A Reflection on The Connected Everything and Smart Products Beacon Summer School 2020

post by Cecily Pepper (2019 cohort)

My first summer school started with an invite via email. Despite my interest in the topic, my first thought was that robotics was not my area of expertise (coming from a social science background), so maybe I shouldn’t bother applying as I’d be out-of-my-depth. Although after some consideration, I thought it would create some great opportunities to meet new people from diverse backgrounds. So, I stopped worrying about my lack of knowledge in the area and just went for it; and I got a place!

The summer school was held digitally due to COVID-19 restrictions, which had both its benefits and pitfalls. On the first day, we were welcomed by Debra Fearnshaw and Professor Steve Benford, and were then given the opportunity to introduce ourselves. From this it was apparent that there was a wide variety of delegates from several universities, with a range of disciplines including social sciences, robotics, engineering and manufacturing. The first day mostly consisted of talks from experts about the challenges we face in connecting technology and the potential of co-robotics within the fields of agrirobotics, home and healthcare. The main task of the summer school was to create a cobot (collaborative robot) that could overcome some of the issues that COVID-19 has created or exacerbated. The issue that the group chose to address had to fall into one of the categories introduced on the first day: food production (agrirobotics), healthcare or home. Along with this challenge, more details were needed on function, technological components, and four key areas of the cobot design: ethics, communication, learning and safety. These aspects were introduced on the second day. After being split into groups at the end of the first day, I felt happy as my group had a range of experience and expertise between us, which I felt would bode well for the challenge as well as being beneficial for myself as I could learn something from everyone.

Similarly, the second day consisted mostly of talks, this time based on the four themes mentioned previously. The ethics discussion was interesting and included in-depth explanations around aspects to consider when reflecting upon the ethical consequences of our designs, such as privacy, law, security and personal ethics. An online activity followed the ethics talk but was soon interrupted by a technical glitch. Despite this, we were able to engage with alternative resources provided in order to reflect upon the ethics of our cobot design. This was useful both for our eventual design, as well as applying this to our own PhD research.

The other themes then followed, including a discussion around interaction and communication in technology. This was an insightful introduction to voice user interfaces and alike, and what the current research is focusing on in this field. While fascinating on its own, it was also useful in thinking about how to apply this to our cobot design, and which features may be useful or necessary for our cobot’s functionality. A talk on the third theme of learning was then delivered, including details about facial recognition and machine learning, and the applications of these in the field of robotics. Likewise, this was useful in reflecting upon how these features may be applicable in our design. Finally, the theme of safety was considered. This talk provided us with the knowledge and ability to consider safety aspects of our cobot, which was particularly apt when considering COVID safety implications too. Overall, the first two days were quite lengthy in terms of screen time (despite some breaks), and I found myself wilting slightly towards the end. However, I think we could all understand and sympathise in the difficulty of minimising screen time when there is a short space of time to complete all of the summer school activities.

On the final day, we split into our teams to create our cobot. This day was personally my favourite part of the summer school, as it was fantastic to work with such a variety of people who all brought different skills to the group. Together, we developed a cobot design and went through the themes from the previous day, ensuring we met the design brief and covered all bases. Probably the biggest challenge was keeping it simple, as we had so many ideas between us. Despite our abundance of ideas, we were strict with ourselves as a group to focus and keep the design simplistic. Additionally, the five-minute presentation time meant that we had to keep our design simple yet effective. We then presented our home assistant cobot, Squishy. Squishy was an inflatable, soft cobot designed to assist carers in lifting patients who were bed-bound (as occupational injuries are a significant problem within the care industry). Squishy’s soft design enabled comfort for the patient being lifted, while the modular design provided a cost-effective solution and the possibility of added-extras if necessary. Along with this, Squishy was beneficial in that it consisted of wipe-clean surfaces to enable effective cleaning in light of COVID-19, as well as aiding social distancing by reducing the need for carer-patient contact. Other features of Squishy included machine-learned skeletal tracking and thermal cameras to aid safe functionality, and minimal personal data collection to maintain ethical standards. After the presentations and following questions, the judges deliberated. Results were in…my team were the winners! While I was happy to have won with my team, the most fruitful part of the experience for me was meeting and learning from others who had different backgrounds, perceptions and ideas.

Overall, I felt the summer school was well-organised and a fantastic opportunity to work with new people from diverse backgrounds, and I was very glad to be a part of it. I’m also pleased I overcame the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ feeling of not believing I would know enough or have enough experience to be a valuable delegate in the summer school. So, my advice to all students would be: don’t underestimate what you can contribute, don’t overthink it, and just go for it; you might end up winning!

The Summer School was funded by EPSRC through the Connected Everything II network plus (EP/S036113/1).

 

COBOT Collaboration for Connected Everything Summer School

post by Angela Thorton (2019 cohort)

Baymax (Hall, D., Williams, C. (2014).

Say hello to Squishy initially inspired by Baymax (Hall, D., Williams, C. 2014). This COBOT concept was co-created during an intensive online Summer School in July 2020 run jointly by Connected Everything and the Smart Products Beacon at the University of Nottingham.

The online event, running over two and a half days, involved 28 delegates from various UK universities and culminated in a brief to design a COVID-ready COBOT (collaborative robot) to work in either Food Production, Healthcare, or the Home. Squishy was the collaborative brainchild of myself and the other five members of my group – the BOTtom Wipers… The group comprised me and Cecily from the 2019 cohort at Horizon CDT and Laurence, Hector, Siya and Robin from Lincoln, Strathclyde, and Edinburgh/Heriot-Watt universities, respectively.

The day and a half leading up to the design brief set the context through a series of related talks on the challenges of working in the different sectors as well as discussions on core aspects such as Ethics, Interaction and Comms, Learning and Safety. Hence by Friday morning, we were ready for our design challenge – to design a COBOT relevant to the COVID world we currently live in and present the concept in five slides lasting five minutes – and to achieve this by mid-afternoon the same day!

Our group quickly worked out to make the most of our individual and different backgrounds ranging from robotics and machine learning to neuroscience and psychology. The challenge we decided on was situated in the home, lifting bed-bound residents since it places considerable physical strain on carers and requires close contact with individuals; obviously less than ideal in a COVID world.

Our solution was Squishy: a cost-effective assistive COBOT inspired by the fictional superhero Baymax (Hall, D., Williams, C. 2014) and the caterpillar robot made using a 3D printer that could output soft, rubbery material and hard material simultaneously (Umedachi, T., Shimizu, M., & Kawahara, Y., 2019).

We decided on a soft, modular COBOT since we felt this would be more comforting and comfortable for the individuals being lifted. Manufacturing costs can limit access to assistive robots so Squishy was inflated using pressurized air with different air pockets allowing his shape to be modified to suit individuals of different body sizes/shapes.  To ensure stability and safety as well as hygiene, we chose a two-body system comprising flexible 3D printed silicon moulds overlaid with wipe clean textile. Being able to keep Squishy clean was critical given COVID.

Our next challenge was to ensure that Squishy could lift and put down an individual safely. We decided to use input from thermal cameras and real-time skeleton tracking using OpenPose since this is a relatively straightforward and cost-effective system. We planned to teach Squishy to hold and lift safely via incremental learning of holding/lifting varied body shapes and weights, either from data sets or by imitation. The use of thermal cameras and skeleton tracking also allowed us to provide two additional modules if required. The first option was temperature screening (37.8 degrees Celsius or greater potentially indicating COVID infection) and the second was for Squishy to gently rock the individual to comfort them if required. A rocking motion has been shown to promote sleep in infants and, more recently, also in adults, (Perrault et al., 2019).

For ease of use and safety we deliberately kept the input and output communications simple namely a wearable control bracelet or necklace with buttons for basic functions e.g. lift up/down as well as an emergency stop button which would signal that assistance was required.

Ethical issues were key, both in terms of the collection and storage of personal data but also the psychological aspects of Squishy interacting with humans. We decided to only collect the minimum personal data required for a safe and comfortable interaction such as height, weight and BMI (which could be combined with skeleton tracking data) with the individual requiring assistance only being identified by a unique identifier. Data would be stored in a safe storage system such as Databox. Databox is an EPSRC project involving collaborators from Queen Mary University of London, the University of Cambridge and the University of Nottingham and a platform for managing secure access to data. All our data processes were GDPR compliant.

The individual’s response to and relationship with Squishy was also central to the design both in terms of the COBOT’s appearance, feel and touch and the use of slow, comfortable movements which engender relaxation and trust.

Having discussed and honed our design ideas we then had to consolidate them into five slides and a five-minute presentation! We were each involved in different aspects of the brief following which we collectively refined the slides until we had the final version.  Getting across the key elements in five minutes proved to be a challenge; with our first run-through coming in at closer to seven and a half minutes but on the day, we just managed to finish on time. It was interesting to see how many people really struggled with the time challenge, and I am sure my experience at summer school will be useful for when I enter the Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) in 2021…

And the outcome of all this hard work and collaboration? I am delighted to report that The BOTtom Wipers and Squishy won the COBOT challenge. J

References:

Hall, D., Williams, C., 2014. Big Hero 6 (Film). Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Perrault, A. A., Khani, A., Quairiaux, C., Kompotis, K., Franken, P., Muhlethaler, M., Schwartz, S., & Bayer, L. (2019). Whole-Night Continuous Rocking Entrains Spontaneous Neural Oscillations with Benefits for Sleep and Memory. Current Biology, 29(3), 402-411.e403. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2018.12.028

Umedachi, T., Shimizu, M., & Kawahara, Y. (2019). Caterpillar-Inspired Crawling Robot Using Both Compression and Bending Deformations. IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, 4(2), 670-676. https://doi.org/10.1109/LRA.2019.2893438

Acknowledgements:

I’d like to thank Connected Everything and the Smart Products Beacon at the University of Nottingham who organised and ran the Summer School so efficiently, my lead supervisor Alexandra Lang who read my draft copy and is always helpful and inspirational and the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham (UKRI Grant No. EP/S023305/1) for supporting my PhD.

Identity/Space/Place workshop

Post by
Harriet Cameron (2018 Cohort) and Velvet Spors (2017 Cohort)

📷 Felicia Black

Hi, our names are Harriet and Velvet, and we’re PhD students within the Horizon CDT. In September 2019 we ran a full day workshop as part of the Digital Economy Network summer school. The workshop was designed to reach academics from across a broad spectrum of subjects and schools of thought, and bring them together to explore how identity, space, and place (ISP) were present in their research.

We ran the workshop as a group of four researchers; Velvet, Harriet, Luke and Hanne, all of whom are currently at various stages of their PhD’s within Horizon, and all of whom have different academic and professional backgrounds. We came together as a group because we recognised that each of us had a strong link with identity, space and place within our work, and were keen on exploring how these concepts both shape, and are shaped by, a wealth of different influences. For instance, Harriet comes from a background in human geography, and explores situated identities in both virtual and physical worlds, and Velvet is interested in human-centred, holistic ways of being with each other as a way of caring for yourself—being explicitly and implicitly connected. Together, we were able to provide a broad basis of theoretical and practical knowledge about identity, space and place, in order to facilitate valuable discussions around the importance of these topics, and their impact on research practices and outcomes.

We split the day into three core sections, each to address a different aspect of ISP. The first part of the day was spent simply getting to grips with these ambiguous and diverse concepts, sharing each other’s understandings and reflecting on our own assumptions. In our first activity, we set everyone free to spend a few minutes running around Jubilee campus, and finding examples of identity, space, and place; sending photos back to us so we could then discuss what everyone had chosen and why. This was a fantastic exercise, because all the photos taken were unique and showed completely different interpretations of not just definitions of identity, space, and place, but also different interpretations of the spaces they interacted with.

📷 Jennifer Agwunobi

The second part of the day was designed to encourage reflection on how ISP affects daily life, and daily routines. We asked each delegate to draw a map of a route they take regularly or had recently taken, and then talked through what each person had created. Each map was highly individualised, in terms of what was represented, how those things were represented, and how the delegates showed their own personalities on their maps. This activity demonstrated not only how ISP impacts every single person on a mundane level, but it also allowed us to begin discussions on how technology shapes and is shaped by ISP at a day-to-day level.

📷 Jennifer Agwunobi

The third part of the day continued to draw on themes of technology in ISP and got everyone thinking about how ISP related technology might be shaping their research, and how technology could be used to capture and explore ISP more overtly. In this section we got everyone to play free games related to ISP in some way and talk through which elements from our earlier discussions were apparent in the games, and which were more hidden. This allowed for some great exploration of how virtual and digital space, place and identity can be experienced, accessed and represented.

The last bit of our write-up contains personal reflections from each of us individually, showcased in a conversational presentation (if you feel like it, please read it out loud in two silly voices!).

Velvet: We ran the workshop not only to get researchers thinking about these complex themes and how they shape and are shaped by our research, but also as a part-experimental pilot and part sense-making activity: It was designed to feel the space out — literally and figuratively — to see if there was potential for a collective way of working and being with each other. Happily, the workshop was a success, and it seems that long term connections were made which will be fostered as a mechanism to continue these crucial discussions and share knowledge between participants.

Harriet: The multitude of voices we were lucky enough to bring together for the workshop, ranging from computer scientists, to engineers, to architects and more, contributed momentously to the positive outcomes we were able to draw from the day. It also demonstrated the value of these kind of events, where researchers with different ideas and perspectives come together, break each other out of their comfort zones, and question the assumptions that are all too easy to forget to question ourselves. It’s sometimes easy to become so involved in your own subject that you can forget the real-world applications and implications of concepts you may have come to take for granted. Hearing from those other perspectives not only re-centred us, but it also gave some fresh ideas and takes on those topics that we had almost forgotten to continue to critically examine. This was best demonstrated for me during our discussions defining space, place and identity early on in the day, when one delegate offered their definition of place as a “region in space, defined by co-ordinates”. This was so interesting, because they took their definition and applied it to cyberspace, comparing co-ordinates as used in the physical world, to URL’s used to navigate the internet. They explained that navigating websites, much like navigating physical places, requires you to narrow down your co-ordinates further and further, until you reach a point where you are capable of finding your exact destination. In the real world, this might be zooming in on your map app, or switching to a local paper map instead of a regional one. Online, this might mean navigating to the area of the website which contained the content you were interested it, by clicking through toolbars and hyperlinks. This offered a fresh perspective on navigating online spaces which I had never consciously considered before and has contributed to my own understanding of cyberspace.

Velvet: But apart from these overarching understandings and fresh impulses, running the workshop also generated insights for own personal research.

Harriet: A big part of my own research centres around trying to understand identities of individuals as situated, fluid constructs which are performed as part of social, cultural and political contexts. Part of the value of this workshop for me came in the form of being able to see those different identities demonstrated, not only in the context of students studying all over the UK taking part in a workshop at the University of Nottingham, but also in the ways that those different identities were reflected on during the activities and within the discussions. During the mapping activity for example, we were shown what priorities and performed identities the workshop participants had as part of their daily routine, be that in the form of their favourite shop, their place of worship, their favourite places to study, and so on. No two maps were drawn in the same way, even if they shared certain places or themes, demonstrating the breadth of experiences and the impact of our own identities on the landscape.

Velvet: On a very individual level, this workshop also showed me how people approach similar topics in very different, multifaceted ways. For my own PhD work, this means that I now feel even stronger about bringing people from different areas together and to create a safe, inclusive and open space together, so that synergies and a mingling of ideas can happen. When we first discussed doing this workshop, we were worried – perhaps even slightly apprehensive – about the experimental and open nature we wanted to implement. Most workshops we have attended in research or academic settings tend to be very directed, expert-led and focused on clearly defined goals or outcomes. In most of these workshops, we also bring ourselves in as a researcher or expert – a very different version of ourselves than in private. In a way, our workshop asked for a researcher perspective, but also a very private and personal one. Bringing an authentic version of yourself into an unknown space is difficult and a slightly scary undertaking – especially if you feel strongly about the concepts that are being discussed. Space, place and identity can become very personal very soon, especially since they are ideas and factors that everybody has experienced. Bringing lived experienced into a group requires a collective understanding of what it means to open up and how to approach it respectfully, without letting ideas go unchallenged. Now, having conducted this workshop, I am excited about exploring a variety of facilitation, openness and outlines with space/place/identity and in my own studies – especially how to do the whole process justice.

Harriet: In conclusion, hosting this workshop as part of a series of Digital Economy Network summer school activities was a fantastic opportunity to share and develop expertise and ideas, with a host of others who all brought their own invaluable perspectives to the workshop. On a personal note, it was also a much-appreciated plunge into facilitation and public speaking, in a way where I was able to practice those valuable skills, in a space with other researchers at similar points in their academic journey, whilst also facilitating and encouraging them to do the same.

Velvet: After a personal reflection and getting feedback, we aim to turn “Space/Place/identity” into a series of activities, with other workshops and get-togethers to exchange knowledge, but also to hold space for each other to be. How that’s going to look like in future? We are not entirely sure yet, but this workshop has laid out the groundwork for sure. We aim to facilitate it in an unconventional, experimental way that allows for a non-hierarchal way of organising ourselves. Maybe we are going back to web rings, individual HTML webpages – maybe we are going to use peer-seeded automated networks. Whatever shape it might take, we are excited to work on it collectively!

Finally, we want to shout out to Felicia Black and Monica Cano, whose patience and perseverance made this workshop not only possible, but a success. Thank you, Felicia and Monica!

Human Aspects of Cyber-crime and Online Fraud Summer school

Post by Melanie Wilson (2018 Cohort)

This summer school was presented by Canterbury University in collaboration with the Leicester Castle Business School of De Montfort University, Leicester.

I attended on the Monday & Tuesday of this three-day event, as I had a family commitment on the Wednesday.

The presentations on the Monday were specifically addressing ideas around cyber-crime, social engineering and fraud. These are particularly relevant to me as my PhD is around increasing children’s abilities to identify and resist activities and approaches whilst online. I am addressing these from the perspective of enabling children to recognise attempts from others to engage in social engineering and to have the confidence and personal autonomy to reject anything they feel uncomfortable with, and to seek help where it is needed.

I am working with the Northamptonshire Police cyber-crime team on this and as such have a valuable insight into the challenges they have seen children facing as well as my own perspective as a psychotherapist working with children.

The summer school was the first of its kind to be run at Canterbury University and was led with great enthusiasm and skill by Jason Nurse. The summer school involved people from academia, social enterprise and industry which allowed a large variety of input and ideas to be expressed. Jason was skilful in accommodating discussions within the topics and I found that this approach, rather than the “talked at” approach, was very beneficial. Cyber-crime is a fast-growing field and the traditional approaches of academic study, which often take years to complete, are at risk of being overtaken as both technology and its associated exploitation by criminals proceeds at a rate far outstripping the slower traditional progress of academic work.

I feel this pace change was reflected well in the way the summer school was run. Some of the input could have been improved with more industry input to increase the pace and knowledge of the current challenges further, but I believe that Jason is aware of this and plans to address this in future events.

The first session explored the basics of cyber-crime reflecting on what forms it can take and highlighting how insidious it can be. It addressed the aspects of this area of criminology that are rapidly expanding and exploiting the tools that are available to enhance crime via technological means. One big take-home from this introduction and discussion was how fast this is developing in criminal circles where there are few restrictions and great financial gains to be made. This is at odds with the crime fighters and honest technological industry where there are checks and balances to be met in all circumstances which often results in a slower response which the criminal can exploit.

The Cyber Protect and Prevent Officer for Kent then gave us her perspective on how cyber-crime was affecting policing and the tensions between businesses which often wanted  just to solve the issue and move on with business as usual and the desire to pursue cyber-crime as a crime with ramifications for the criminals.

The final session of the day looked at profiling cyber criminals and looking at how these criminals might be led into a perpetrator role. This is particularly relevant to my work because vulnerability leads to both perpetrator and victim activities and the two routes often share common factors.

At the end of the sessions we arranged to meet after dinner in a pub in Canterbury. Doing so was valuable as it provided a relaxed atmosphere in which to talk further with other attendees both about their work and that of others and gave a great deal of insight into the varying field that are involved with this ever-expanding and important field.

Tuesday morning looked at how cyber-crime is often underlined by psychological methodologies that criminals have learnt to use in order to perpetrate their crimes. We explored how social engineering uses a number of methods to elicit cooperation from people, utilising their vulnerabilities and often just their normal desires to help others and be nice. Again, this is an area that I focus on a great deal and feel addressing our ability to say “no” is fundamentally decreasing individuals’ vulnerability to such tactics. There is a noticeable difference in the psychological mechanisms that criminals exploit ruthlessly and the non-criminals’ tendency to trust.

The afternoon sessions addressed the cost to businesses from cyber-crime.  It was led by Edward Cartwright from De Montfort University and Anna Cartwright from Coventry University. It addressed business vulnerabilities and the attacks that businesses face daily, and the routes into the enterprise which are often indirect. The conflicts of security and running businesses were highlighted and discussed. The reality of end users often not rejecting companies following a breach and whether reputational damage is as damaging as is often thought.  In Anna’s session we looked at the financial motivation for attacks and at what level the attacks and demands became profitable for criminals.

Finally, we looked at the problems and advantages in cyber security that Small and Medium Sized Enterprises face, addressing the challenges of this sector where often there are just a few individuals trying to complete multiple roles.

This summer school was fun. Where a learning experience is fun, lively and open to discussion, I feel far more is gained than from a situation where there is just one voice with very little interaction.

It greatly benefited from a range of perspectives and allowing those to be expressed and discussed. I feel everyone learned something from the variety and range of participants at the event and very much look forward to taking part next year.