Making the Gromit Unleashed trail a virtual reality for hospitalised children

This summer Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Appeal partnered with engineering researchers to bring virtual reality into Bristol Children’s Hospital, helping patients unable to leave the hospital experience the award-winning sculpture trail.

a young patient tries the VR experience at Bristol Children’s Hospital

Hundreds of thousands of people from across the UK and overseas took part in Gromit Unleashed 2, the third arts trail from Bristol Children’s Hospital charity The Grand Appeal. There were 67 giant sculptures of Academy Award®-winning Aardman characters, Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw – all designed and decorated by a local and high profile artists and brands, including Pixar Animations Studios and DreamWorks.

The ‘Gromit Unleashed 2 VR Experience’ was developed by Bristol Interaction Group, a research group in Engineering, and Large Visible Machine, an independent mobile platforms game studio.

PhD student Gareth Barnaby, who led the VR project, said: “It’s been a great experience to combine our technical expertise with the tireless enthusiasm of the people at The Grand Appeal to create a fun project to be deployed in the real world and brighten people’s days in hospital.

“As a PhD student, it can be hard to see where academia and the real world intersect. This project has shown the difference our work can make and the huge benefits technology can bring. Thanks to everyone at the University who has put in their time to make this project happen, and a huge thank you to The Grand Appeal for the hugely impactful work they do, and for the opportunity to be a part of it.”

Children with complex needs or those undergoing intense treatments, such as bone marrow transplants, are unable to leave hospital, so the University donated over 200 sets of Google Cardboard and two Google Pixel phones, for patients without access to a smart phone. Using the headsets, through virtual reality technology patients are transported to the streets of Bristol to see the sculptures up close and personal in a live setting with the use of 360 camera technology.

Nicola Masters, Director of The Grand Appeal said: “Bristol Children’s Hospital and the 100,000 patients it cares for each year sit at the heart of absolutely everything we do. Virtual Reality is a powerful tool, and what better way to harness this than to bring the trail to the bedsides of young patients who are too poorly to leave their bed or their ward. Taking part in such an immersive and interactive experience is having a brilliant impact not only on the child’s wellbeing, but also on their rehabilitation and recovery in hospitals.”

Geothermal energy production in Cornwall- Is it viable?

Today marks the start of drilling for what may become the first deep geothermal power plant in the UK. Falmouth based firm Geothermal Engineering are drilling two wells, 2.8 miles (4.5km) and 1.5 miles (2.5km), into granite near Redruth, Cornwall.

Cold water will be pumped down to the hot rocks where the temperature is up to 200C (390F). Hot water will be brought to the surface. Steam from the heated water will drive turbines producing electricity. If this pilot project is successful it could pave the way for similar power production in the UK.

Professor Joe Quarini from the department of Mechanical Engineering shared his thoughts on the project:

Professor Joe Quarini talks to Jon Kay from the BBC

“This is a good and exciting project from an engineering perspective. Not only will it bring jobs and expertise to Cornwall, but we’re going to learn a lot about engineering as the work progresses. We’ve seen similar, but ‘easier’ projects work successfully in New Zealand, Iceland and Italy. There are some technical questions that will be answered during this pilot, like, whether there are significant fouling issues associated with leaching out soluble minerals from the underground structures, what proportion of the water pumped into the ground actually comes back and whether and at what rate the heat deposits are depleted.

The answer to these questions will dictate the long-term viability of geothermal energy production in the UK. Cornwall is unique, it has heat-producing granite rocks with the highest energy density in the UK. In terms of absolute sums, electrical power production from geothermal is likely to be a small proportion of the Nation’s needs; it best location will be Cornwall. That said, Engineering is a global discipline, so it’s great for our young engineers to get the opportunity to see projects like this in action. We know that young people are really interested in green energy and sustainability so hopefully this will get more young people interested in Engineering as a subject.

Whilst the project excites me in terms of Engineering, I’m less confident about the long-term economic viability of geothermal energy in the UK. When the engineering costs are accounted for, geothermal energy isn’t the cheapest source of power, but if we’re serious about decarbonising our economy then it’s a choice that we, as a society, can make. That’s where funders like the EU and the Government come in to help subsidise projects like this one. My worry is that when those sources of funding aren’t available this won’t be a very attractive prospect to private investors. I’d love to be proved wrong on this though!”

Hear Joe in conversation on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme at 1:21

Bristol students’ chance to intern at Apple

The Mac, the iPod and the iPhone are just a few of the innovations that have changed the face of consumer technology. Sleek, functional design and a founding myth of three friends in a garage are foundations of a brand that many student Engineers dream of working for. For Bristol University student Jamie Surjeant, this dream became a reality in the summer of 2018, when he interned for Apple at their California HQ.

Jamie Serjeant (R) with Professor Ben Hicks at Apple’s corporate HQ in California

Professor Ben Hicks visited Jamie whilst he was on placement and said the opportunity, environment and support are exceptional. The fact that Jamie has been embedded in a design team and has been working directly on Apple products from day one is testament not only to his ability and his undergraduate training at Bristol but also the value and importance of interns to Apple. Apple interns are also given considerable support to assist them in relocating for the duration of their internship and are part of a large community of interns who support each other.

Jamie has now been offered a long-term position with Apple, who were so impressed by Jamie’s work during his internship that they are now collaborating with the Industrial Liaison Office to offer Bristol Engineering students internships in California this summer. Interns will be working on Apple TV Product Design. Interested students need to apply by midnight on the 29th October.

 

My mental health: An honest chat with Professor Dave Cliff

Dave Cliff, Professor of Computer Science, talks about his experience with a break down in his mental health. How catastrophic thinking, panic attacks and the stigma around mental health made his life miserable and how he came through the other side.

Talking about your mental health (good, bad and everything in between) is something we really encourage and we’re proud that our staff are leading by example. If you’re a student and need to talk to someone about your mental health or get some support you can talk to the teams in your school office, or find more resources on the University of Bristol website. If you ever need a chat you can contact the Samaritans 24/7  no matter who you are. 

“People said I was brave”

Dave talks about people’s reactions to  the video and the bravery of asking for help

I once made a video, or should I say: a video was once made of me. It was a talking-head interview, about the time I had a breakdown. Severe anxiety and depression; suicidal thoughts. It’s seven minutes long, and I speak maybe a thousand words.

I did it because I was asked to do so by a colleague, an old friend, who was putting together material for a new non-credit bearing elective course that would be made available to all students at The University of Bristol, where I work. I didn’t give it much thought, didn’t know what questions I would be asked and didn’t rehearse any of the answers. We shot it in one take, maybe 25 or 30 minutes in total, and then the video production folk went away and skilfully edited it down to a more manageable length. Once the final edit was released to our students, and to the rest of the world on YouTube, I started getting feedback, comments — people saying nice things about it — and in those comments something caught me by surprise. There was this one word that got used a lot when people commented on what I’d done, a word that I didn’t expect at all. People said that I was brave.

I’ve thought quite hard about this and, given this opportunity to write about it now, almost 18 months since we shot the footage and more than five years since I got sick, I’d like to explain why I don’t think I was brave at all. Or, at least, why I don’t want to be thought of as brave for making a video.

Should I first introduce myself? I’m a Professor of Computer Science at The University of Bristol, a role I’ve been in for the past 11 years. Prior to that I’d held professorial posts at Southampton and at MIT, plus I’d spent seven years working in frontline industrial artificial intelligence R&D for Hewlett-Packard and for Deutsche Bank. But what I’m writing here isn’t about my CV. Let’s get back to this bravery thing.

If someone was cycling too fast, had an accident, broke a limb, received medical care, took time off work to get well, and came back fixed, that’d be pretty routine. What if that person then made a talking-head video about what happened, how they’d been riding too fast for too long and how after the accident they don’t ride quite so fast now, quite so recklessly, now they know how painful the end-result can be? Would we call that person brave? I think not. When I made this video I didn’t for a moment think that I was being brave, because it shouldn’t be an act of bravery to talk about what is, after all, an experience that very many people go through and in which for many people, like me, the story ends well. I was just doing what I wish many more people would do, talking openly and honestly about mental health. I got sick, dangerously so. I sought help and got good care, for which I remain very very very thankful indeed. And I got better. And then I told people what happened. How does me telling that story mean that I’m brave?

I’m acutely aware that it doesn’t work out this way for everyone: some people suffer from chronic mental health issues that go on for a very long time, lifetimes even; some people don’t find, or ask for, the right help in time; their stories may not end nearly so as well as mine. In these senses, I was lucky.

As far as I’m concerned, me telling my story wasn’t a brave thing to do at all. It was an act of thanks, a little celebration of my recovery. Like getting back on the bike and going for a ride and enjoying the wind in your face and laughing out loud that you’re once again able to do something you love; that you’re fixed, the bad times are behind you, that you’re well.

Looking back over the whole sequence of events, if I had to choose one thing I did that I do think of as brave, it was the moment when I was first sat facing my doctor, took a deep breath, and spoke honestly about what was going on inside my head. Before I could get a word out I was in tears and could barely talk. But I knew I had run out of road, that I’d lost control and that I couldn’t deal with the situation alone. For me that was an extraordinarily difficult step to take, one that I very nearly didn’t. I am so glad that I did, and I guess I’m writing these words in the hope that maybe they’ll encourage someone else to take that first step, to reach out and ask for help. In my opinion, that’s the brave bit: the bit when you ask for help. No video required.

Writing this has made me think quite hard, and I realise now that when I spoke to my doctor that was the first time I’d said those words out loud. I was talking as much to myself as to the medic: it was my first admission, not just to my doctor but to me, that I was in a desperately bad way; the first time I said that I needed help. I wasn’t just telling my doctor I was sick, I was telling me too. For me, that was the really difficult part. If ever I was brave, that was the brave bit.

I’m very glad I took that step but it was not at all easy. If my video encourages others to take the same step when they’re in a bad place, to be brave enough to admit they need help and to seek that help, then I think it will have been useful. I hope that it is.

 

Best of the Impossible Garden (so far)

The Impossible Garden is a set of new experimental sculptures, by artist Luke Jerram, inspired by visual phenomena. The exhibition is a collaboration with Bristol Vision Institute and aims to enhance our understanding of vision. All summer visitors have been exploring the garden and discovering engaging art exhibits, designed to stimulate debate about how visual impairments can affect our perception of the world around us. We gathered some of the best Instagram shots of the exhibits so far.

 

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By Luke Jerram

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Just a little glimpse of @lukejerramartist’s Impossible Garden at @brisbotanicgdn 🌿

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A taste of the glitch bench; this and many other exhibits designed to challenge your ideas of sight in the #impossiblegarden

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Think you can do better? The University of Bristol Botanic Garden is a riot of colour as the season change, so grab your camera. The Impossible Garden is open to the public until Sunday 25 November 2018. Open from 10 am until 4.30 pm, 7-days-a-week, including bank holidays. For those with visual impairments, we have audio and braille copies of the brochure available.

Find out more about the Impossible Garden.

Year in Industry with EA Piling in Uganda and Kenya

Engineering Design student Joe McFarlane has just returned from his Year in Industry in Uganda and Kenya. As well as having a significant impact on the company’s processes and submitting a range of successful tenders, he spent six months project managing a landing bay project. Joe was the youngest and most senior person on site, managing a team of 50 people. The company have already asked him back when he graduates.

Here’s Joe’s experience: 

I spent my Year in Industry working for East African Piling in Uganda and Kenya. The company specialises in a variety of piling solutions for private and public infrastructure markets across East Africa.

At first I was mainly working on design and costing proposals for upcoming projects. Services offered include rotary bored piling, continuous flight auger piling, sheet piling, soil nailing, soil anchors and pile load and integrity testing. Through the year I contributed towards 11 bids, 4 of which the company won.

After this stint working on tenders, I moved on to become the Project Manager of a new marine slipway on the coast of Kenya. The slipway extends 74m into the Indian Ocean and was constructed using a sheet pile cofferdam. At the deepest end of the cofferdam, the maximum retained depth of water was 6 m. The completed structure is 105 m long and 6.5 m wide.

We built the cofferdam using a 75 m long barge as a platform. A crane-slung vibrating hammer was used to drive the sheet piles into the seabed to the required depth. Once the cofferdam had been built, the water was pumped out using two 4-inch submersible pumps to create a dry working space. The existing seabed was excavated to a 10% gradient and back-filled with hard-core material. After this, precast concrete slabs, haunches and underlying geotextile material were placed into position from the end of the slipway up to the junction with the existing road. The final step of construction was to flood the cofferdam and cut the sheet piles at a gradient to be flush with the slipway’s haunches.

    

Despite having to overcome significant challenges over the course of the project, it was a major achievement to produce a quality product which meets all client requirements, within the specified budget and two weeks ahead of schedule.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Year in Industry, having learned an incredible amount about the design, management and implementation of engineering projects. I would recommend it to anyone studying Engineering. With the placement proving to be such a success, I look forward to working with the company again in the future.

 

Hear from Engineering Design student Topaz Maitland, who is currently on her 3rd year industry placement designing a renewable energy turbine in Nepal. http://cabot-institute.blogspot.com/2018/09/my-work-experience-designing-renewable.html 

Technical Apprenticeships in Engineering

Our Technical Services team underpins all of the work that goes on in Engineering. They are the experts who run the labs,  make the components and work the cutting edge technology we use every day.

Every year we recruit and train new technical apprentices to support the team. Mictroy talks about his experience:

Find out more about Technical Apprenticeships at Bristol: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/staffdevelopment/professional-services/technical-staff/technical-apprenticeships/

Design and make a vending machine

First year Mechanical Engineering students on the ‘Design & Manufacture 1’ unit undertake a Design and Make Project known as DMP. Students have 8 weeks, working in teams to conceive, design and build a cup vending machine. They spend three weeks brainstorming, conceiving, evaluating and selecting system and sub-system solutions to satisfy a detailed Product Design Specification. There’s four weeks on the embodiment, detail design and build planning, and one week on the manufacture and assembly of the prototype machine itself. There is a high degree of electrical system integration with electrical actuators and sensors which must be used within a programmable microcontroller environment. Students work closely in their teams, managing the project themselves, with technical assistance from staff and demonstration of actuators and sensors from technicians. Students present their final design portfolios and vending machine prototypes to external judges who award prizes for the winning group and runner-up. The week of the final build is always an intense culmination of weeks of hard work – this video give you a flavour of it!

Find out more about our Mechanical Engineering courses 

Games Day: Playing with students’ creations

Every year third year MEng Computer Science students work together in teams of six to create a state-of-the-art computer game. The groups spend up to 2400 hours between them building games that will thrill, delight or immerse the player and provide a spectacle for those watching them play. ‘Games Day’ is an annual tradition for the games to be played, showcased and marked. We spoke to senior Lecturer Dr Tilo Burghardt and students on the course to find out more.

In their games, students integrate technologies from across various computing subjects whilst flexing their creative muscles building new worlds and scenarios to explore. The CS students often work with MA Composition of Music for Film and Television students to produce the soundtracks for their games. They also get advice from industrial mentors in the games, software or media industry.

The department of Computer Science (which sits in the School of Computer Science, Electrical and Electronic Engineering, and Engineering Maths) has been running a computer games module since 1996.