Working closely with Edinburgh Centre for Robotics we designed and ran a 2 day EPSRC creativity@home workshop for their PhD students. The Centre’s main programme is the EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training (CDT) 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.
The primary aim of this project was to provide PhD researchers with a toolkit for creative thinking and problem solving that they could apply to their research. A secondary objective was to consider the broader impact their research could have on the world and society. The workshop was fast paced, intellectually stimulating and highly interactive bringing an evidence based approach to idea generation and design thinking, and how these tools could be applied to develop solutions to real challenges in robotics.
Day 1 started with Professor David Lane setting the scene and providing context on RAS2020 and future opportunities and drivers in robotics. Participants were then exposed to a suite of proven creative thinking and ideation tools and processes and practiced applying these tools to develop possible solutions to real challenges.
A key aspect of our training approach is to give researchers the opportunity to apply what they learn. This increases the impact, retention and the likelihood of application in their daily work, well after the training is over.
On Day 2 teams identified real problems and then built a creative thinking framework to generate ideas for how to use research to solve these problems. The teams explored ideas big and small and used lean canvas to outline strategies for real-world application that would have significant positive impact on society. The lean canvas allowed the groups to test whether their ideas might be viable as a business, which the researchers found to be a particularly useful exercise.
At the of of Day 2 we explored how to pitch complex ideas to a non-technical audience. The teams learned and used the Skillfluence pitching framework to present the new concepts to their peers and a panel of judges. The ideas presented addressed a wide range of major societal challenges from over-crowded cities to more effectively managing air traffic control. The “winning” idea was a methodology and innovation in permaculture with potentially significant impact.
What participants said:
“It was great to learn a structured approach to creativity: good for starting projects, literature reviews, project management and developing product/engineering ideas.”
“Being able to practice using the tools helped me fully understand the use and reach of these techniques.”
“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.”
“There was nice environment created for creativity, which is difficult to achieve in a training course context.”
“Both trainers were excellent. Knowledgeable, friendly, approachable and great at presenting the ideas.”