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UK-RAS 2022 Conference

On the 26th August, AgriFoRwArdS CDT students, Garry Clawson and Amie Owen, travelled to Aberystwyth University to present their accepted papers at UK-RAS 2022, the 5th UK Robotics and Autonomous Systems conference.

Garry and Amie were also joined by Madeleine Darbyshire, and Jack Stevenson, both of the Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (L-CAS), who had also had papers accepted into the conference proceedings.

The UK-RAS conference is an annual event and are specifically designed for PhD students and early-career robotics and autonomous systems researchers of the UK-RAS Network to foster research progress and offer opportunities for networking. This years event was held at Aberystwyth University and was based around the theme Robotics for Unconstrained Environments.

Getting To Aberystwyth

The journey from Lincoln to Aberystwyth takes around seven hours. This meant an early start or a few nights stay over. The hosts offered all attendees accommodation for the night of the 25th and 26th (which was very welcome), with an optional night for the 27th. They also provided a coach from Birmingham New Street station on the 25th direct to Aberystwyth and a return on the 27th. This option was very popular and helped many attendees on travel their arrangements. To ensure no one missed the coach students had to arrive at Birmingham New Street for 13:30, this meant leaving Lincoln around 10:00AM. The coach journey from Birmingham to Aberystwyth was very smooth and it was an incredibly scenic route with stunning views of the Welsh landscape.

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Views taken from the coach around the Welshpool area as students travelled towards Aberystwyth.

Upon Arrival

When the coach arrived at Aberystwyth everyone were met by the conference hosts Dr Patricia Shaw and Dr Frederic Labrosse. Dr Shaw and Dr Labrosse gave an extremely warm welcome to the campus and invited everyone to register at the reception. Registration was extremely quick and it was here rooms for any evening stays on the campus were allocated.

As the accommodation was split between two areas of the campus the group broke into two separate groups and were shown to their accommodation. Everyone was then asked to get settled in and then make our way back to reception as a UK-RAS reception dinner had been planned at the beautiful Constitution Hill, which offers views across to the stunning Snowdonia National Park.

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Group walking back to reception to get ready for the UK-RAS reception dinner.

UKRAS Reception Dinner

On the 25th the hosts held a UKRAS reception dinner for all attendees held at Constitution Hill. However, along the way there were several wonderful surprises to show off what Aberystwyth has to offer to the first time visitor and returnee as well. This meant a wonderful walk from the campus down to the main promenade to watch the sunset over the sea front.

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(Left) Conference attendees watching the sun setting over the main promenade with a view up to Constitution Hill in the background. (Right) Sun setting across the Irish Sea (19:49 PM). It was really peaceful.

Once the sun had begun to set, the hosts then moved the group onto the next stage of the tour which was the famous Aberystwyth Cliff Railway. The cliff railway is longest funicular electric cliff railway in Britain, and has been transporting visitors to the summit since opening in 1896. This has recently had a complete refurbishment and is a wonderful way to see the sights across the whole of Aberystwyth while taking a gentle ride up the cliff.

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Views across Aberystwyth when travelling on the cliff railway.

Once at the top of Constitution Hill the group settled into the Y Consti Restaurant for a fabulous buffet. By this time everyone was very Hungary and had enjoyed seeing the sights and sunset.

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Attendees getting ready to tuck into the full buffet reception dinner. A full range of foods was catered for and no one missed out!

The Cliff railway operates until the last visitor leaves Constitution Hill and there were many late night revellers! The night wound down with a cooling walk back to the campus (around 30 minutes away) ready for a 08:00 start with breakfast.

The Conference

The conference itself was a one day event split into three sessions. Each section had is own chair, key speaker and theme. Posters sessions were arranged during lunch with every poster presenter required to give a one minute overview of their work. Overall there were 11 paper oral presentations and 31 poster presentations. Additionally, an opportunity to be selected as Best Paper for the conference was available with the award being the option to extend and present your paper at the forthcoming TAROS 22 conference, being held in Oxford on the 8th and 9th September.

The first keynote speaker was Dr Matthew Nancekievill from IceNine. Dr Nancekievill spoke about his experience in bridging the academic aspects of robotics into a practical solution, focusing here on the hazardous environments domain. This was a fascinating keynote with a wide set of examples given of their works.

Session 1 was themed “Robotics Outdoors and in Hazardous Environments” and Garry Clawson was one of the first presenters. His paper, with second author with Dr Charles Fox, was titled “Blockchain Crop Assurance and Localisation“. This was Garry’s first time presenting at an academic conference and Garry said that;

“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to present at UK-RAS 22. Being in the audience at a conference is one thing but being on stage is another. It is not the presenting that I found daunting, but making sure that I could provide satisfactory answers from any audience questions in the 5 minute Q&A section. I found the experience overall really enjoyable, and would advise anyone else to go for it as early as possible.”

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(Left) CDT Cohort 3 student, Garry Clawson, (Right) L-CAS student Madeleine Darbyshire.

Immediately after Garry’s presentation and in the same session, Madeleine Darbyshire presented the paper “Localising Weeds Using a Prototype Weed Sprayer”. CDT student, Callum Lennox of cohort 3, was a supporting author on this paper linked to his work on weed spraying hardware, reported earlier on in March 2022 and sponsored by the Douglas Bomford Trust.

Session 2 and 3 were themed, “Indoor and Assistive Robots” and “Outdoor Sensing” respectively. Both keynotes by Dr Virginia Ruiz Garate from Bristol Robotics Lab (Session 2) and Prof Andrew Star of Cranfield University (Session 3) were very insightful, particularly the railway robotics keynote which is an area that may get overlooked by the public as an area that robotics can play a role in. The session presentations themselves ranged from Siamese Neural Networks to smart wheelchairs to methods to opening doors for a legged manipulator!

Poster Session

The poster session took place during lunch. To ensure that all attendees got a chance to see the range of posters on offer, poster presenters had a chance to give a 1 minute 1 slide overview of their work as a motivation to come and visit their stand. This took place at the very end of Session 1 and just before lunch.

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Poster presentations queue (31 posters in total) as each presenter had a 1 minute 1 slide time slot to try and give an overview of their research and promote their poster.

Amie Owen, Garry Clawson and Jack Stevenson each had a poster to be presented. Amie Owen’s poster was entitled: ‘Towards Autonomous Task Allocation Using Social Rob Team in a Food Factory‘. Garry Clawson’s poster was entitled: ‘Sub-SPARC: Investigation of Imperfect Teachers‘, and Jack Stevenson’s poster was entitled: ‘Survey on Virtual Reality and Robotics‘.

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(Left) CDT cohort 2 student Amie Owen, (Right) CDT cohort 3 student, Garry Clawson.

Best Paper Awards

Best Paper Awards are chosen by members of the UK-RAS 22 programme committee, and offers the winners the chance to take part in the shortly following TAROS 2022. There were three Best Paper Awards available at this years UK-RAS. With this opportunity on the line, the University of Lincoln held its own when out of 31 paper posters and 11 oral papers, two of out the possible three Best Paper Awards were given to University of Lincoln students, with one being a CDT student.

  • Garry Clawson and Dr Charles Fox:  Blockchain Crop Assurance and Localisation
  • Madeleine Darbyshire (et al.):  Localising Weeds Using a Prototype Weed Sprayer

Congratulations to all the authors for both papers for achieving the Best Paper Award for UK-RAS 22, and we can’t wait to see you present at TAROS22!

Summary

This was the first UK-RAS conference that many attendees had attended face to face, and was the first time the UK-RAS conference had been held face to face since 2019. In total there were around 50-60 attendees from across the country with some flying in from Aberdeen. The event was a huge success and certainly achieved its aims. Having the chance as early researchers to take part in these activities not only builds confidence but allows a greater chance to network and make collaborations. Thank you to Aberystwyth University and the hosts Dr Patricia Shaw and Dr Frederic Labrosse for putting on a really enjoyable event!

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Group photo of UK RAS 22 attendees at the University of Aberystwyth.

Do you want to get involved in the CDT?

If you are interested in learning more about what we do and if you share a passion for agriculture and technology then go to our AgriFoRwArdS CDT website to see more about our research, how you can be involved and how to apply to be a student in the program.

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