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.”

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.

 

LettUs Grow – low carbon food of the future

LettUs Grow was founded in 2015 by three Bristol University Students – Ben Crowther and Charlie Guy (Engineering Design) and Jack Farmer (Biology).

As a company they wanted to tackle some of the biggest problems facing the planet, by reducing the waste and carbon footprint of fresh produce. Their solution was to design and develop aeroponic irrigation and control technology for indoor farms. On World Food Day, they share their thoughts:-

Global warming and greenhouse gas emissions are two of the defining problems of our generation. Agriculture is a big piece of the puzzle, producing a third of global emissions. But the problem of global food security is much more than just emissions. A stable food supply is a fundamental human need and there is a severe lack of innovative solutions to help feed the next generation.

A common misconception about plants is that they only “breathe” through their leaves, but part of the oxygen and CO2 they use is also absorbed through their roots.

We knew things needed to change, so we devoted ourselves to finding food-focused solutions. By combining our backgrounds in engineering and biology we’ve found innovative ways to help indoor farmers scale up their operations to compete with traditional agriculture. Our novel technology builds on the successes of hydroponics and addresses many of the issues which have been holding back indoor farming.

A common misconception about plants is that they only “breathe” through their leaves, but part of the oxygen and CO2 they use is also absorbed through their roots. By suspending our plants’ roots in the nutrient dense mist rather than in water, we’ve overcome some of the problems faced by hydroponics. Because they’re not submerged, plants can respire optimally during their whole life cycle. Using this system, called aeroponics, we’ve seen up to a 70% increase in crop yields over hydroponics.

The UK was ravaged by storms and snow from February to March, scorched by months of temperatures exceeding 30°C.

Chard growing in one of the aeroponic grow beds

As is often the way, aeroponic growing’s biggest strength can also be its greatest downfall. Most systems produce their mist by pushing nutrient-rich water through strips of nozzles. The small holes quickly become clogged with falling plant debris and a buildup of salts and nutrients – much like how limescale forms inside a kettle. We’ve developed a system without any nozzles, so there is nothing to clog and break.  Alongside our patent-pending hardware, we’ve also developed an integrated farm management software system, called Ostara®, which reduces labour requirements, optimises conditions for plant growth and makes farmers’ lives easier.

The incredible weather of 2018 has shown the need for this sort of technology. The UK was ravaged by storms and snow from February to March, scorched by months of temperatures exceeding 30°C during the summer and more snows are predicted before the end of the year. These extreme weather conditions put an enormous strain on farmers. They’re faced with the choice of swallowing their losses or increasing their prices – something tricky to do when at the mercy of supermarkets!

If you’re keen to see one of our aeroponic grow beds in action and learn how we can help feed the next generation, come visit us at the People’s Tech on Saturday 20th October in the Engine Shed. We’ll be there along with another agri-tech startup, the Small Robot Company, who’re replacing bulky inefficient tractors with small robots. Tickets start from as little as £3 and can be bought from here: www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/peoples-tech-october-tickets-49245025196.

Visit the LettUs Grow website for more information.

From India to the UK: Top tips from an international student

Starting university can be daunting at the best of times, but even more so when you’re studying overseas and leaving your home country for the first time.

That’s what Indian student Samia Mohinta faced when starting her MSc in Advanced Computing last month. Samia has thrown herself into life in Bristol and has some advice and insight for others in a similar position…

Hello readers,

Are you having cold feet – terrified to leave your home country? Or have you taken the big leap, but missing home? Keep reading! This post lists all that I found useful while coming to the UK and after two weeks of being here.

This is my first time anywhere outside India. I am an avid traveller, but stepping out of India, to go to a place for a year without family and friends, did freak me out. So, trust me, I can understand how you all are feeling. Don’t worry, you are not alone.

Here are a few tips to help organise yourself and shake off the blues before and after you travel to the UK:

  1. Prepare beforehand: If you are planning to study at the University of Bristol, get an idea about the city before you arrive. Bristol is hilly, so start working on improving stamina, because you’ll need a lot of that when you climb up to reach your lectures. There are quite a few blogs on the city of Bristol and reading one of those will give you sufficient information of what the city is like. Currently, for me, it’s fantastic.
  2. Review your goals: Think and write your aspirations on a page. Judge your potential. The Indian model of imparting education is very different from here. Unlike in India, you won’t be spoon-fed with information and details all the time. You need to be self-motivated and alert to grab the opportunities that come your way.
  3. Understand the course you are going to take: Go through your course modules and check if you understand what it’s about. This is very important. I have seen a lot of my friends dropping out of courses that they chose without self-judgement of potential. Follow your interests and think about your existing experience and skill set.
  4. University of Bristol flags at Heathrow airport
    Reach out for help: If you are travelling alone from India to UK, reach out to people if you face any problem. Don’t panic. Speak to your co-travellers, even if you don’t know them and ask for advice. You shall definitely find someone travelling to the same or a nearby place. Team up! I myself had a four-hour delayed flight, which led to a lot of problems after landing in Heathrow. I reached out to the University representatives, who were present at the airport, bus stops and train stations, and got my issues sorted.
  5. Only pack for one week: Don’t fill your bag with unnecessary stuff. Bring dry food to last a week. Pack some cooked food, just to soothe your cravings. Bring hoodies, warm jackets, gloves, mufflers and sweat shirts. Also pack a few cottons and summer dresses. If you can, pack a pressure cooker or a rice cooker – extremely useful to prepare a quick meal. Carry some cloth hangers and air-tight tiffin boxes as well.
  6. Indian food: Do not carry a lot of Indian spices because you can get everything in the supermarkets. But I shall ask you to pack a small amount of flour or rice for making chapattis or rice, so that you do not need to rush to a supermarket immediately after you arrive. There are a lot of Indian restaurants all around the city, pop in to satisfy your occasional cravings. Take a bus to Easton and find loads of Indian stuff.
  7. When in Britain, do as the British do: Try and get a brief idea about the British culture. You should know how to greet people when you meet them. In India, we usually don’t shake hands, but here it is a common courtesy. Be polite and friendly.
  8. Make new friends: I know it sounds weird. You cannot just be friends with someone after a tiny chit chat. However, meet a lot of people. I am not suggesting you to jump into parties, but during uni hours speak to your classmates and get to know each other. You can join a few societies or clubs (there are nearly 200 clubs and societies in UoB) and make a few friends. Get out of your comfort zone and shake a leg at a dance taster session.
  9. Exploring Bristol harbourside
    Explore Bristol, reduce boredom: Bored with sitting at home? Grab a backpack and put your travel shoes on. Time to explore Bristol! Bristol boasts of beautiful parks, hot-air balloons (I am personally fascinated with these), Ferry rides at the Harbourside, the Clifton Suspension Bridge (loved the view from it), Museums and some fantastic graffiti decorating the walls of the entire city. Get a student’s one-day bus pass for £3 and explore the Bristol inner zone. You can also buy an outer zone pass that lets you access Bath and Bristol completely for a day.
  10. Take your modules seriously: Go to the lectures. Don’t get unnerved if you find the first few a little difficult. Read the materials and ask for help from your professors. There are dedicated teams for mental health in the University, who can help you cope with the study pressure. A lot of Indians study at UoB as well, reach out to them via the Indian Society and share your worries.

Life is all about taking risks. Sign yourself up for an adventure every day and reap the satisfaction it brings. This new world in Bristol is a lot different from yours back in India. It is way more organised. It is also extremely welcoming. Be confident. You shall shine!

Thank you for being with me till the end.

PS : I shall come back with some other fun stuff about my adventures in Bristol. Stay tuned!

Student well-being

There are many options at Bristol if you need any support settling into University life or just need to chat to somebody. Find out where to get help here.

Formula Student is go go go!

Formula student team University of Bristol

The world’s largest student engineering design competition is back. We spoke to Engineering student Harry White about the Formula Student project and being a part of the Bristol Electric Racing team

The team showing off the car at last’s year University Open Day

Formula Student is a long-running international competition where the best engineering students across the world design, manufacture and race open-wheeled single seater formula styled vehicles. The vehicles produced by some of the top teams are truly astounding feats of engineering, with some cars able to accelerate from 0-60 MPH in under 1.5 seconds! The big finale is the head-to-head race at Silverstone, where the teams battle it out to find the overall winner.

Chief Engineer, Harry White, explains the uniqueness of this project: “This competition is one of the best opportunities available to university students to experience a complex, real-life engineering problem that requires analytical thinking, design and team work.”

“It allows students to develop important skills that may be less focused on in a classical engineering degree, such as business, marketing and cost analysis.” He continues “We’ll be working hard towards developing our business and marketing case, with the goal of ranking amongst the top teams next year.”

The team’s workspace, in the shadow of a helicopter!

This year’s team are currently building their first car to compete at the 2019 competition. Harry updates us on their progress: “We have most of a rolling chassis, with only a few modifications still required to produce a product that fundamentally works. The next steps this year will be to develop the powertrain, which is no small task, and to continue developing the rolling chassis until the car can drive under its own power. From there the next task will be an extensive testing and commissioning stage. There’s a significant difference between a car that can move and a car that can race.”

One of the great benefits of the project is for the students to work equally as part of team, with all members having the opportunity to contribute significantly to the design. As Harry points out: “There’s a lot of design involved with creating a car from scratch, and this means that younger members of the team can contribute in a way that would be almost impossible in more established teams.”

Importantly, there’s the social aspect of the project: “Working as part of a dedicated team, all focused on achieving the same goal, leads to a tight-knit group of friends, between different years and courses; a social dynamic that is difficult to find elsewhere.”

As Harry sums up: “Formula student is an amazing opportunity that gives real engineering experience and is as rewarding as it is demanding; at Bristol Electric Racing there is the opportunity for anyone who is motivated enough to do great things.”

You can follow the team’s progress on Facebook. 

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 

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.

Aerospace PhD in Three Minute Thesis final

Three Minute Thesis (3MT®) is an international competition that celebrates exciting research by PhD students around the world. Developed by The University of Queensland (UQ), the competition cultivates students’ academic, presentation, and research communication skills. Presenting in a 3MT competition increases your capacity to effectively explain your research in three minutes, using lay language. Competitors are allowed one PowerPoint slide, but no other resources or props.

This year Andres Rivero from the School of Civil, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering made it to the Bristol final with his presentation, ‘Flexible airplanes: achieving higher fuel efficiency by adapting wing shapes during flight’.