Ian Murray, MP for Edinburgh South, has visited the Heriot-Watt Robotics Centre in the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences (MACS), hosted by Professor Ruth Aylett.
Royal Society Pairing Scheme
This was a return visit as part of the Royal Society Pairing Scheme, which took Professor Aylett to Westminster last December.
This scheme aims to bridge the gap between scientists and the political process, both to educate scientists on how to develop an input into decision making in areas related to their expertise, and politicians in scientific research.
While at Westminster, Professor Aylett shadowed Ian Murray, following him as he stood in at short notice for a colleague at a Technology Transfer conference, talked to Post Office representatives about their future after the Royal Mail hive-off and Labour Party colleagues about the Smith Commission and its aftermath. Mr Murray is part of the shadow BIS team in Parliament, which has responsibilities for technology transfer and also includes Higher Education. Participating in the Royal Society scheme for the third time, he was keen to learn more about robotics research at Heriot-Watt.
The Edinburgh Robotics Centre
Mr Murray was welcomed to MACS by the Head of School, Professor Gavin Gibson, and head of Computer Science, Professor Andrew Ireland. The MACS Robotics Lab is part of The Edinburgh Robotics Centre, set up last year with a £6 million grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Centre. It focuses on Human-Robot Interaction (HRI), investigating how to integrate robots into everyday human social environments. "Studying how robots and humans interact is vital to making them acceptable", Professor Aylett said. "A factory robot can have a whole assembly line engineered around it, but a robot helping an elderly person to carry on living independently in their own home will have to adapt to both the environment and the person it is helping."
Mr Murray met Dr Katrin Lohan, who talked to him about robots that learn expressive behaviour from human partners, and Amol Deshmukh, researcher on the EU-funded project EMOTE, which is developing an empathic robot tutor for school students who are learning about geography. He was also introduced to Sarah the expressive robot, who welcomed Mr Murray to the lab and showed off her facial expressions.
Ian Murray said, “It was a fantastic experience to see the cutting-edge work going on at Heriot Watt. We need these highly skilled jobs for the future. I was fascinated by the technology and ‘Sarah’ is an ambitious project that could be transformative in the way we look at robotics. I’m very proud to represent a City that has such wonderful research capability. We should cherish it.”