UWE students win 'Brunel of the future' competition

Issue date: 19 April 2006

Lisa Aziz, Adam Budd and Matt Studley Research students from the University of the West of England have won a competition to find the 'new Brunel'of the 21st century with their work on robotics and artificial intelligence. Students Matt Studley and Adam Budd from UWE were thrilled to win in a head-to-head contest with the Universities of Bath and Bristol to find the 'Brunel of the future'.

The competition marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Brunel and the judges were engineer and inventor James Dyson, Gordon Masterton, President of the Institution of Civil Engineers and Andrew Kelly, Director of Brunel 200. The winners received a cash prize of £5,000 donated by ITV West and the South West Regional Development Agency.

Matt said: “We are delighted with this prize. New approaches to robotics have many possible applications and could revolutionise the way repetitive or dangerous tasks – such as mine clearing or pollution control - are carried out.”

Adam continued: “This award reflects the fact that future advances in engineering will draw on skills from a wide range of disciplines, from advanced mathematics to an understanding of how the human brain carries out multiple and parallel tasks.”

The competition results will be revealed in an ITV West programme due to be shown on 20 April. Judging took place at the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum, housed in a Brunel-designed building next to Temple Meads station.

The UWE entry was part of a research project leading to a huge goal – that of making and programming of a new kind of computer, with liquid chemicals instead of silicon providing the processing power – the so-called 'wet brain' computer.

Project supervisor Professor Alan Winfield said, “Our team's radical new approach is to build 'liquid' computers that are more like biological brains. One of our students, Matt, is working on algorithms that enable robots to learn new behaviours. The second student, Adam, is working out how to programme the 'wet brain' using the same approach. Their supervisors are Professor Larry Bull and Dr Ben de Lacy Costello.

“Current computers are certainly powerful but they make millions of processing operations one after the other. Brains in humans and animals work very differently, with millions of operations going on all at the same time – they are said to be massively parallel.

“We believe that future computers, for instance to control intelligent robots that can learn, will need to have this massive parallelism too. This project has the kind of vision and radical approach to difficult problems that Brunel personified. It also reflects our belief that 21st century engineering is multi-disciplinary, and needs a team approach.”

Editor's notes

• The ITV West programme entitled 'The Brunel Factor: Finding the Brunel of the Future', will be transmitted on 20 April at 7.30 pm on ITV West. The programme, a 123 Media production, celebrates one of the foremost engineers of the 19th century, and reveals the judges' choice of the Brunel of the future. It received the support of Brunel 200, the South West Regional Development Agency and the main Brunel sites in Bristol – the SS Great Britain, the Clifton Suspension Bridge and the British Empire and Commonwealth Museum.

• UWE's winning team was from the Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Mathematical Sciences and the Faculty of Applied Sciences. It consisted of students Matt Studley and Adam Budd, with supervisors Professor Larry Bull and Dr Ben de Lacy Costello. The research is part of a wider project involving Professor Andrew Adamatzky.

• The University of Bristol entry featured a system to protect buildings from earthquake damage and the University of Bath team came up with an idea for a special mattress for women to use during pregnancy which will allow them to lie on their front to reduce back pain and provide other holistic benefits.

• Brunel 200 is an initiative from Business West and Bristol City Council to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of the engineer and innovator. Further information can be found at www.brunel200.com

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