Dr Nick Hawes is inviting you to create your own interactive robot demonstration. This could be anything from programming a dance routine to completing a yoga session which you will then be able to demo to the public. A lecturer in Computer Science, Nick teaches our undergraduate and postgraduate students in the Intelligent Robotics Lab, bringing us one step closer to the robots we're familiar with from science fiction.
We caught up with Nick to find out more...
What do you do?
I research ways to make robots intelligent enough to be useful in our day-to-day lives. I also teach modules on artificial intelligence (AI) and robot programming.
What does that mean?
My research looks at two things. The first is developing ways to enable robots to understand their worlds so they can make smart decisions about what to do next.This usually means writing software that interprets readings from sensors (such as laser scanners, cameras, and, more recently the Microsoft Kinect) to produce representations of the world that support robot decision making. For example, to get a robot to do the right thing when asked to "bring me the bottle from the left of the fridge," the robot has to learn at least where your fridge is and what it looks like, what a bottle looks like, and what "left" means. It also has to be able to reliably identify these things using information from its sensors. The second thing I look at in my research is how to take lots of different bits of AI and robotics software and combine them into a single intelligent system. This is a bit like putting together a jigsaw puzzle where each piece is designed by a different scientist in a different country who has each only seen part of the final picture.
How do you describe your research to your friends?
Briefly. I mostly just talk about the problems my robots try to solve and that's enough to let their imaginations come up with enough interesting problems for a lifetime of research.
What is the best part about your role?
A constant supply of novel, interesting and tough challenges with the freedom to work on them how and when I want. It's great to be able to set my own agenda and I get to work with some great people.
What qualities make someone a good teacher?
I think it's only a single quality: empathy. If you don't worry about how your students are interpreting what you're teaching, then you will never really be reach them anything.
What inspires you?
I'm not sure I really believe in inspiration; I'm more the perspiration type. What motivates me is novelty and complexity, i.e. working on new things and taming large complex systems of interacting parts (software, ideas, people) and I have both of these things in robotics and teaching.
How do you inspire your students?
I certainly don't try to inspire them; I view inspiration as short-term, and teaching well requires you to keep students engaged over weeks and months. My general approach is to motivate students by showing them where their learning will lead (e.g. how the AI techniques they're learning work in a state-of-the-art robot), and trying to make sure they are actively engaging with the whole learning process.
What is the highlight of your life to date?
I have two: the births of my daughters.
Why should we vote to go behind-the-scenes with you?
Because you'd get to play with a cutting-edge robot, and you'll see that the reality of AI and robotics is much more exciting than science fiction.