Our second-year Mechanical Engineering and Engineering Design students did a practical experiment to see which types of vehicle travel through water as well as they run on roads.
The competition saw 190 students working in teams of three to four to design, build and test a successful amphibious vehicle. Their vehicles had to traverse the water obstacle course in less than 40 seconds and weigh in at less than 450 grams.
The purpose of the project is for the students to model and physically realise engineering systems, to manufacture working prototypes and to assess their vehicle’s performance.
And, as you can see from the video, it’s about enjoying the process too!
I realised that it would be interesting for you all, who are preparing to join UoB in the coming months, to know life functions as a University here. Hence, this post. Fasten your seatbelts and let’s go for a ride.
Time to wake up. Today is Tuesday and I have 2 lectures to attend and coursework to work on. Even though my lectures are from 11am, I prefer to wake up a bit early to prepare breakfast and do a bit of ‘planning the day ahead’. I stay in a shared private accommodation, so I grab the breakfast I require and go to the communal kitchen.
Breakfast doesn’t take long and I’m back in room by 9.30am. I generally prefer to make a TO-DO list for the day that also includes information about my extra/co-curricular engagements, if any, for the day, along with my study objectives. We do have a different sets of assignments each week and I feel it’s better to plan it to avoid missing deadlines.
I’m ready to go to my first lecture, which is on Robotics Systems. Must say that it is a very fun module, wherein we get to work with actual robots. It’s very challenging also. The Robotic Systems lecture is scheduled in the Chemistry Building, which is about a 12min walk from my place. So, I do reach on time, if you were curious 🙂
Lecture time. Today we are learning about how use a robot to explore an environment and encode a few crucial bits of information about it. Each lecture ideally lasts 50 minutes, given a few exceptions.
We also have 2 or 3 hours lectures and labs, but those generally are scheduled once a week.
Done with the lecture and now I am heading to another building called the Merchant Venturers Building to meet a few friends, who happen to be my course-mates. We are going to discuss a few ideas on the upcoming robotics assignment and head off to grab lunch at 1pm. Just to let you know, 1-2pm is the lunch hour.
Lunch done. Need to go to the next lecture now. This is one of my favourite subjects right now, because I have always been extremely intrigued by the human brain and its advanced functionalities. The lecture is on Computational Neuroscience. This lecture also lasts for an hour and is held in the Queen’s Building.
Yes, you guessed it right. A CS student like me has to walk a lot every day because we have our lectures spread out across the campus. I take it as a perk, because it saves me from gym subscriptions 🙂 Moreover, you get to take classes in different buildings, which are all architecturally varied. How cool is that!! I love architecture 🙂
Done with the lecture. Learnt about neurons and now heading to deal with my coursework, which is also on Computational Neuroscience. So, I prefer to work in the MVB (Merchant Venturers Building), because it has got the computer labs. Our lifeblood!
I am working with a few friends and we try to help each other out as and when we get stuck with something. Sometimes I also drop into my lecturer’s office to get clarity on a specific concept. But, today I hope, I don’t have to do that. I believe I shall be able to solve the problem given the resources at hand and with some collective intelligence.
Almost done with the coursework. Need a break from studies and what can be better than indulging in an Engineering talk with a lot of free pizzas. Yes, there is a talk today by a renowned faculty member on the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence. So, I am tagging along with my group to attend that talk in Queen’s. I’m sure it will be fun.
That was a fun talk and loads of info! Time to call it a day from Uni. Dinner is waiting to be cooked back home and after that I need to finish my coursework.
Have finished dinner. Met my housemates. Chitted-chatted. Let’s get done with the coursework.
Coursework done and dusted. Now the thing that is left is verification and validation of what I have done as part of it. I’ll take this up tomorrow with my friends.
Extra-curricula’s on. Yeah, I know, I am odd. I go for a run every day at this hour. Fresh air gives me a fresh mind. I should mention that Bristol is very safe and I’ve not had any problems.
Got back. Re-hydrated my body and now I wish to engage in some co-curriculas. Food for the brain is important too. I am going to watch a few TEDx videos now for about 40 minutes. I have made the list of videos to watch in the morning. That’s how I know the time it will require.
Woow!! Great videos. Awesomely inspiring and intriguing. Was a good day. Should sleep now. Tomorrow is a new day and will be a new schedule too.
Hope you all have got an idea of how an ordinary day looks like here. Some days are quiet, some are really eventful. Some can be productive and some might be pretty annoying too. But as we say, variety is the spice of life. Challenges make it more exciting. There are loads of opportunities and things to do here than just study.
The mathematics of chaos theory is useful for studying non-linear dynamic systems in Mechanical and Civil Engineering. Our technician Mictroy has built a ‘chaos machine’, a pendulum based teaching tool to help Engineering students get their heads around the theory.
The 2015 earthquake in Nepal was devastating. 9,000 people died, 3.5 million were left homeless and whole communities were flattened.
Our Civil Engineers have been working with local experts, the Government of Nepal, the Universities of Kathmandu and Tribhuvan, Arup International Development, NSET, Save the Children and school pupils in Nepal to save lives by making buildings and communities safer – starting with schools.
The project, led by Professor Anastasios Sextos, combines cutting edge research and laboratory-based testing with co-produced solutions developed with and by communities in Nepal.
For the project to succeed the solutions must be affordable, locally-sourced and acceptable to local people. During the last field trip our researchers spoke to lots of Nepalese people who witnessed the devastation caused by collapsed buildings in the 2015 quake.
We’re using our seismic shaking table to see how replicas of Nepalese classrooms, strengthened using novel yet cost-effective techniques, perform in earthquake conditions. ~We are also developing a simple, state-of-the-art phone app that lets local engineers identify at-risk schools and make them safer while facilitating informed decision making at a central level.
All our research is supported by workshops and on-site training so, aided by our local and international partners, we’re leaving behind the skills and expertise for communities to rebuild Nepal safely.
The team are heading out to Nepal again in April and will be updating us on this exciting project.
Our second year Civil Engineering MEng students compete to create the most resilient structure using the knowledge gained through their course. The shaking table runs a series of greater magnitude shakes until only one tower remains intact.
MEng in Civil Engineering students learn about the design of steel and concrete structures in the context of realistic multi-storey buildings incorporating common beam, column and slab arrangements.
Computer Science student Tom has built a working replica of the Enigma Machine used to send encoded messages during World War Two. He spent a six week internship in our Engineering Hackspace building the replica, which is now being used by students and school children to explore codes and number theory.
Bristol is a world leader in cryptography and our Computer Science students learn all about keeping systems like power stations and the NHS safe from hackers.
Find out more at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/computerscience/
Unmanned aerial vehicles are rarely out of the headlines. The world’s first driverless passenger drone has already been tested in China, and major companies have begun trialling drone deliveries to customers.
But despite this huge acceleration in popularity there’s a number of challenges which drone manufacturers are facing, not least the matter of urban drone navigation. To investigate this problem, PhD students Cara Williamson and Anouk Spelt are studying urban gulls to understand the most efficient flight paths through urban landscapes. We spoke to Cara to learn more about their project.
Drones could benefit society in so many ways, from the obvious, such as parcel delivery, to the life-changing, such as being the first point of contact for emergency services.
“The Urban Gull Project was started in 2016 by myself and Anouk Spelt as part of our PhD research. We’re supervised by Dr Shane Windsor who won a grant to start the Bio-Inspired Flight Lab. Over millions of years, nature has optimised for every environment – urban gulls are particularly adept at coping with the complex wind flows around city buildings. UAVs could use similar flight strategies. Drones could benefit society in so many ways, from the obvious, such as parcel delivery, to the life-changing, such as being the first point of contact for emergency services.
“The project brings together biology and engineering, using GPS devices on 11 lesser black-backed gulls in Bristol. The tiny backpacks (under 3% of the bird’s weight) track location, altitude, speed and 3D acceleration data which tells us whether the birds are soaring or flapping. Preliminary research showed how gulls position themselves in updrafts on the windward side of buildings to improve control and mitigate risks from gusts. These wind-highways help them maintain altitude so they can soar for a third of their flight time. We’re now seeing that gulls choose routes to foraging grounds that save them energy, even if they are twice the shortest distance.
Battery life is a big problem for drones. Batteries are heavy and limit their range and endurance.
“The wind modelling and path planning method I’ve been using is very quick and could be run in advance of a UAV making a delivery, for example, in order to pick a route that keeps energy costs to a minimum. Battery life is a big problem for drones. Batteries are heavy and limit their range and endurance.
“We collect habitat and weather data in and around Bristol. It’s the perfect location as it combines a diverse built environment with an established gull population. Over the last few decades, the birds’ distribution has moved away from traditional seaside haunts. It’s thought that cities offer warmer temperatures, protected nesting sites and rich pickings from our litter. Anouk compares the gulls’ foraging behaviour and energetic costs with their rural cousins to establish what is really going on. Despite being referred to as seagulls, our birds don’t visit the sea at all during breeding season (March-August), which is why we use the term urban gulls (first coined by our collaborator and South West gull expert of over 30 years, Pete Rock).
“Having followed the gulls for three years, we’ve seen a gull laying an egg, held hatching eggs and watched chicks taking their first flight. Our work has taken us to the top of landfills, quarries, the waste treatment centre and up many tall buildings and church spires. The gulls have distinct traits – we even named some of them after our favourite Game of Thrones characters; Arya (quite feisty – tried to peck us); Sansa (the most beautiful); Lady Brienne (the largest) and Tyrion (the smallest). We also got very attached to the first season’s chicks and learnt the hard way that nature can be quite brutal. It would be good to mend the human-gull relationship. We want to get the message out that when animals thrive in the environments we create, they can teach us so much. It’s vital to study and conserve the natural world.
“At the moment, we’ve got a packed programme of workshops in schools. Pupils design and fly drones and find out about bio-inspired engineering and wind pattern modelling. We’ve had some really encouraging feedback and we hope we’ve inspired a new generation of kids to take STEM subjects that they wouldn’t have previously considered. We were really pleased that this outreach programme was recognised when the project was shortlisted for the 2018 Airbus Diversity Awards.”
Professor Bruce Drinkwater and his colleagues in Brazil are using acoustics to detect disease. Their collaboration was one of the six projects shortlisted in the Brazil category for the prestigious 2018 Newton Prize.
Bruce believes that new technology is the key to tackling the challenges of disease and poverty. He said, “As an engineer, working with the end-users of this technology, this is an area where I can make a difference. Leishmaniasis is a tropical disease that’s endemic in 97 countries. More than a million new cases occur each year world-wide and without early diagnosis, people are at risk of disability and death. Parasites, transferred by sand-fly bites, cause ulcers of the skin, mouth and nose with skin lesions resembling leprosy. Unchecked, infections can be life-limiting, leading to horrific disfigurement, fever, loss of red blood cells and an enlarged spleen and liver.”
Bruce is working with Professor Glauber Silva from the Federal University of Alagoas in Brazil.
The team have made some fantastic breakthroughs in the area of disease detection: “We are developing small and robust prototype acoustic devices that have the potential to detect Leishmaniasis. The lab-on-a-chip devices use acoustic forces to sort and sense thousands of cells, or other microscopic objects, simultaneously. In Leishmania, the infected cells (macrophages) have different mechanical properties from healthy cells. We can exploit this difference in various ways, sorting diseased from healthy cells is just one. The devices can also help detect antibodies in blood and antigens in urine samples by concentrating them with ultrasonic forces. This leads to more rapid diagnosis and monitoring of the disease.
If successful, theses devices could have a huge impact on the lives of those in Brazil and other developing countries: “Leishmaniasis is one of the NTDs that lag far behind HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria when it comes to research funding. It affects 20,000 people each year in parts of Brazil where poverty, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation are major risk factors. If we can have an impact on Leishmaniasis, the same techniques could be used against other NTDs, transforming outcomes for some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. “
If we can have an impact on Leishmaniasis, the same techniques could be used against other neglected tropical diseases, transforming outcomes for some of the world’s most disadvantaged people.
“These devices are undergoing testing by Brazilian biomedical researchers working on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) with promising results. After further development of the devices, the next phase will be field trials in hard to access areas where help is most needed.
The Newton Fund was launched in 2014 to promote economic development in countries eligible for official development assistance (ODA). A grant from the Newton fund and the Royal Society made possible Bruce’s research partnership with Professor Glauber Silva from the Federal University of Alagoas in Brazil, enabling them to bring together a multidisciplinary team with expertise in engineering, physics and biomedicine.
Supercomputers already affect our everyday lives, in subtle yet significant ways – forecasting hurricane paths, predicting climate change and making huge breakthroughs in cancer treatment.
They’ve even been described as a ‘crystal ball’ we can use to predict the future… and, yes, maybe one day, they’ll figure out the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Yet outside of the scientific community, these monolithic machines aren’t as well understood as they deserve to be.
To help shed some light on the subject, we spoke to our very own Professor Of High Performance Computing, Simon McIntosh-Smith, to find out more about how we’re all benefiting from the power of supercomputers.
Simon picked up the Outstanding Leadership In HPC Award at the international supercomputing awards – SC18 – this month. He’s also leading a unique new supercomputing project called Isambard, as part of the GW4 Alliance, together with Cray Inc and the Met Office. The Isambard project is exploring the use of mobile technology in supercomputers, in order to build them at a fraction of the cost and make supercomputers more accessible for everyone.
“It’s one of the less glamorous parts of life. You’ll spend some part of your day, every day, in its company. You probably rarely think about its positive impact on your life. The humble toilet, does not get the attention it deserves.
“So opens the Water & Sanitation session of day three of the Global Engineering Congress in London. Over 2500 participants from 82 countries are finding new ways to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) together. There are civil, electrical and mechanical engineers, policymakers, research councils, UN agencies, charities, development organisations, artists and lawyers. And there is a buzz in the air.”
The sanitation challenge
“As the world tackles poverty, climate change and providing education for all, poor sanitation is stalling progress. Worldwide, 2.4 billion people do not have access to basic sanitation services, like toilets. Poor sanitation causes the deaths of over 1,200 children under five, every day. In 2016, inadequate sanitation and hygiene were the cause of more than half a million deaths from diarrhoea alone. A lack of toilets and latrines affects education, health, economic development and our environment.
“The toilet, our unsung hero of sanitation, has a key role to play in achieving the SDGs. None of the other Goals, on equality, poverty and climate action, can be achieved without achieving Goal 6. This Goal states that by 2030 all people should have access to clean water and sanitation. We need toilets to save the world.”
“There is no quick fix when it comes to toilets. The toilet that works well in rural Somerset is unlikely to work in rural Sudan. Differences in water levels, space, number of people using the same toilet and how hot, cold, dry or humid the climate is mean that different places need different things. The challenges are diverse and so the solutions need to be too.
“Sanitation for all cannot be achieved without engineers who understand the local context. At the University of Bristol, our engineers are addressing the SDGs in partnerships with local communities and researchers. When we help create earthquake resilient schools in Nepal, map waterborne infectious diseases in the Congo or build sustainable energy systems for refugees in Rwanda, we do so with those who know the conditions best.
“In the case of making sure the world has access to clean water and sanitation, it starts with the humble toilet. Next time you see one, consider giving it a nod of thanks. Much like the engineers fixing sanitation all over the world, it’s a lifesaver.”