University of Glasgow robot supports socially-distanced lab work on opposite sides of the world

The robot is co-run by the University of Glasgow and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu

Electrical engineering students on opposite sides of the world are remotely using a robot arm to undertake laboratory work.

The project is the result of a collaboration between the University of Glasgow and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China (UESTC) in Chengdu to deliver undergraduate degree programmes in China.

The robot hardware, known as the Panda and developed by Franka Emika in Germany, is designed to offer “fine-grained control in a wide range of applications”, the university said. The Panda is in the James Watt South building on the University of Glasgow Gilmorehill campus.

Students on the Circuit Analysis and Design course in Chengdu can access the kit remotely and use it to complete tasks they would normally do themselves in the lab. Glasgow students will soon gain the chance to try the arm ahead of it being integrated into teaching courses more widely in the new year.

“It opens up a lot of possibilities for teaching not just during this difficult time but also, once some normality is restored to everyday life, allowing students to complete practical work in the lab from anywhere in the world, at any time”
– Dr Guodong Zhao, University of Glasgow

Students can book time with the robot to complete assignments, as well as program the arm to build circuits – a task they would usually undertake manually at a lab bench. The robot-built circuit designs will be marked and used in final assessments. The team are investigating the possibility of incorporating a webcam and making the arm user-controlled, allowing direct real-time control.

Dr Guodong Zhao, lecturer in systems power and energy at the University of Glasgow, is one of the project leads.

“It’s important that we try to give students as much of the experience of hands-on learning as we can, even during a pandemic where everyone is being advised to keep their hands to themselves as much as possible,” he said.

“This pilot project is a step towards our goal of helping to realise ‘Education 4.0’ – integrating AI, robotics and other technology into the classroom. It opens up a lot of possibilities for teaching not just during this difficult time but also, once some normality is restored to everyday life, allowing students to complete practical work in the lab from anywhere in the world, at any time.”

Course leaders expect more than 60 students in Scotland and China to have had the chance to use the arm by the end of the semester.

Glasgow University plans to expand its capabilities by integrating it into its 5G communications testbed, supported by the Scotland 5G Centre.


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