University of Buckingham AI centre 'will help produce the next generation of leaders in computing'

Launch event celebrates Phase 1 of the £3.2 million investment in Computing at the university

Monday, 6th September 2021, 1:16 pm
Updated Monday, 6th September 2021, 1:18 pm

The University of Buckingham School of Computing’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Innovation Hub had its official opening on Friday, September 3, at an event attended by more than 50 guests.

Lord Clement Jones, a former chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence, cut the ribbon to declare the centre open, accompanied by chief executive of the Bucks Local Enterprise Partnership (BLEP) Richard Harrington, university vice-chancellor James Tooley and the dean of the Faculty of Computing, Law and Psychology, Dr Harin Sellahewa.

The launch celebrates Phase 1 of the £3.2 million investment in Computing at Buckingham - a joint partnership between the university and BLEP.

A student demonstrates Birdly at the official opening of the University of Buckingham's AI Hub

BLEP has provided half the funding for the new Centre for AI and also for an iHub, with labs, equipment and space for start-ups.

There is also a Living Lab, for research involving students, academics and businesses developing and commercialising new products and services. The plan is for it to complement existing Living Labs, Clusters and Innovation Centres in Buckinghamshire to help drive economic growth and create new skills in line with Buckinghamshire Local Industrial Strategy.

As part of the project, the School of Computing has acquired specialist equipment for artificial intelligence (AI), cybersecurity, games, virtual reality and robotics programmes.

The university is the first organisation in the UK to have Birdly, a virtual reality flying machine that enables the user to fly over landscapes and cities of the world using virtual reality.

Lord Clement Jones cuts the ribbon, with BLEP CEO Richard Harrington, left, and vice-chancellor James Tooley

It also possesses Spot, the mobile canine robot by Boston Dynamics, single-arm Yumi robots and state-of-the-art virtual and augmented reality headsets.

With Buckinghamshire leading the way in AI and robotics, the university is working with local businesses through projects involving computing students.

Lord Clement Jones said: “I am thrilled to open this trailblazing Computing Department. It’s fantastic to see the partnership between the local LEP and the university resulting in pioneering AI and robotics equipment which will help produce the next generation of leaders in computing and the development of groundbreaking technology in Buckinghamshire.”

Richard Harrington said: “Bucks LEP is delighted to be contributing £1.6 million of Local Growth Funds into the University of Buckingham’s centre for Artificial Intelligence and Innovation.

Spot, the university's robotic dog

"This match investment aims to address the gap in academic application and ethical research into the use of AI.

"The opportunities provided by the application of AI are of growing importance to Buckinghamshire businesses and we are supporting the university to work collaboratively in this field with entrepreneurial businesses.

"It will enhance Buckinghamshire’s pivotal position to help attract inward investment and create a step change in local economic growth.”

Vice-chancellor James Tooley said: “We are extremely grateful to Buckinghamshire LEP for jointly funding this state-of-the art equipment. I know our faculty and students will benefit immensely from the newly refurbished computer labs."

Vice-chancellor James Tooley, left, with faculty dean Dr Harin Sellahewa

Dr Harin Sellahewa said: “We are very grateful for the BLEP funding which enables us to lead the way with AI, cyber security, immersive technologies and robotics.

"We want our students to be developing the next generation of autonomous systems and innovative applications that solve real and complex problems.

"Our region is home to innovators in agriculture technology, motor racing, driverless cars, robotics and satellite technologies, to whom we can provide graduates with the digital and analytical skills which are in demand.”

Guests at the opening included the Mayor of Buckingham, Margaret Gateley, former High Sheriff Milly Soames and local councillors. Students and lecturers demonstrated equipment and guests toured the refurbished labs before enjoying a buffet lunch.