Welcome to Virtual Lincoln! Hosting the UK-RAS Conference 2020: Robots into the Real World

This year’s conference was co-organised by the UK-RAS Network, and colleagues from within The Lincoln Centre for Autonomous Systems (LCAS) and the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training:  AgriFoRwArdS (CDT). The Conference Committee also included colleagues from the University of Bristol’s Centre for Doctoral Training: FARSCOPE.

LCAS and the CDT, were due to welcome approximately 100+ students, researchers and experts in robotics and autonomous systems to Lincoln on Friday 17th April, for the 3rd UK-RAS Conference. The UK-RAS conference is specifically for PhD students & early-career robotics researchers, and it aims to promote quality research, networking, and community building for PhD students and practitioners at the frontier of science and technology in intelligent robots and systems.

In response to the ongoing threat from the Covid-19 outbreak the Conference Committee took the decision to go ahead with UKRAS20 virtually.  UKRAS20 was conducted via Zoom, and the conference exceeded the expectations of organisers and attendees alike.  The Zoom technology worked well for the online conference format and allowed for a wide variety of talks and poster presentations.  Attendees were given the opportunity to discuss the latest advancements using the ‘Chat’ function on Zoom, and the virtual interaction between presenters and those watching continued throughout the entire day.

Keynote speakers included Prof Ingmar Posner (University of Oxford), Dr Fumiya Iida (University of Cambridge) and Dr Adam Stokes (University of Edinburgh). 15 papers were presented orally in three sessions on AI and Robotics, Field and Service Robotics, and Novel and Emerging Technologies. 41 papers were presented in two poster sessions during the lunch and tea breaks. Awards for the best paper, runner-up and best poster were also presented during the closing session of the event.

The UK-RAS network of students and researchers embraced the technology, and registration numbers soared as soon as the Virtual Conference communication went out.  Attendees on the day totalled 233, far surpassing the number expected at the physical conference in Lincoln.

Bristol’s FARSCOPE CDT took the lead on using the Zoom technology, with support from Lincoln CDT colleagues. Chairing of the conference was done in a manner befitting the virtual world – it was relaxed and professional, and the presentations were interesting and easily viewed from 233 different computers and phones.

Feedback so far from attendees is that the conference ‘worked exceptionally well’ and that the transition between presenters ran ‘more smoothly than during many physical conferences’.

The decision to host the UKRAS20 conference was made following another successful virtual conference hosted a month before.  The EPSRC Centre for Doctorial Training: AgriFoRwArdS hosted its first ever CDT Annual Conference using Zoom technology, on the 19th and 20th March.  The team will certainly embrace virtual events moving forward, based on the success and positive feedback following both of these online conferences.

Papers and posters from the conference are available to view from the UK RAS website here.