July 08, 2022 | University Partners

Summit hosted at Bristol Robotics Laboratory explores future direction of assistive technologies

A two-day summit of talks, activities, and workshops was held at Bristol Robotics Laboratory and UWE Bristol’s Health Tech Hub on the past and future of assistive technologies.

The event featured hands-on demonstrations and talks by academics from four universities alongside experts from industry and care institutions. Topics explored during the summit included prosthesis and exoskeleton design; human-robot interaction; AI and assisted living; and the emerging uses of smart home technology.

The summit was held as the latest figures reveal that 74 per cent of older people in the UK require support with physical activities. This need of support is exacerbated by staffing challenges reported in NHS hospitals, mental health services, and community providers, causing substantial socio-economic impact.

Experts agree there is an urgent need for assistive technologies to allow people requiring care to maintain and regain independence, creating a sustainable active community. Solutions are being proposed, including physical and socially assistive robots, intelligent logistics, and the IoT/Ambient Assisted Living. These fields present multiple scientific, engineering, and design challenges in a highly interdisciplinary framework.

Bringing together representatives from research, companies, and service users, the summit hosted discussions on how new and existing assistive technology approaches have evolved over time and how the future landscape will be shaped.

Co-chair of the event Dr Virginia Ruiz Garate, Associate Professor in Assistive Robotics and Co-Director of the REACH research group, said: “This summit was a great opportunity to bring together academics, companies, and end-users in the sector of assistive technologies to discuss on the possibilities and barriers preventing these technologies to move from the labs to the real world.”

Five projects have been given seed funding working with different companies and academics across the university. They are:

  • Developing an augmented reality training tool to detect sepsis more quickly in young children
  • Building software which can assess the green credentials of suppliers, helping the company to choose more environmentally-aware firms
  • Working with an engineering company to design a microscope which can analyse materials at very cold temperatures
  • Investigating diversification into sustainable sportswear
  • Exploring whether textile assembly can be added to a very automated workflow

The concept was devised by DMU’s knowledge exchange team Dr Rhianna Briars and Darsheet Chauhan to give academics more experience of working with industry and vice versa.

They are based on the model of Knowledge Transfer Partnerships which team up a business, an academic and a researcher – normally a postgraduate student – to work on a business-led innovative project, funded by Innovate UK.

Dr Briars said: “Creating a mechanism for local small organisations to work with our academics and benefit from our knowledge, on a quicker and flexible basis has been really exciting.

"It allows partnerships to try things out; building trust and potentially informing longer term projects. It also creates opportunities to work with organisations and on projects that would struggle to fit within the KTP funding criteria but are still valuable collaborative innovation projects.”

Professor Geoff Smith, of the Leicester School of Pharmacy, is working with company Lyosenz to develop the microscope.  He said: “Companies have to put in quite a bit of money into a KTP and that’s not possible for smaller organisations. DMU has decided to get the ball rolling here and it allows us to help those smaller firms. They have access to our application knowledge and expertise, and it de-risks the process for them. I have always wanted to do a KTP and looking forward to being part of this project. It’s a win-win.”