Tuesday 11th September 2018 saw our first DigiTOP partner site visit, as representatives from Loughborough University and University of Nottingham visited Manuel Giuliani at Bristol Robotics Laboratory.
BRL is a really interesting, collaborative facility, with multiple Universities working together, but also space for start ups, more established companies and short term industrial feasibility studies – it has a great, incubator and really relaxed feeling! As we’re still at the start of the DigiTOP project, the visit sparked inspiration and lots of conversations for us, considering the potential facilities that are available for us to work with, but also the sense of working together across institutions. (Did I mention that lunch was pretty impressive too?! And I have definitely come away with a rather expensive shopping list!) The day was actually put into perspective during the journey back to the train station after the visit had finished. The taxi driver was interested in why I’d been visiting (I guess it’s one of their standard, polite questions!) and it gave me good opportunity to talk about what we’re trying to do through the DigiTOP project. He did seem to be genuinely interested, especially with the focus on people. He brought up one of his key concerns, that we see so often in the media – are robots going to steal our jobs? We talked about the fact that it’s going to take more than just getting the technology right for there to be a step change. We also discussed the fact that the job landscape will certainly change, but that there will be job creation as well as job loss. People will be doing different jobs in 10, 20, 50 years time. It is important to design this new landscape well. It’s not just about what we can design autonomous systems to do, but what do we need them to do? What jobs should people do, and how can we best support them? Can we make things safer, easier, more rewarding? Can we help people develop new skills? The allocation of function question needs to be revisited.
This all provides context for the work we’re doing on the DigiTOP project – we’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve taken the first steps!
Dr Ella-Mae Hubbard