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Robots invade Aberystwyth!

Robots display at the Bandstand: Lots to see

ABERYSTWYTH PROMENADE was dominated by robots and mechanics over the weekend as the Beach Lab landed for another year.

The summer weather boded well for the free entry event which took place on Saturday (Jul 1) as visitors, families and local residents flocked to the Bandstand where they were able to observe the fantastic range of interactive entertainment robots created by members of Aberystwyth Robotics Club.

There were also robots at the Bandstand built by local schoolchildren at Aberystwyth University.

Some of the machines on display were developed at the University’s award-winning club for 12-18 year old pupils from Penglais and Penweddig schools including Joseph the 3-D Printed Robot, Laser Harp with infra-red laser beams instead of strings, Idris the car-sized all-terrain robotic platform, Lego Mindstorm Sumo platforms, Valiants teaching robots performing synchronised dance routines and Blackbot the four-wheeled drive robot which is operated by a handglove system.

A familiar feature to all there was Doris the Dalek, who patrolled the promenade throughout the day and a familiar collection of Droids inspired by characters from Star Wars which included C-3PO, R2-D2 and BB-8.

Additionally, Infinity from Series 1 of the BBC’s Robot Wars was also on display to keep the visitors company.

Patricia Shaw, a Computer Science lecturer at Aberystwyth University, spoke with The Herald and explained about Miro the robot that was on show: “Miro the Robot is a cross between a rabbit and a dog (or a donkey depending what you see in it) and is designed as a social companion.

“It has quite a few sensors inside and its’ behaviour is modelled on an animal. It responds to being stroked which keeps it happy, and if it is scared it will go and hide in a dark corner.

“It is there as a companion, particularly for elderly people, and it can interact with them. If anything were to happen to a person, it would be able to raise an alarm.

Miro is connected to the internet so it can actually alert people as necessary if anyone has an incident.”

The Herald asked Patricia about the response Miro the robot received at the Bandstand:

“The response has been really positive. We have had a lot of children interact with it as well as the adults who have really loved it.

“They have all had natural responses to the interaction of the robot and Miro has received a lot of attention from everybody”.

The event was organised by Stephen Fearn, of the Institute of Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science (IMPACS) at Aberystwyth University.

Speaking to The Herald about the event, Stephen explained more about his role at Aberystwyth University:

“My main role is teaching laboratories technician for the Institute of Mathematics, Physics and Computer science which is to look after the technical aspect of busy undergraduate teaching laboratories”.

On what highlights he took away from the Beach Lab at the Bandstand, Stephen described to The Herald:

“The highlights were definitely the delights on people’s faces as they were engaged with the exhibits and robots that were designed and built by the children in the Aberystwyth Robotics club”.

Stephen told The Herald what goes into organising and planning an event such as the Beach Lab:

“A lot of work goes into organising an event like this, and getting support from so many willing volunteers who give their time to show the magnificent creations they have built.

“From the simple robotic quad spider to the latest research instrumentation development for the next Mars mission”.

Stephen said how he felt the event was successful for members of the public:

“Social media play a lot these days in advertising to the masses, and people came especially to see this event as it something different, yet it caters for all age groups”.

“How important do you feel it is to highlight what Aberystwyth has to offer through this type of event and the work of the Aberystwyth Robotics Club?” The Herald asked Stephen, to which he responded:

“The Aberystwyth Robotics club is very unique. There is not another weekly club that specializes in robotics as an afterschool club.

“We have been so successful that we are now the leading Welsh STEM hub and won a National award for university student ambassadors in a STEM club.

“Apart from the awards, the main aim is to introduce school children, boys and girls to robotics in a controlled environment so giving them transferable skills as they go through their school life”.

The Herald concluded the interview by asking Stephen how he feels the Beach Lab succeeds in bringing the whole community together during the summer period:

“Beachlab succeeds because it brings exciting technological development, designed and built at the University to the members of the public in a friendly and understandable way.

“What better than seeing exciting robotic platforms driving along the prom on a sunny day- did you see the Dalek trying to order an ice cream!!!!”.

Members of the public were also able to visit the Old College to see and discuss some of the pioneering research being carried out by Aberystwyth University’s postgraduate students on robotics and other subjects.

More than 20 of the postgraduate students displayed their research in a series of posters in the main hall of the Old College

Along with robotics, some of the other fields of study included the ExoMars mission, green energy, the DNA of yeast, Alzheimer’s disease and the hippy movement in rural Wales 1968-1980.

Professor Reyer Zwiggelaar, Head of the Graduate School at Aberystwyth University has said:

“This display of posters is an excellent opportunity for the public to get a glimpse of the range and depth of research being carried out in Aberystwyth, as well as put their questions directly to those carrying out this ground-breaking work”.

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Dayne Stone

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