures to create compliant and often bio-inspired mechanisms that provide adequate sensing or actuation to solve a challenge.

What skills are required to be a good engineer?

I don’t think there is a limit to the skills required to be an engineer, nor do I think you can have the wrong skills. I am a great collector of hobbies, from textiles to cooking, pottery to music and I feel that with each new skill, I have a better approach to my work as an engineer. There is such a range of different kinds of engineering now that you can always find a use for the most bizarre of skills! That said, I would advise practising patience as it often takes a lot of failure before a solution is found.

How does engineering improve people’s lives?

During my PhD at the BRL in Bristol, I had many opportunities to interact with the community. What I found most inspiring was when we presented to older generations, or those with disabilities and heard how excited they were about technologies we were creating to tackle the problems they faced in their lives. To see their eyes light up as we presented novel technologies that could aid them was incredible and something that drives me forwards in my work.

Rahul Ramakrishnan

What does the role of Robotics Engineer involve?

“Robotics is an interdisciplinary field and because of that robotics engineer’s role depends on one’s engineering background, be it mechanical, electrical, computer science, sociology or applied physics. For example, a robotics engineer with a degree in Mechanical Engineering would work on the design and modelling of robot mechanics, whereas one with a background in electrical and electronics engineering would develop the robot’s battery management system and its sensors and actuators.”

What skills are required to be a good engineer?

“I believe that to be a good engineer, you must be able to understand the need for an engineering solution to any given problem. It’s not the “what” and “how” but the “why” that comes first.

Be curious, take inspiration from nature and question EVERYTHING! Analytical thinking is very important as is the ability to communicate effectively in a collaborative environment. It is helpful to have an engineering degree, but it is not always necessary if you have the proper knowledge and practical skills.”

How does engineering improve people’s lives?

“We live in a world where everything we see has been engineered for us to live a better life, especially in today’s modern digital world, where everything is data-driven. We now have self-driving cars and text-to-speech solutions such as Okay Google, Alexa and Siri which enable us to make calls and play songs using voice commands.

At the National Robotarium, we are developing solutions such as unmanned underwater robots to undertake the inspection of offshore turbines, which is currently being done by deep-sea scuba divers. We are also improving the quality of life for many people doing repetitive tasks in factories by developing solutions for factory automation, which will enable people to safely undertake less repetitive and more skilled tasks side-by-side with robots.

Our Robotics Engineers

Lizzy Pendleton
Jhielson Montino Pimentel
Coena Das
Ronnie Smith
Hsing-Yu Chen

Lizzie Pendleton

What is a typical day like as a Robotics engineer?

Good question! I’ve been at The National Robotarium for about six weeks so my days have been quite variable so far. More recently, I’ve started to learn about the robots at The National Robotarium: what they are, how to operate them, and how to demonstrate them at events. I have some projects now involving setting up new robots and coming up with new uses for them – which is perfect for me because when someone asks, “what do you want to do in robotics?” I always say “play with robots!” I’m really excited to get stuck into my projects, start to get things working, and learn a lot!

What skills are required to be a good engineer?

The biggest thing we do as engineers is solve problems. Problem solving gives you the opportunity to be really creative, and this is the bit I really enjoy. Inspiration can come from anywhere so it’s about learning to take your different experiences and creatively feed them into how you come up with solutions. The most important thing is to keep trying. When a prototype fails for the 44th time, it’s about finding the motivation to come back in tomorrow, change something, and try again. When you find the thing that you’re really passionate about, having the motivation to keep going becomes easier because you know that at the end, you’re always going to end up with something brilliant and fascinating. Even if your prototype still doesn’t work.

How does engineering improve people’s lives?

Engineering can be seen everywhere. It improves travel infrastructure, brings new healthcare treatments, assists people who have difficulties with daily tasks, and removes humans from some workflows, to name a few examples. The National Robotarium creates robots that remove people from dangerous places or dirty tasks, for example by building robots to inspect offshore wind turbines so humans don’t have to go and do it.
But it can be easy to forget that the serious field of engineering brings people fun and enjoyment. Improvements in film special effects comes from software engineers who built better rendering software, more sport can be watched live because of improvements in online streaming, and suitcases have been made lighter so they’re easier to carry on holiday. There are engineered systems all around us that have been designed to make our lives better in one way or another.

How can engineering help us live and/or work more sustainably?

Engineers across all sectors are coming up with new solutions to improve sustainability. For example, large-scale changes are happening in the energy sector to connect more green or renewable electricity sources and replace the natural gas in the UK’s gas grid with cleaner hydrogen gas. This goes with improving public transport infrastructure and making transport greener in general to reduce carbon emissions. New, more sustainable materials are being developed that last longer, produce less waste and can be recycled more easily. For example, manufacturers are replacing some plastic packaging with sustainable paper- or card-based alternatives. These kinds of changes involve engineers at all stages and they help to make it easier for all of us to live more sustainably.

Dr Jhielson Montino Pimental

What is a typical day like as a Robotics Engineer?

The day is full of opportunities for engineers to engage with cutting-edge technologies across various sectors of the industry. Here, we can delve into projects involving unique robots or even craft our own autonomous systems. While the challenges may be demanding at times, we consistently conquer them through collaborative efforts with our colleagues.

What skills are required to be a good engineer?

Through my PhD programme and past and present work experiences, I’ve acquired the ability to approach robotics problems from a unique perspective. A proficient robotics engineer must be prepared to tackle demanding tasks, as novelty is a frequent occurrence. This entails the engineer’s capacity to delve into existing literature for potential solutions and demonstrate resilience. Moreover, given the breadth of the field, collaboration with colleagues is essential to rapidly identify the most optimal solutions.

How does engineering improve people’s lives?

Engineers play a pivotal role in reshaping and enhancing people’s lives. Robotics engineers, in particular, exert a profound influence on the industry. Their impact extends across various domains, from healthcare, where they revolutionise the care provided to the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes, to the manufacturing sector, where they eliminate human involvement in high-risk activities, thus reducing the potential for fatalities and injuries. This broad spectrum of influence underscores the transformative power of robotics engineers in our world today.

How can engineering help us live and/or work more sustainably?

The integration of robots into farming practices is a compelling illustration of how we can enhance our lives while fostering sustainability. This innovative approach not only benefits agriculture but also contributes to broader ecological and societal well-being. Robots in agriculture have the potential to revolutionise the way we produce food. They can monitor crops, apply fertilisers and pesticides precisely, and manage irrigation systems, thereby optimising resource utilisation and reducing environmental impact. This sustainable farming approach mitigates soil erosion, conserves water, and minimises the need for harmful chemicals, ultimately promoting healthier ecosystems. In essence, the introduction of robots into agriculture not only offers a pathway to more sustainable farming practices but also holds the promise of improving food security, ecological health, and the overall quality of our lives.

Coena Das

What is typical day like as a Robotics Engineer?

The specific tasks and activities can vary widely based on the project and type of robotics being developed. Additionally, some days may involve more hands-on work with hardware, while others may focus on software development or research.

What skills are required to be a good engineer?

To be a good engineer, a combination of technical, soft, and problem-solving skills is needed. These skills will not only help one excel in their role but also contribute to the professional development and career success. Continuous learning and staying up to date with the latest advancements in their area of expertise is also essential for a successful engineering career.

How does engineering improve people’s lives?

Engineering is a driving force behind many of the technological and infrastructural advancements that have significantly improved the quality of life for people around the world. It addresses both the basic needs of society and the complex challenges of our time, contributing to a safer, healthier, and more connected world.

How can engineering help us live and/or work more sustainably?

Engineering efforts are critical in addressing the growing challenges of climate change, resource scarcity, and environmental degradation. By creating innovative, sustainable solutions, engineering helps society reduce its ecological footprint and ensure a more sustainable future for generations to come.

Ronnie Smith

What is typical day like as a Robotics Engineer?

What you spend most of your time on day to day depends on your own role within the team. Some engineers can spend most of their day at a computer doing design or programming, while others might do largely hands on work building, extending, debugging, and maintaining robots. Since we tend to work on multiple projects at once, most days start by figuring out what to prioritise. For me, a typical day might involve some proposal writing, development work, project team meetings, and monitoring/debugging some of the robots we are testing as part of ongoing projects.

What skills are required to be a good engineer?

Since robotics is such an inter-disciplinary field, I think there is no fixed set of skills to be a robotics engineer. I think a good robotics isn’t necessarily someone who is an expert in all aspects of robotics, but rather someone who has their own strengths in a few core areas and who is interested in learning about the whole robotic system to the point where they can understand how everything fits together. This applies to myself, as I come from mainly a software background, but am keen to use my time at the National Robotarium to learn and become a more “rounded” robotics engineer.

How does engineering improve people’s lives?

Most of the time, when engineers are working on a problem it is in the name of improving our comfort, efficiency, safety, or our general quality of life. Robotics is a field which has the potential to touch on all of these aspects. In my previous role as a PhD student, we worked on assistive robotics and technology for older adults. Through user engagement we worked to understand the ways in which collaborative robotics can enable individuals to live in their own home for longer by automating aspects of daily tasks that might otherwise be impossible to complete alone.

How can engineering help us live and/or work more sustainably?

One of the main ways that robots can aid with sustainability is by being more efficient than the solutions that came before. What is meant by efficiency will of course differ across domains, but for example in manufacturing this might mean process efficiency which increases hourly output for the same or less energy. On the other hand, in agriculture it could be that increased precision in turn leads to increased efficiency, e.g., more accurate and targeted spraying of crops conserves resources.

Hsing-Yu Chen

What is typical day like as a Robotics Engineer?

A typical day for a robotics engineer begins with problem-solving, addressing challenges and issues related to the robots they are developing. This entails brainstorming innovative solutions to optimize robot performance, troubleshooting both hardware and software components, conducting experiments to validate the robots’ functionality, and delving into data analysis. Given the collaborative nature of their work, engineers often engage in ongoing communication with team members and clients.

What skills are required to be a good engineer?

Beyond technical proficiency, being a good engineer relies on essential problem-solving and critical thinking skills, enabling the identification and resolution of intricate engineering challenges. Equally critical is a commitment to continuous learning and stay attuned with this rapidly evolving field, ensuring that engineers can adapt to new technologies and innovate effectively.

How does engineering improve people’s lives?

Robotics engineering plays a pivotal role in enhancing people’s lives in numerous ways. For instance, the creation of surgical robots and prosthetic limbs improves the quality of medical treatments and enhances the lives of patients. Autonomous vehicles not only increase transportation efficiency but also enhance road safety. Assistive robots simplify daily tasks, making life more convenient and accessible for individuals. These advancements underscore the transformative impact of robotics engineering on our daily existence and overall well-being.

How can engineering help us live and/or work more sustainably?

Robotic engineering offers substantial potential to enhance sustainable living and working in various domains. This can be achieved by automating industrial processes to boost efficiency, optimising resource utilisation to reduce consumption and lower carbon emissions, improving recycling rates through precise sorting, and monitoring environmental changes. These technologies have the potential to create a more environmentally friendly and resilient world.

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