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Glasgow robotics learning experience enjoyed by students globally
VR with robotic arm/supplied
Education & Skills

Glasgow robotics learning experience enjoyed by students globally 

University students from across the globe have been transported into the world of science thanks to a “super immersive” remote robotics-powered learning experience developed by Glasgow researchers.

The new testbed mobile network, launched at the University of Glasgow with £1.6 million funding from the Scotland 5G Centre, is set to be a “game changer” for the industry.

A robotic arm allows students to gain virtual access to work on electronic circuits and experimental set ups, enabling them to learn remotely and in real-time alongside their lecturer and classmates, regardless of their location.

It also allows for multiple participants to have a practical experience simultaneously and feel physically present.

This tele-operational, 5G robotic arm uses a haptic feedback controller that allows the student to feel senses of touch, motion and pressure.

Additionally, the new technology is suitable to provide remote access to specialist centres like Glasgow University’s James Watt Nanofabrication Centre. 

This £35m “state-of-the-art” centre offers research and international collaboration in nanofabrication technologies used extensively for research and industrial prototyping, such as fabrication of extremely small-sized nano-scale devices for the electronics industry.

It is a clean room that requires limited and specialised access, and several measures are to be taken before humans can enter. 

However, the robotic arm now allows virtual access for many, enabling people to work remotely and in real-time, no matter where they live.

The University of Glasgow has already demonstrated, jointly with British Telecom, to Nicola Sturgeon how training in such specialised facilities can be carried out using augmented virtual reality (AR/VR) technology that provides immersive tele-presence experience to remote learners.

Other commercial applications that are currently being researched using this new technology include examining how people learn to drive and take a driving test.  

The data-transfer speed created using 5G technology provides a real-time experience. The technology can allow hazard perception tests without being in a car which could support learner drivers’ experience and reduce waiting lists for lessons and tests.

Enabling partners to test and develop ideas and use cases is how the Scotland 5G Centre is accelerating the adoption of digital technology in Scotland. 

Paul Coffey, chief executive of the Scotland 5G Centre, said: “The test bed built at the University of Glasgow is creating a major step change in ideas and adoption of 5G technology. The ability for students to be able to take part in complex work from another country is exciting and beneficial for the learner and the academic partner. Giving remote access to world-leading facilities to a larger number of people worldwide is hugely beneficial. 

“We are able to create multiple use cases which generates an ecosystem for 5G and leads to further applications across manufacturing, healthcare and education sectors. The market for remote solutions in the robotic market alone is predicted to be worth 16.8 million dollars by 2023, the potential for use of 5G across sectors is of enormous economic benefit.”

Professor Muhammad Imran, who leads the research team at the University of Glasgow, said: “The potential for 5G is remarkable and we have attracted interest from universities in the USA, China, the Far East and the Middle East. The higher quality of user experience offered by 5G connectivity enables us to offer specialised training without students entering the physical space. This has been particularly beneficial during the pandemic and coping with the restriction of movement. 

“The investment in super immersive technology combined with almost instantaneous connections provided by 5G allows us to open up to the world the learning experience available from specialist centres like the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre. It also creates dynamic virtual environments for our Electronics and Electrical engineering students, several of whom are learning remotely from our Glasgow College UESTCin Chengdu in China.”  

Ziwen Li, a second-year undergraduate student at Glasgow College UESTC in China said: “The remote robot has given me a fascinating and unique learning experience which undoubtedly will be useful in my future career.”

The Scotland 5G centre is currently rolling out its S5GConnect Programme and opening regional hubs to support economic growth through the deployment and adoption of 5G services across the country in rural and city settings.  

This programme is supported by £4m investment from the Scottish Government. Hubs are in Alloa, Dundee and Dumfries. 

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