July 28, 2020, by Hazel Sayers

Connected Everything & Smart Products Beacon Online Summer School – review

Connected Everything and the Smart Products Beacon at the University of Nottingham joined forces to organise an online, three-day Summer School. It focused on the use of collaborative robots (COBOTs) in a post-COVID-19 world in the specific settings of Agri-robotics and those in home and healthcare settings.

Chaired by Professor Steve Benford and Dr Nicholas Watson, and hosted by researchers at the University of Nottingham, the Summer School brought together delegates from across the UK to learn about some of the key challenges faced by the collaborative robotics research community, such as ensuring robots can communicate with a broad range of users, learn intuitively, and are ethically designed and safe to interact with. Delegates were tasked with ideating conceptual designs for a new COBOT that might help overcome problems arising from the current global pandemic, with a focus on food production, healthcare, or help in the home.


Working in teams, Summer School delegates generated some fantastic, innovative design ideas for new COBOTs. These ranged from assistive robots in hospital environments that will enable patients to communicate with loved ones, to help-at-home robots designed to interface with first responders or provide assisted-living support to maximise independence for vulnerable users. Also thrown into the mix was an interactive COBOT kitchen to increase productivity and reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission by infected human food handlers.

However, in a very close-run competition, the judges decided the winning design was “Squishy”, ​ an inflatable, soft cobot designed to assist carers in lifting bed-bound patients and reduce the risk of occupational injuries. Moreover, Squishy features a wipe-clean surface to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and supports social distancing by reducing the need for carer-resident contact.

Congratulations to the winning team – the BOTtom Wipers!

For Connected Everything and the Smart Products Beacon, the Summer School represented a new venture in delivering an event entirely online, and consequently provided a fantastic opportunity to explore new approaches to working collaboratively. Although not without its challenges, the success of the Summer School will help to inform the design of future online events, acting as a precursor to an evolution in how we bring communities of researchers together to address research problems.

The Summer School was funded by EPSRC through Connected Everything II network plus (EP/S036113/1)

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