Professor receives top award for robotics project

Professor Owen Holland (left) with Eccerobot and Rob Knight of the Robot Studio, who built Eccerobot

University of Sussex Professor Owen Holland is among a team of robotics scientists who were awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering Rooke Medal, at a special dinner London's Guildhall (Mon 7 June).

Owen Holland (far left) with the Walking with robots team award winners

The team - Professor Holland from the University of Sussex, Professor Alan Winfield, Dr Karen Bultitude and Dr Claire Rocks from the University of the West of England and Professor Noel Sharkey from the University of Sheffield - came together for Walking with Robots, a three-year project that enabled the public to engage with advanced robotics.

The award celebrates the project's success in promoting the importance of engineering to society through a series of public events funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). 

The project formed a network to bring key scientists in robotics together with leading science communicators. The network, which now continues beyond the programme of live events, covers the UK's most exciting areas of intelligent robotics research, including artificial consciousness, biomimetic (animal-like) robots, evolutionary and adaptive robots, climbing and walking robots, space and planetary robotics, swarm robotics and socially interactive robots.

Walking with Robots staged high-profile events all over the UK, ranging from workshops for schoolchildren to public debates, exhibitions at science fairs, and even a pub quiz. The questions explored included: "What is a robot?" "What do we want robots to do in the future?" "What can they do now?"  "Can robots have personalities?"  "Can a fully-functional conscious robot be developed? And if so, should it be treated as a human being?"

Professor Holland, who researches cognitive robotics in the School of Informatics at the University of Sussex, runs the EU-funded Eccerobot (Embodied Cognition in a Compliantly Engineered Robot) project.

Eccerobot is the first 'anthropomimetic' robot, in which the internal workings mimic human anatomy, allowing the robot to move more like a human and perform ordinary human tasks shaking more effectively.

Professor Holland says: "People of all ages are curious about robots - what they can do, how they work, what they might be able to do one day, what effects they might have on our lives in the future, and so on. The problem is that most people outside engineering have never seen or touched a robot, and so their ideas are too often influenced by science fiction films and the media.

"By giving people the opportunity to interact with real robots and the scientists and engineers who design them, we were able to help them to form a more balanced view of the technology. But we had to answer some tough questions along the way, especially from young people!"

Professor Bernard Weiss, who is Head of the School of Engineering and Design, says: "Engineering is a vital area of Britain's economy, and it is important for our future prosperity that it has public support. The Walking with Robots team and Professor Holland have done a superb job of taking a complex area of engineering out into the community at all levels, from Parliament to primary schools. They have given thousands of people and children the opportunity to see the technology for themselves, and meet the engineers behind it. The University of Sussex is proud to have supported the project from the beginning."

Notes for Editors

The Rooke Medal for the Public Promotion of Engineering is awarded to an individual, small team or organisation who has contributed to the Academy's aims and work through their initiative in promoting engineering to the public. For more information about the work of the RAENG see:

For more information on Walking with Robots see:

For information on Professor Holland's work on Eccerobot visit:

See Eccerobot in action on YouTube:

University of Sussex Press office contacts: Maggie Clune, Jacqui Bealing and Daniëlle Treanor. Tel: 01273 678 888. Email:

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Last updated: Monday, 17 January 2011