Future Space trials Robot Tours

October 12th 2020

Gareth Griffiths, Bristol Robotics Lab & Rob Sheffield, Bluegreen Learning

Future Space, in partnership with the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), recently trialled an innovative new approach to providing tours of its facility, enabling people to view its workshop, laboratory and networking spaces from the comfort of their own homes and offices.

Using their personal IT devices to remotely control the movements of a self-driving, two-wheeled videoconferencing robot, potential new Future Space members were given the freedom to explore the unique, state-of-the-art space, while also being able to communicate with staff through a live video link.

Developed by Double Robotics Inc, this exciting technology helps people to feel more connected to colleagues, friends or patients, by having a physical presence, even if they are unable to attend an event or meeting in person. The robot is involved in several UWE Bristol research projects currently underway at BRL.

“We start by co-designing and trialling the technology in our purpose-built Assisted Living Studio,” says Professor Praminda Caleb-Solly, BRL’s Assistive Robotics and Intelligent Health Technologies lead. “We develop, test and implement various assistive robots and heterogeneous sensor systems in this realistic environment before taking them into real-world settings. The next stage, as we are doing with the Double telepresence robot, is evaluating its use in health and social care settings. We are particularly interested in how it can allow nurses, social workers and doctors to remotely interact with patients and are exploring this as part of our partnership with North Bristol Trust.”

“The potential applications are very diverse, as evidenced by our recent trial of using the robot at the Hastings Contemporary to enable people to undertake remote tours of one of Britain's most iconic art galleries, helping to reduce social isolation during the lockdown. This work was conducted as part of our AHRC project, Disability and Community, in collaboration with Bath Spa University, where we are researching how telepresence robots can enable access to culture for disabled people as part the “Leaky Robots” strand. These recent trials with Future Space, set-up by engineers from BRL’s Robotics Innovation Facility, are another fantastic example of technology as a key enabler for businesses in these unprecedented times.”

Aimeé Skinner, Future Space & James Snelgrove, Business West

The trials at Future Space enabled individuals the flexibility to see the space without the need to be physically present. Innovation Manager, Aimeé Skinner, highlights that “This isn’t designed to be a replacement for face-to-face tours, but instead is a supplement option at a time when many are working remotely and are more comfortable meeting virtually. “being able to offer these interactive remote tours has great potential. It goes beyond a video recording, as the individuals get to ‘drive’ the robot around the centre as if they were here, and the team is on hand to answer any questions in real time."

Business West Innovation & Growth Specialist, James Snelgrove, and Director of Bluegreen Learning, Rob Sheffield, both took part in the trial. James commented “thanks to Aimeé and Future Space for organising a robot tour of their office space and lab facilities. It was fun, interactive and intuitive. Being able to scoot down the hallways, navigate the rooms and meet the front desk 'face-to-face' gave me a great understanding of the supportive and collaborative environment they operate."

Following the successful trials, the team are now exploring if this option can be offered out more widely to others interested in touring the facilities. Watch this space.

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