Walking with Robots

Walking with Robots project

How would you like to have your house cleaned automatically by a robot? Would you want that robot to look human? Can you tell the difference between science fact and science fiction? How far do you think robotics technology has actually advanced? What is the most sophisticated robot available in the present day? If a fully-functional, thinking robot could be developed, would you consider it human?

Walking with Robots was a programme of public events funded by EPSRC that aimed to address these questions and more.

The programme brought together leading researchers in intelligent robotics with experts in engaging audiences with science and engineering. In three years the network grew to include researchers, at all levels, from some fifteen UK universities together with engineers from a wide range of companies engaged in robotics. Working together they provided robotics expertise at over 170 events across the UK, reaching at least 60,000 people. Events covered a broad range of audiences, formats, durations, and topics but all sought to excite and engage public audiences with the engineering challenges and - at some events - the societal and ethical implications, of robotics research. Download the Walking with Robots Evaluation Report.

Drawing on expertise from within the network Walking with Robots ran training events to equip young researchers with the skills and confidence to engage with public audiences. As a result there is now a community of young roboticists ready and able to promote engineering to the public.

Walking with Robots delivered four high profile projects:

The programme also included a series of flagship events:

  • Walking with Robots Launch Event (2006): a reception at the IET for roboticists and their robots
  • Robot Rights at the Dana Centre (2007): a facilitated debate about robot rights and ethics
  • Explore at Aberystwyth Bandstand (2007): on the theme of exploration using land, sea and air robots.
  • Workshop for Robotics Researchers (2007): a 3 day training workshop at At-Bristol for robotics, AI and animatronics researchers.
  • Pilot Visions Conference (2007): a 2 day pilot for 16-19 year students to debate and feedback their view on robotics research, leading to a national Robotics Visions conference project.
  • Parliamentary Seminar on Intelligent Robots (2008): a briefing for 130 parliamentarians and roboticists, with robots.
  • Walking with Robots @ Manchester Science Festival (2009): 42 robot events in Manchester attended by about 4000 people.

In summary, the project:

1. Organised and supported over 100 separate events throughout the UK with a very broad range of event types, subject matter and target audiences

2. Achieved extensive audience reach: at least 60,000 people, of which the majority (58%) were family audiences

3. Facilitated a high level of involvement in public engagement amongst the UK robotics community, both at senior (e.g. professorial) level as well as more junior researchers

4. Attained a wide and high level of regional, national and international media coverage

5. Developed various support mechanisms for network members including an evaluation toolkit and website

6. Developed significant partnerships throughout the UK including working with industry, science and discovery centres, learned institutions professional networks and other STEM Public Engagement practitioners, and

7. Accomplished a high level of recognition within the wider stakeholder communities including robotics research, STEM communication, policy makers, and learned institutions.

Walking with Robots was led by the Universities of the West of England, Bristol, Essex and Sheffield, and is coordinated from the Science Communication Unit at UWE, Bristol.

If you would like to find out more about Walking with Robots, please contact Alan Winfield.