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News Archive : October - December 2012

York part of ‘Digital Inclusion Innovation Contest’ launched to stimulate digital growth

Date Added: 27th November 2012
Computer Science is a partner of a new digital inclusion innovation contest, launched by the Technology Strategy Board.

The aim of the contest is to stimulate digital innovation for assisted living applications amongst UK businesses. The Digital Inclusion Innovation Contest is open to businesses, who must develop an innovative commercial prototype to benefit disabled, blind and partially sighted people, and which has a wider commercial potential.

The prize includes funding up to £48,000 to develop the prototype and the chance to work with partners, including York’s Department of Computer Science, for up to three months to trial the proposed solution.

Computer Science is partnering the challenge with the theme of Sensory Assistance. The aim of this challenge is create a new digital application, product or service to assist older people and people with sensory disabilities. Successful solutions should explore ways in which smart phone apps can:

help visually impaired people navigate the ‘last 10 yards’ (which current GPS systems fail to do); assist people with alerting family or carers to a fall; or alert people with a hearing impediment to important sounds in the home environment.

Professor Helen Petrie, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and head of the HCI Research Group, is a judge in the contest and she and other members of the HCI Research Group will work with the winner of the York sponsored challenge. She said, “We are looking forward to seeing what companies can up with to help those who would traditionally not engage with technology. Here at York we work with technology to find ways to make people’s lives better - it’s all too easy for us to take everyday items like smart phones for granted, when they can really help to change lives.”

Applications will be judged on the level of innovation, fit for the challenge and the potential to run a commercial trial.

A launch event takes place on Thursday 29 November, and the deadline for applications is Tuesday 8th January.

Find out more about the work of Professor Petrie and the HCI group at York.

For full contest details, and to apply, please visit the Digital Inclusion Innovation Contest website.

Ground-breaking exhibition highlights importance of speech technology

Date Added: 22nd November 2012
An innovative exhibition touring Yorkshire and the Humber is raising public awareness of speech technology, giving those unable to speak due to illness or disability a ‘voice’.

Launched on the United Nations-sponsored International Day of Persons with Disabilities, ‘Articulate: The Art and Science of Synthetic Speech’ road-show features collaborative exhibits and installations in public places, demonstrating the latest research into speech-synthesis technology.

The free interactive road-show is part of a research and public engagement project by the Creative Speech Technology (CreST) Network. A unique interdisciplinary network of contributors to the field of computer speech, CreST is leading the way internationally on research into how improvements can be made to the quality and experience of speech-synthesis technology by encouraging artists and scientists to work together.

The opening event on Monday, 3 December, also features the premiere of a new micro comedy sketch film, ‘Voice by Choice’, written by and starring Lee Ridley, a stand-up comedian known as ‘The Lost Voice Guy’.

Supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and Arts Council England, the CreST Network is led by Dr Alistair Edwards from the Department of Computer Science, University of York and Dr Christopher Newell, from the School of Arts and New Media, at the University of Hull’s Scarborough Campus.

Dr Edwards said: “Speech-synthesis technology allows those who have lost their voice through illness or disability to communicate verbally. However, there is an urgent need for this type of technology to be more widely available, and for it to be more reliable and personal.

“By providing more public engagement with computer speech research using the creative and performing arts, CreST aims to help people gain more understanding of the benefits and limitations of this type of technology.”

The charity Communication Matters estimates more than 30,000 people in the UK could benefit from speech-generating communication technology.

Dr Newell said: “We are working with people who use computer-generated speech technology, companies and researchers who design the technology, as well as researchers in a wide variety of fields, to create more individualised synthetic voices. At the moment users have very little choice about the voice they can adopt.”

The ground-breaking interactive road-show features a series of collaborative exhibits and installations developed using cutting edge technologies, by teams of artists and scientists including engineers, poets, film-makers, composers and computer scientists.

These include: a sequence of poems delivered by an artificial voice medium; a collection of short videos, each imagining ways in which people who cannot speak might use speech technology in the future; gaming and other controllers used to control a group of simple vowel-based voice synthesizers which can be used to create choral-like musical textures.

The launch event takes place at York’s City Screen Cinema and special guests include Lee Ridley, Alan Martin and Nicola Bush, who all use speech-synthesis technology to communicate. All three star in the comedy sketch ‘Voice by Choice’, which is directed by BAFTA award winning director Patrick Titley from the University of York’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television.

The sketch revolves around three disabled people all using computer generated voices at a dating event and the absurd situations that arise when all three use a device with the same voice.

Newcastle-based Lee Ridley is the only comedian in the UK to use a computer generated voice. Born with cerebral palsy, complications at birth resulted in his losing the ability to speak.

Lee Ridley said: “Everyone has their own voice regardless of what they sound like. I think that sometimes the voices of disabled people get lost and this is a sketch about that.”

Alan Martin, from Liverpool, is a key member of the CreST Network and runs his own business as a creative dance leader, Mouse on the Move. Until he was 31, Alan communicated using facial expression and signs, but now a voice synthesiser has changed his life.

Nicola Bush, from Manchester, received her first speech synthesis device at 15 years old. She said: “I felt dead, but when I got my first voice it opened important doors for me.”

The free road-show, which is open to all, will be at York’s City Screen Cinema on 3 December, Sheffield’s Winter Garden on 4 December and the Hull Truck Theatre on 5 December, from 11am to 5pm. It will then go on display at Woodend Gallery in Scarborough from 22 to 26 January.

In addition, the York event on 3 December features three short films based on Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices, including ‘Voice by Choice’, which were made in collaboration with Network members. These will be followed by a comedy evening with Lee Ridley. Limited tickets are available for the comedy evening and cost £10. For further information or to make a booking, please call 0871 902 5726 or visit

Watch a trailer for the comedy sketch 'Voice by Choice'.

Find out more about the work of Alistair Edwards and more about the CreST network.

Industry support for Computer Science doctoral students

Date Added: 20th November 2012
Companies including Google and IBM helped to make the 2012 York Doctoral Symposium a success.

The Ron Cooke Hub welcomed research students, staff and industrial representatives from across the UK for the Fifth York Doctoral Symposium (YDS) on Computer Science.

YDS is a one-day symposium run entirely by research students from the Department of Computer Science. The goal of the symposium is to bring together doctoral students to discuss their research and ideas with their peers from a wide range of areas, promoting interdisciplinary research.

YDS also provides doctoral students with the opportunity to gain experience presenting their work to an audience comprising students, staff, and representatives from industrial sponsors.

The day included eight research talks by students, on a wide range of subjects from modelling of biological systems to ad-hoc formation of communication networks in disaster scenarios. In addition, YDS hosted two keynote speakers; Patrick Dantressangle from IBM spoke about GaianDB and the Challenges of Distributed Databases and Prof. Dr. Kerstin Dautenhahn from the University of Hertfordshire presented her research on using Social Robots as Assistants, looking at using robots as therapeutic aids for children with autism.

There was also an industrial panel session, where the delegates had the opportunity to question representatives from our sponsors (Jon Sandles from IBM, Dr. Andrew Coombes from Rapita and James Nugent from Google). The session was very well received by the delegates, who asked probing questions about the differences between staying in academia and moving into industry after completion of their studies.

Throughout the day, 12 research posters were on display in the Ron Cooke Hub Atrium. This facilitated discussion of the research with a wider audience, engaging both undergraduate and postgraduate students from outside of the Departments of Computer Science and Electronics with the cutting edge research presented.

YDS 2012 was a great success, with over 75 delegates attending the talks throughout the day. Delegates came from York's Departments of Computer Science and Electronics, with 15 participants from external institutions. In addition to funding from the Departments of Computer Science and Electronics, the event received generous sponsorship and support from industrial partners: IBM, Rapita, Google, Thales, Stakesoft and Iquara; without whom it would not have been possible.

The proceedings from the Symposium are available at

Using mathematics to reduce animal testing

Date Added: 9th November 2012
Dr James Cussens, a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science, will be working with a interdisciplinary team to see if mathematics has the answer to reducing animal testing.

The interdisciplinary team is led by Jon Pitchford (Mathematics/Biology) and James Cussens (Computer Science) from York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis, and they have secured funding for three years from NC3Rs (National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research).

The funding is to investigate, in collaboration with industrial partners, how mathematics can be used to reduce our reliance on animal testing in evaluating the toxicological safety of new chemicals.

They will use methods from applied probability, statistics, and computer science to learn how existing data can be used more efficiently, and to quantify the relationships between imprecision and uncertainty when making practical assessments of risk.

We will bring you updates on the research as it progresses.

Find out more about Dr James Cussens and the York Centre for Complex Systems Analysis (YCCSA).

Computer Science academic given behind-the-scenes view of Westminster

Date Added: 30th October 2012
One of our professors is spending a week in Westminster as part of a unique ‘pairing’ scheme run by the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science.

The scheme pairs some of the country’s top scientists with MPs and civil servants, giving scientists an opportunity to see how they can help influence policy.

Under the scheme, Professor Jon Timmis, a joint Professor with the Departments of Computer Science and Electronics, is paired with civil servant Professor Petra Oyston from the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) in Salisbury.

The pairing scheme begins with a “Week in Westminster” from Monday, 29 October - a programme of activities for scientists, which includes seminars, workshops, shadowing opportunities and a tour of Westminster.

Professor Timmis will attend a House of Commons Science and Technology Committee meeting, Prime Minister’s Question Time and meet Professor Sir John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Advisor. He will also visit the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory with his ‘pair’ Professor Oyston to learn more about her work.

The Week in Westminster aims to give scientists a taste not only of the approach to science policy but of Parliament and the Civil Service in general.

Professor Timmis said: “This is an exciting opportunity to get a behind the scenes look at the development of science policy in the UK. I am looking forward to offering a reciprocal visit where we can showcase the work being undertaken at York."

Professor Oyston said: “The pairing scheme provides a wonderful opportunity for civil servants and academics to share experiences and understand the issues we each face. I look forward to showing Professor Timmis the breadth of work we carry out at Dstl and learning about the research he is currently involved in.”

The Royal Society’s MP Scientist pairing scheme aims to build bridges between parliamentarians, civil servants and some of the best scientists in the UK. It is an opportunity for MPs and civil servants to become better informed about science issues and for scientists to understand how they can influence science policy. Over 200 pairs of scientists and MPs/civil servants have taken part in the scheme since it was launched in 2001.

Sir Paul Nurse, President of the Royal Society, said: “We live in a world facing increasing challenges that can only be addressed with a clear understanding of science. From climate change to influenza outbreaks, GM food to nuclear power, our MPs have to make decisions about complex issues that will affect the lives of all those in the UK and, in many cases, more widely throughout the world.

“This means that MPs, civil servants and scientists have a responsibility to engage with each other to get the best possible scientific advice into public policy making. We set up the Royal Society’s MP Scientist pairing scheme in 2001 to provide the opportunity for MPs and scientists to build long-term relationships with each other and have now organised over two hundred pairings.

“I know many parliamentarians, civil servants and scientists who have gained from the scheme, and the shaping of public policy can only improve over time as these relationships continue to grow.”

If you'd like to find out more about Professor Jon Timmis, check out his personal web page at He has also just launched a new MSc in Autonomous Robotics Engineering, which builds upon the robotics research here at York. Find out more about the new course at

Royal Society recognition for outstanding Computer Science academic

Date Added: 18th October 2012
Dr Ana Cavalcanti, a Reader in the Department of Computer Science, has received a prestigious Royal Society award.

She is one of only 19 academics across the United Kingdom to receive a Wolfson Research Merit Award, which recognises outstanding scientists. Jointly funded by the Wolfson Foundation and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the scheme provides universities with additional funding to enable them to attract to this country or retain respected scientists of outstanding achievement and potential.

Dr Cavalcanti’s work is concerned with the mathematical foundations of the verification and certification of safety-critical software. She is a member of the High Integrity Systems Research Group in the Department of Computer Science at York.

While industry can provide comprehensive warranties to those buying televisions and laptops, for instance, software users, on the other hand, have no guarantees like this. The long-term goal of Dr Cavalcanti’s line of work is to change this scenario.

Currently, the focus of her work is on safety-critical applications, such as those that control aeroplanes or cars, where any malfunction can cause lives to be lost. The widespread use of the techniques in which Dr Cavalcanti is interested can have profound impact in the software industry.

Dr Cavalcanti said: “I am honoured to receive this award. It is recognition not only of my work, but also of the importance of the study of the foundations of Software Engineering to industry and to society in general.”

For further information on Dr Ana Cavalcanti and her research interests, visit

The Royal Society is the UK’s national academy of science. For further information visit

New Head for Computer Science at York

Date Added: 3rd October 2012
Professor Jim Woodcock has taken over as Head of Department for Computer Science at York.

Professor Woodcock is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and holds the Anniversary Professor of Software Engineering. Joining the Department in 2003, he is a member of the High Integrity Systems Engineering research group, and carries out research into industrial-scale software engineering.

Professor Woodcock takes over from Professor John McDermid, who was Head of Department for six years. In recent years, the Department has gone through a number of changes, including the introduction of new courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, and a move to a purpose-built, state-of-the-art home on the campus expansion at Heslington East.

Professor Woodcock said, “I’m delighted to take over as Head of such an outstanding Computer Science department. I look forward to leading the Department and encouraging our further growth and excellence in teaching and research.”

You can find out more about Professor Woodcock at