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Outreach and Public Engagement

Reaching out and engaging with the public is an important part of the work in our lab, whether this be to enlighten the public about our research, inspire future STEM enthusiasts, or extend opportunities to underprivileged or underrepresented groups. For some of these activities, I have luckily been able to capture some memories in some form, which I have shared below. Please do contact me at e.johns@imperial.ac.uk if you think that I can help with any outreach or public engagement activities you are organising, and I am also often able to arrange public tours of our lab for some live demos. For more information on our research, each of our projects has a blog-style webpage written in an accessible manner, which you can view here. And for those of you who like videos, every Christmas I release a video summary of our research that year, which you can view here.

In August 2023, I helped out at the United Kingdom World Robot Olympiad Summer Camp, This event brings together a number of school students (ages 8 - 19) from the UK and across Europe, to inspire them about robotics and help them prepare for potential entry to the World Robot Olympiad. I gave a talk highlighting some of my group' research and the direction in which I believe robotics research will go over the next 10 years, after which students had a tour of some of Imperial College's robotics lab and ended up with a hands-on activity building and programming some small, mobile robots. Below is a picture of me with some of the students!

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At the Great Exhibition Road Festival in June 2023, my group and I showcased some live demos of our one-shot imitation learning method, DOME. Both the adults and kids seemed to find it fun watching our robot performing a range of everyday tasks, such as operating a toaster and picking up a kettle. Below are some videos that I captured!

In the build up to the Great Exhibition Road Festival in June 2023, I was invited to take part in Paint Lab, an initiative to form collaborations between scientists and artists and create individual art pieces inspired by specific scientific research project. I was introduced to local artist Yann Brien, and we devised a plan for how best to represent the DALL-E-Bot project from my lab using Yann's own artistic style. Our collaboration led us to designing a pattern based on printmaking, which would abstractly reflect the diffusion process that DALL-E-Bot uses for the robot's imagination. However, I can only take credit for the inspiration; Yann was the one who made our plan come to life! The images below show a timeline of the piece being revealed, from Saturday morning to Sunday evening.

In December 2021, Gareth Mitchell from the BBC World Service came to visit me in my lab. I showed him a live demo of our imitation learning research, where I explained how we can teach our robot to perform everyday tasks, and on this occasion, how to make breakfast using a toaster! This then led to a little interview, which was broadcast in January 2022, and which can be listened to here. My bits are at 12:10 and 35:30!

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Over the summer of 2021, I was a mentor for three students as part of the in2scienceUK programme. This is an initiative to help out young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who are considering a career in a STEM field. I was a mentor for three delightful students from local London schools, who were all soon to be applying for university. As part of this, I invited my mentees to visit me in my lab and shadow me for a day in August 2021, and here we are in my office with one of our robots!

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In April 2021, I gave a virtual talk to Year 3 (ages 7-8) students at Sandcross School in Reigate, the town I grew up in (although not my old school). Luckily, a lot of my research involves fun videos of robots doing silly thing, so the students had a few laughs. I received a personal thank you letter from one of them, so it seems that the talk went down well, and I hope it inspired them a little for the future. Here they are saying goodbye at the end!

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The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in several lockdowns in the UK. This meant that my group and I started to have all our meetings virtually, and access to the lab was severely restricted. This was a big challenge, but we pulled together and made it through in the end! In November 2020, I released a video explaining how my group and I have been dealing with these new challenges.

Every year I give a live demo at the Great Exhibition Road Festival. Here's our robot at the June 2019 festival, for a demo which we titled "A Robot That Can Tidy Your Bedroom". Admittedly, this is not a very exciting bedroom, but hopefully you get the idea...!

I have given two public talks at the wonderful Pint of Science events, which combines public engagement talks with an evening out at the pub! I highly recommend you to attend some of these events, as they're a fun, informal way to learn about what's going on in research today. Below is a video from one of these talks I gave in December 2016.

Inspiring students to study STEM subjects is an important part of being a STEM academic, and I have regularly invited groups of students to visit my lab so that they can experience a few hours of academic life. Below are photos from the Engineering Summer School for Girls in July 2015, where I designed a number of activities to help the students get a better feeling for what computer vision and robotics research involves. On the left, I am giving a general overview of the fields; in the middle, we are playing a game where one student describes to another student an object they are seeing (to try to emulate what it is like seeing objects as a robot!); and on the right, a student is trying to control one of our robots using only the image from the robot's camera (shown on the wall). All good fun!

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