School: The Edinburgh Academy University: Heriot-Watt University for MEng, MSc and PhD
MEng in Robotics and Cybertronics, MSc in Robotics, Automation and Interactive Systems specialising in Evolutionary and Bioinspired Robotics (Distinction) and a PhD in Rehabilitation Robotics
Car mechanic, builder and barman.
Post Doc Research Associate
Enthusiastic, cheery chap always happy when building, hacking and having coffee!
My name is Alistair and I am 30 years old. I live in Edinburgh and work at the University of Edinburgh. I am also originally from Edinburgh. I went to school and University in Edinburgh too. You can tell from the last two sentences that I quite like the city I live in.
I enjoy making/hacking and can be found spending my spare time repairing old and new tech in my house and working on projects, often ones which never seem to be quite finished and can be modified indefinitely.
I am dyslexic and so when having to type documents for work or even things as simple as describing myself I have a lot of editing to do before it is ever submitted. Even then things aren’t guaranteed to be right (may have got my supervisors name wrong first time I wrote a paper with him).
To exercise I am a keen squash and badminton player often finding it the best way to relax after a long day of engineering, this paired with walking my dog (cross dalmatian/spaniel) keeps me relatively fit.
Designing and building robotic sensor nodes for monitoring offshore structures
I started working as a research associate one year ago after finishing my PhD.
The project I am on is called ORCA HUB which stands for Offshore Robots for Certification of Assets. This in short means I build robots that can be used to watch oil rigs or wind turbines for any strange behaviour. For example, if we detect that one of our robots has moved a metre in any direction on a structure that is not meant to move we know there is a big problem.
My work involves designing and building some of the robots we need for this kind of job, these robots are new and have never been build before which allows us to publish papers on them showing off our work and letting other researchers replicate the work to use in their own systems.
A lot of the work involves working with other universities and industry which means there are plenty of opportunities to travel across the UK and abroad to demonstrate the work.
Another aspect of my job is public engagement where I get to show off the robots we have and everyone who attends the events gets to learn how to operate them and then get to play with the robots.
My work involves designing and building some of the robots we need for this kind of job, these robots are new and never been build before which allows us to publish papers on them showing off our work and letting other researchers replicate the work to use in their own systems.
My Typical Day
Coffee, reviewing to-do lists, designing/building robots or writing papers
Life as a research associate is always busy but always interesting.
As I said morning coffee is a must for me, this is then followed swiftly by looking at my to-do lists and emails and generally adding lots to the to-do lists (great way to organise your head). After that things can vary, sometimes I am in the lab fabricating new parts for our robots which could be its electronics, mechanical parts or soft sections.
Other times I will be at my desk designing new systems, or reviewing the current state of the art in the area I am working (currently its creatures that live deep in the sea and how I can make robots like them).
I am starting to teach courses at the university and so I will have to plan for the lectures as well as teaching them.
Often I travel to other universities to work with them on projects or take part in meetings.
Normally fit in lunch and more coffee throughout the day and finish after 6.00pm as I like to start a bit later in the day.
What I'd do with the money
Fabricating soft robotics kits for local schools to use and learn with.
There are multiple different robots that can be bought for teaching and engagement purposes. However, a lot of these are hard stiff robots that can be prone to breaking if thrown or have liquid split on them.
I would use the £500 to build some soft robotics kits for the local schools and events that I could take with me and let the kids or adults use the events. Soft robots can be squished and squeezed and come right back to shape, some depending on the material can even be punctured and self-repair. These types of robots are ideal for public events of all levels and can be controlled very simply through either computer control pumps or a simple football pump. They can also really take a hammering and can look weird and wacky.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Optimistic, geeky, factual
What's the best thing you've done in your career?
Watched an exoskeleton I build move a friends hand just by them thinking about it!
What or who inspired you to follow your career?
My father and my desire to be able to actually fix everything I took apart inspired me to become an engineer
What was your favourite subject at school?
Design and Technology
What did you want to be after you left school?
A Mechanical/Robotics Engineer
Were you ever in trouble at school?
If you weren't doing this job, what would you choose instead?
Officer in the Royal Navy
Who is your favourite singer or band?
What's your favourite food?
Steak and Noodles
What is the most fun thing you've done?
Scuba diving in the Red Sea
If you had 3 wishes for yourself what would they be? - be honest!
More hours in the day, a large amount of money and a less forgetful memory
Tell us a joke.
A proton walks into a bar, goes up to the bartender, and says, “I’d like a beer.” The bartender says, “are you sure?” The proton answers, “yes, I am positive.” (Old but a classic)