An impresario with a difference is set to tour the UK this year with a rather special kind of orchestra. Danielle George, Professor of Microwave Communication Engineering at the University of Manchester, is crowd-sourcing a robot orchestra made up of around 50 robots of all sorts of different types, built from recycled electronics and junk from an eclectic mix of donors including the Women’s Institute, the National Trust and the Manchester Transport Network. It will go on tour later this year following its debut in Manchester in July as part of the European City of Science celebrations.
On 23 June, Professor George's efforts to convey the excitement of engineering to the wider public will be rewarded with the presentation of the 2016 Royal Academy of Engineering Rooke Award for public promotion of engineering. Named after industrialist and past Academy President Sir Denis Rooke FREng, the award recognises people who have brought engineering to life for the public. Previous winners include TV presenters Johnny Ball, Adam Hart-Davis and engineer, TV presenter and author Professor Mark Miodownik FREng, who will present this year's award to Professor George at the Academy Awards Dinner at the Tower of London.
The robot orchestra is a much bigger and more ambitious version of the pilot that Professor George assembled for her 2014 Royal Institution Christmas Lecture ‘How to hack your home,’ broadcast on BBCFour. She is encouraging people to get involved through a citizens’ engineering project with primary and secondary school groups and individuals, mainly around Manchester but as far away as London. Each team will make their own robot to play a particular part in the orchestra.
Engineering company Siemens is building a special robot conductor to keep the other robots to time, and Professor George is also working closely with the Halle Orchestra, which has composed a special piece of music for the orchestra launch and will provide eight members of the orchestra to perform the music live alongside the robots. Professor George will also take her ‘How to hack your home’ lecture on tour later this year, funded by the Academy and the Royal Institution.
Professor George says: “We are effectively trying to deliver an engineering project via crowd-sourcing; it’s definitely taking me out of my comfort zone. However, that’s a good thing, because that’s when we’re at our most creative. We want to showcase everyone’s work – from five-year-old primary school children working together to the 75-year-old tinkering in their garage – and to celebrate the fantastic failures that allow us to develop our skills and creativity. I want to show how everyone can discover the secret engineer inside themselves - and build an amazing machine from their imagination.”
Notes for editors
The Rooke Award 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. The award is named in honour of the late Sir Denis Rooke OM CBE FRS FREng, a former President of the Royal Academy of Engineering and one of the UK's most distinguished engineers. As Chairman of British Gas, his legacy was to build the UK's gas distribution network and unite the gas industry, making domestic gas a cheap and convenient fuel source for millions of people. He later became Chancellor of Loughborough University and served on many national advisory committees on both energy policy and education.
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