Edinburgh Centre for Robotics
Working closely with Edinburgh Centre for Robotics Skillfluence designed a 2 day EPSRC creativity@home workshop for their PhD students. The Centre’s main programme is the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Robotics and Autonomous Systems. Its goal is to train innovation-ready robotics researchers to be part of a multi-disciplinary enterprise.
Participants receive broad training to enable them to engage meaningfully with a wide cross-section of the robotics community. Achieving impact with robotics also requires non-technical skills, for example an understanding of technology translation, creativity and entrepreneurial processes.
creativity@home is an initiative that was launched by the EPSRC. It’s aim is to generate and nurture creative thinking that might lead to potentially transformative research. It’s a very flexible initiative that makes use of facilitators working in partnership with researchers. We plan all parts of the programme from timescale to the activities in consultation with the lead academic. The Skillfluence facilitators focus on the process, creating a structure that allows the group to think freely and explore new and exciting research directions.
Our aim was to provide researchers with a toolkit for creative thinking and problem solving. They can apply this to their research to generate ideas and use this to have impact on the wider world. The creativity@home workshop was fast paced, intellectually stimulating and highly interactive bringing an evidence based approach to generating ideas and design thinking for real world challenges in robotics.
Day 1 Structure and Content
We then explained a range of creative thinking concepts including Toyota’s 5 Whys, brainstorming, ideatoons, 6 thinking hats, SCAMPER and assumption surfacing. Students then had the chance to try core tools and processes for thinking freely and generating ideas on their own and in groups.
As robotics is a physical and kinetic discipline we felt it was important to use physical creativity techniques which meant getting the Lego out!
Participants said the toolkit of creative thinking techniques gave them a “Structured approach to creativity: good for starting projects, literature reviews, good for project management, good for being exhaustive” and a “set of techniques for developing product/ engineering ideas”
A key aspect of our training approach is to allow researchers the chance to actually try out what they learn. This increases the impact of the training, making participants much more likely to use these techniques when they are on their own long after the training is over. Our participants agree with one commenting that it was worth taking 2 days out “because practice enables you to fully understand the use and reach of these techniques”
Day 2 Structure and Content
Day 2 was focused on teams identifying real problems and then building their own creative thinking framework to generate ideas to use research to solve problems. The teams explored big ideas and using a lean canvas worked out ways of applying them in the real world to have a significant impact on society. The lean canvas allowed the
groups to test whether their ideas might be viable as a business, some of the researchers found this particularly useful “My PhD is sponsored by industry. Entrepreneurs skills certainly help handling communications” and “I can imagine using skills for research but I’m mostly positive about using them for potential business ideas post PhD”
The groups worked brilliantly together, bouncing possibilities around and generating some fantastic moonshot ideas. One of the researchers said there was a “nice environment created for creativity which is difficult to achieve in a training course context”
At the end of day 2 we looked at how to pitch complex ideas to a non-technical audience. The teams used the Skillfluence pitching framework to share their new concept by pitching to the whole group and a panel of judges. The groups generated some amazing solutions to solve problems ranging from over-crowded cities to managing the intricacies of air traffic control. Our winning team identified a methodology and innovation in robotic permaculture initially for use in cities but with wider future applicability.
Of course we had to ask what the participants thought of the trainers and responses included “both trainers were excellent. Knowledgeable, friendly and approachable and good at presenting the ideas.”