- Register


Home >Suppliers >Charlotte Stonestreet
Charlotte Stonestreet

1/4     (1 to 10 of 33)

Funding crisis on the horizon? 21/06/2019

The partners of the Horizon 2020 SOMA Consortium recently announced the end of their highly acclaimed project to advance the state-of-the-art robotic manipulation capabilities for industry.

As part of the venture, UK technology and engineering pioneer, Ocado has been working in partnership Europe’s leading robotic researchers, academics and scientists from the Technische Universität Berlin, Ocado, the University of Pisa, IIT - Istituto Italiano di Tecnologia, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, the German Aerospace Center), and the Institute of Science and Technology Austria.

The traditional approach to robotic grasping and in-hand manipulation uses rigid hands and considers the object’s environment as an obstacle. Traditional research focused on exploring ways to grasp an object without coming into contact with its surroundings.

The SOMA project marks a paradigm shift in approach by using soft hands that can easily adapt to the shape of the object, and leverage the physical constraints of the environment as opportunities to guide manipulation. This fundamental change in approach was inspired by the ways in which humans use their hands.

“The thousands of trials we performed clearly demonstrated that humans grasp and manipulate objects in very different ways from how roboticists had imagined for 50 years. This research inspired us to use soft, compliant hands and to actively exploit the environment in much the same way that humans do. Today, SOMA hands can perform robust grasping in dynamic, open, and highly variable environments without having to rely on a very accurate perception of the system, or the geometric CAD model of the object,” said Professor Oliver Brock, Head of the Robotics and Biology Laboratory, Technische Universität Berlin.

Horizon 2020 is the EU’s biggest ever research and innovation programme, with nearly €80 billion of funding available over 7 years (2014 to 2020) – in addition to the private investment that this money will attract. The UK has secured €5.1 billion of funding to date (14.3% of the total). Taking great ideas from the lab to the market, it promises breakthroughs, discoveries and world-firsts. Coupling research and innovation, Horizon 2020 is helping to achieve sustainable growth with its emphasis on excellent science, industrial leadership and tackling societal challenges.

The UK and EU’s intention is that the eligibility of UK researchers and businesses to participate in Horizon 2020 will remain unchanged for the remaining duration of the programme. This has been agreed as part of the Financial Settlement which was signed-off by both UK and European Commission negotiators in a draft Withdrawal Agreement. In the event of a ‘no deal’ scenario, the UK’s departure from the EU would mean UK organisations may be unable to access funding for Horizon 2020 projects after exit day.

Of course, when Horizon 2020 comes to an end next year, whatever the scheme that moves into its place, the UK will have no participation. It’s not even the funding that is the biggest issue here (although I can’t see the UK government stepping up to the mark in terms of financial support by any stretch of the imagination), it’s the fact that the best and most innovative UK companies and institutions will not have the same easy opportunities to work with their EU counterparts on such projects. A lose-lose situation all round.

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

Watch this space 16/04/2019

When is comes to the space sector, while it might be NASA with its Mars Rovers and planet-hunting probes, or Elon Musk’s SpaceX and its Falcon Heavy megarocket that grab the headlines, the contribution made by the UK’s space industry should not be underestimated. Indeed, the sector has seen significant growth in income, exports and employment in recent years, with total income now standing at £14.8 billion.

The sector employs 41,900 people, while exports are worth £5.5 billion. Much of this growth is due to space manufacturing, including satellites, ground systems and components. The UK has significant capabilities in this area, building major parts for one in four of the world’s commercial telecommunications satellites and the wider benefits are considerable.

A recent report carried out by London Economics on behalf of the UK Space Agency has found that every £1 of public spending generates £3-4 in value for the recipients in the space industry, with additional wider spillover benefits to the UK economy.

The demanding environment of space means that investments  generate new knowledge and innovations that extend far beyond the space industry. For example, satellites provide services that enable a wide range of economic activities, supporting industries worth £300b to the UK.

The “Spillovers in the space sector report” looks at programmes such as ExoMars, a mission to search for life on Mars, with the UK leading the build of the ‘Rosalind Franklin’ Mars rover. The project developed advanced welding techniques that are now being used to manufacture aluminium cans, saving 12% on raw materials, or £100m in total.

Potential spilllovers include the development of buggies for airport transport which could contribute £10m to UK GDP and navigation sensors in areas with no access to satellite positioning and navigation technologies, which could contribute £7.2m to UK GDP.

Less positive though is the effect that Brexit could have on the UK’s space industry, as explored in a new report from The Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy (CSPS), “What Brexit Means for UK Space Leadership”.

“Brexit will almost certainly create an inflection point for the UK space sector,” said Jamie Morin, executive director of CSPS. “In the aftermath of the referendum, the British government has reviewed its activities in space, and the process has moved entities such as the UK Space Agency and the Ministry of Defence to coordinate more tightly than they have in the past. Regardless of Brexit’s outcome, the UK can take considered, deliberate steps that benefit its space sector, including expanding the capacity of its space agency.”

We can but hope.

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

Automation gets a bad press - again 04/02/2019

There is a problem here in the UK with the way some of the mainstream media portrays robotics and automation. Take for example the Sun’s recent coverage of the latest wearable safety technology being rolled out to warehouse workers at 25+ sites belonging to online giant, Amazon.

The Amazon Robotics-designed Robotic Tech Vest has been devised to protect workers when they need to enter a space usually reserved for automated systems in order to action a repair or retrieve fallen items. Sensors built into the Tech Vest, which looks something like a souped-up utility belt, alert the automated systems to a wearer’s presence, which then down to avoid collision and potential injury. The system works in tandem with existing obstacle avoidance detection.

As part of it’s article “Amazon built an electronic vest to improve worker/robot interactions” US online publisher TechCrunch quoted Amazon Robotics VP, Brad Porter: “All of our robotic systems employ multiple safety systems ranging from training materials, to physical barriers to entry, to process controls, to on-board.

“In the past, associates would mark out the grid of cells where they would be working in order to enable the robotic traffic planner to smartly route around that region. What the vest allows the robots to do is detect the human from farther away and smartly update its travel plan to steer clear without the need for the associate to explicitly mark out those zones.”

Now contrast this with the Sun, which kicked off with the headline “Amazon factory workers forced to wear hi-tech belts to stop robots killing them”. Apart from not appearing to be able to differentiate between a production facility and a warehouse, rather than conveying the message that the Tech Vest is a positive development designed to enhance established levels of safety for workers, the article talks about “metal bots” being a “serious threat to humans”. Of course, there are safety risks in just about every industrial environment, automated or not, but to infer that an automated environment poses a bigger risk simply by nature of it being automated is misleading.

And rather than simply covering the technology, the article goes on to talk of robots taking the place of blue collar jobs, the ‘dark side’ of I4.0, Elon Musk asserting that Telsa over-automated in the creation of the new Model 3, and reports that the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no standards for robotics industry. All in all, it can hardly be considered positive coverage.

OK, the Sun isn’t exactly known for giving a balanced view on anything it covers, so you might ask why should it matter if its overall message on automation is less than positive? After all, as a reader of CDA, you are surely more well versed in the advantages. Well, if the UK was investing adequately in automation, it wouldn’t be an issue. But the stark reality is that the UK continues to lag way behind its fellow developed economies in terms of industrial robot use, indeed Bank of England economist, Will Abel, described British automation as "pretty rubbish”, going on to say that  "below average" use of robotics is leading to a higher proportion of GDP going to the labour force.

And while negative news stories citing killer robots coming for everyone’s jobs are certainly not the only reason the UK fails to invest in automation, they definitely don’t matters, so maybe it’s time some of  mainstream media took a step away from the sensationalist headlines in favour of a more balanced view.

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

Essential up-skilling 11/12/2018

With the engineer recruitment crisis continuing seemingly unabated and, in all probability, Brexit exacerbating the situation, the need to encourage more young people to study STEM subjects and subsequently pursue a corresponding career has been widely acknowledged. Whether or not such efforts ultimately prove a success remains to be seen, but in the meantime employers in the industrial sector could do much worse than to look at their existing workforces and make sure that they are achieving to

According to new research by EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, UK manufacturers will have to raise their game to use their shrinking workforce better and smarter to cope in an ever-changing world of automated technologies. Business leaders will have to be more innovative in their use of the existing employees by implementing retraining schemes in key development areas such as AI and digital innovation. This must be done at speed to combat the shrinking talent pool.

Initiating a proper workforce plan - which analyses employees’ skills and where they can be used to best effect – ensures the best use of available human capital. This will become ever more important in the face of increased restrictions on EU workers post-Brexit, according to EEF’s report Reinventing the Manufacturing Workforce. A properly thought out workforce plan also helps identify those employees which will benefit most from the opportunity to retrain and up-skill in the latest digital technologies.

However only 32% of manufacturers surveyed had a workforce plan (a plan with measurable actions that align the changing needs of the business with their people strategy) in place, while almost two-thirds (64%) did not.

The report reveals that 69% of those surveyed said that the adoption of new technologies and techniques is driving the priorities of their workforce plan, while nearly half (44%) said that the introduction of new products is the main driver for change in workforce practices.

To prepare to secure the skills they need for the future a heartening 72% of businesses revealed that they are introducing or continuing to run formal apprenticeships, while half (48%) are revising their recruitment strategy to recruit workers from other industries and sectors with transferable skills.

Others are introducing or continuing with popular graduate programmes to grab the best potential talent while just over a quarter (26%) are revising their workforce plan.

Flexible ways of working have already been adopted by all but 15% of manufacturers to non-production employees and 7% to their production employees, which has helped to retain existing employees (74%) and also attract prospective employees (56%).

So, while the news isn't all bad, there is still significant room for improvement, which should not be ignored in these turbulent times.

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

Manufacturing at increased risk of cyber attacks 09/10/2018

It seems that cyber crime is never far from the headlines, once again hitting the front-pages recently when Dutch military intelligence thwarted a Russian cyber-attack on the headquarters of the international chemical weapons watchdog. While such incidents rightly gain much press coverage, it is important to remember that cyber security is important across the board and not just in matters of international security.

In its 2018 Spotlight Report on Manufacturing, leader in AI-powered cyberattack detection and threat hunting, Vectra, highlights that that the manufacturing industry exhibits higher-than-normal rates of cyberattack-related reconnaissance and lateral movement activity. This is due, asserts the company, to the rapid convergence of enterprise information technology and operational technology networks in manufacturing organisations. In other words, the adoption of IIoT and Industry 4.0 related technologies.

As part of key findings in the new 2018 Spotlight Report on Manufacturing, Vectra revealed that attackers who evade perimeter security can easily spy, spread and steal, unhindered by insufficient internal access controls.

In addition to the physical disruption that a cyber attack on a manufacturing  or process facility undoubtedly has the potential to inflict, intellectual property theft and business disruption are additional primary reasons why manufacturers have become prime targets for cybercriminals.

Other key findings include a much higher volume of malicious internal behaviours, which is a strong indicator that attackers are already inside the network; an unusually high volume of reconnaissance behaviours, which is a strong indicator that attackers are mapping out manufacturing networks in search of critical assets; and an abnormally high level of lateral movement, which is a strong indicator that the attack is proliferating inside the network.

“The interconnectedness of Industry 4.0-driven operations, such as those that involve industrial control systems, along with the escalating deployment of industrial internet-of-things (IIoT) devices, has created a massive, attack surface for cybercriminals to exploit,” said Chris Morales, head of security analytics at Vectra.

So, even if you haven’t experienced a cyber attack yet, the chances are that it won’t be long before you do. In the light of this, there is really is no excuse for not having a cyber security strategy in place, no matter what the size of your business. For those in the manufacturing sector wanting to know more, there is plenty of advice available; a good place to start for a brief overview is is the National Cyber Security Centre's 'Making Sense of cyber secuirty in OT environments', which can be found at ncsc.gov.uk/guidance/operational-technologies

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

Is Industry 4.0 good for your health? 16/08/2018

There’s no doubt that the increased automation which comes about with Industry 4.0 is well and truly on the radar in the manufacturing sector. And with increased automation comes the need to develop health and safety strategies accordingly.

At the XXI World Congress on Safety and Health in Singapore, Secretary General of the International Social Security Association (ISSA), Hans-Horst Konkolewsky, asked a large audience of international safety practitioners whether the 4th industrial revolution will be good or bad for worker’s health and safety. Overwhelmingly the answer that came back was that yes, ultimately the changing world of work will be good for our health and wellbeing. However, there are also many challenges to navigate, and while regular readers will probably be well versed in the physical health and safety challenges thrown up by automation, they are less likely to have considered the potential risks to people’s mental well being.

Research by IPPR says that 10 million jobs are at risk from automation in the UK – something that is bound to play on people’s minds. When health and safety practitioners were asked about future risks of work, the health advantages of automating certain hazardous processes (for example the increasing use of automated riveting or 3D printing) – and by implication the removal of people - were uppermost in their minds, along with modern, flexible ways of working where people are adding specific value to automated processes.

However, it's not all so positive. A likely development is that people and intelligent machines will increasingly become ‘colleagues’ in the future, glimpses of which can already been seen in the proliferation of collaborative robots to hit the mark in recent years. As the British Safety Council points out, a colleague who can work without breaks, who is always ‘on,’ who isn’t going to share much ‘social’ information, is a very different colleague; a relationship that could easily create stress and undermine well being.

We also know that people at work derive important health benefits from the social nature of work and this will be an issue to address in the future. Evidence also tells us that the health benefits of ‘good’ work, whether we define this in terms of good employment practices, reward and recognition or fulfilling jobs, can be either enhanced or undermined by disruptive technologies, asserts the British Safety Council.

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

Delivering the future 19/06/2018

Amongst the many industrial shows and events that I attend throughout the year, the UKIVA Machine Vision Conference always proves to be one of the most interesting, with its extensive programme covering not just what is possible today, but also what we will be seeing in the near future.

One of this year’s key note presentations was from Starship Technologies - not, as you might think some kind of space exploration set-up, but a manufacturer and operator of delivery robots, set up in 2014 by Ahti Heinla and Janus Friis, two of the cofounders of Skype.

While I have read about and even seen examples of the robots before, VP  of marketing at Starship Technologies, Henry Harris-Burland, really brought the concept to life in this presentation. Designed to deliver loads such as parcels, groceries, or even takeaway food orders within a two-mile radius, and thus addressing ‘final-mile’ delivery issues, the robots are around a shoulder-width wide and move at pedestrian speed along pavements. The person to whom the delivery is being made uses an app to specify a time and location to rendezvous with the robot.

According to Harris-Burland, where the robots are in use (currently including parts of London and Milton Keynes in the UK) they seem to have attracted relatively little attention on the streets while in operation, with most people simply ignoring them (although I’m not entirely sure this would be the case where I live in semi-rural Sussex where an Uber is still a rare sight!) Inherently safe  and tracked at all times, the robots navigate around people and objects and feature a cargo bay that can only be opened by the recipient. And the aim is to provide the service for £1, or €1, per delivery.

With online ordering becoming ever more prevalent, the manner in which we receive goods is undoubtedly going to have to change, and while drone deliveries still seem a bit, well “sci-fi”, the Starship delivery robots offer a solution that is most definitely here today.

One of the things that really struck me during the presentation, apart from the sheer inevitability of this type of technology and business model, was how the company had developed the delivery robot with large scale production in mind right from the very beginning. Rather than using the most cutting-edge, and therefore most expensive, technologies and techniques, the company has been mindful to ensure the manufacturing costs do not hinder growth to the effect that it is able to produce the robots, says Harris-Burland, for not much more than a smart phone. While vision and blue-sky thinking undoubtedly has its place in today's industrial sector, it is the type of practical long term thinking seen at Starship that all businesses should all aspire to for success.

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

Manufacturing needs its mojo 03/05/2018

At the recent MACH exhibition, Jürgen Maier, Chief Executive of Siemens UK and chair of the Made Smarter industry-led review talked about how the UK manufacturing sector could, as he put it, “get it’s mojo back”.

While he did recall the heyday of the 1960s Maier was very clear that any future success will come not from the traditional manufacturing that we have been used to, but from smarter, digital manufacturing. The future of manufacturing is not just about the machine, but it is about the physical asset of the machine and its associated data and the extra productivity that can be gained by harnessing that data.

According to Maier, if you want to solve the UK’s productivity issues, the sector that you should be investing in is manufacturing and technology. As he asserted at the event, UK manufacturing is currently buoyant, politicians are talking positively about the sector and portraying it as the growth engine of the economy, exports are rising and technological development is apparent. It is the sector that can apply digital technologies, through which productivity can be driven.

However, the picture isn’t all rosy. Maier pointed out that, while there is ambition to improve, when it comes to investment in R&D the UK still lags behind other advanced industrial nations with about 1.7% of GDP (joint government and private sector) going into R&D compared with an average of 2.5%. And on the ground, when you look at what the UK is doing compared to some of its key competitors, particularly in advanced digital technologies, not enough is being invested.

Maier identified skills as an area that is particularly lacking in investment, both in general eduction terms and when it comes to businesses investing in their workforces. For the UK to lead, Maier feels that everyone in manufacturing needs to know about the potential of digital technologies and urged those in the sector to upskill and train people in the principles behind them.

And then there’s investment in the technologies themselves, something Maier identified as being sorely lacking. For any smaller business who might be thinking that the whole journey towards digitalisation sounds complicated and expensive, though, he pointed out that there are relatively inexpensive solutions available that make a good starting point.

It is also vital that the UK increases its innovation, creating the technologies that are part of the fourth industrial revolution. As Mair said, “We need to be the providers of the Industrial Internet of Things platforms. We need to have people here in the UK who are writing the code behind those, who are creating the machine learning, the artificial intelligence that sits in those platforms.”

And, really, who can argue otherwise?

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

More robots doesn't have to mean fewer jobs 08/03/2018

There is no doubt about it, even if the UK is not leading the way when it comes to implementing industrial robots, the worldwide movement towards more automated, digitalised ways of working will increasingly impact on people’s work and the roles that they carry out within the workplace. Indeed the workplace itself will be - and in many cases already is – altered as a result of growing robot and AI implementation.

Naturally, for some there is a degree of anxiety. Uncertainty is rarely a good thing, particularly if it’s people’s livelihoods potentially on the line. Little wonder then that there has been plenty of negative press coverage, often along the lines of “the robots are coming to take your job”!

However, there are signs that the tide is turning and more knowledge of the benefits of automation is filtering through. This could be something to do with the current developments in collaborative robots, or cobots, which are becoming progressively mainstream. Or it could just be that as we increasingly use AI in the consumer market – witness the proliferation of the Amazon Alexa  – we are more accepting of sister technologies in the workplace.

A recent survey of over 2000 UK workers by Industrial Vision Systems has found that many are unconcerned about the impact new technology may have on their current job role, with 49% of respondents indicating that they would be happy or very happy if a factory used artificial intelligence robots to make decisions on quality control.

The research also found some misconceptions about the impact robots and artificial intelligence can have in aiding productivity in the workplace. However, with  quarter of employees stating that if they had a robot colleague assisting them at work, they would feel threatened that they might take their job - that left 75% that did not feel their job was threatened.

Looking at these figures, I can’t help feeling that this might give a pretty accurate picture of the impact of automation. Undoubtedly, some of today’s roles within the workplace will be replaced by robots; on the other hand many roles will evolve to work with robots, rather than being usurped by them. Whether this takes to form of a 25/75 percent split remains to be seen.

And let’s not forget, under most economic circumstances, increased investment in automation results in increased productivity, which in turn leads to more growth and, ultimately, more jobs. If the UK strives to make the right investment decisions and keep its workforce well trained and educated in the latest technologies, there’s no reason why automation has to lead to unemployment.

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.

Malware targets industrial safety systems 15/01/2018

News has emerged of a malicious software designed specifically to enable the damage or destruction of industrial equipment. Reports say that the ‘Triton’ malware, which has been designed specifically to communicate with safety instrumented systems (SIS) and deploy alternative logic to these devices, has been used used against at least one organisation in the Middle East, although it's not known in what kind of industrial facility, or even in which country, the malware appeared.

Seemingly having been in existence since at least August 2017, Triton, which is also known as Trisis, works by infecting a Windows computer that is expected to be connected to a SIS device. The malware then injects code modifying the behaviour of the SIS device. However, at present the intended effect is unclear and investigation is still underway. The incident was originally disclosed by FireEye, when its subsidiary, Mandiant, which specialises in acting on and proactively protecting against advanced cyber security threats, responded to an incident at a critical infrastructure organisation.

Triton specifically targets Triconex products sold by Schneider Electric. In the reported incident, the Triconex systems entered a ‘fail safe’ state and the plant was shut down safely. However, there has been speculation that much more serious damage could have been caused.

Here in the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre is of the opinion that to deploy and successfully activate such malware, the attacker would need to know a target environment in-depth. The process of acquiring this knowledge may take several weeks or months, during which the attacker is likely to have used engineering documentation and enumeration of the network to further their goals.

While there is no information to suggest that the malware is more broadly deployable - indeed, it likely does not pose an immediate threat to other Schneider Electric customers, let alone other SIS products it could signal the beginning of a new era. Triton is one of only a handful viruses reported to date capable of disrupting industrial processes – the first and most infamous being Struxnet – yet its very existence suggests that it won’t be long before other hackers will try and copy this type of attack.

For more information on Triton and tips on how to mitigate against this type of cyber security threat whatever your SIS device vendor visit the NCSE website at http://bit.ly/2DbMDsT

Be the first to have your say.

You need to or  to add comments.


Charlotte Stonestreet is an experienced b2b editor and has worked across a range of industrial titles including Handling & Storage Solutions, Factory Equipment and Materials Handling News.

She has also contributed to the 'Energy Procurement essential guide to excellence'.

Having gained a degree in English with Media Studies, Charlotte started out her publishing career on a voluntary basis, producing a newsletter for Mencap.