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News Archive : April - June 2015

Computer Science students triumph at York enterprise awards

Date Added: 19th June 2015
Students scooped top awards at two University of York enterprise competitions this week, celebrating innovative ideas for new ventures.

Sam Heather, a third year Computer Science student, won an awards in the Plan ENVY (Exciting New Ventures at York) competition.

Sam collected a £2,000 prize for Outstanding Business with pingWHEN, a personal safety app that sends automated notifications for when you arrive to a destination or more importantly, if you don't. Designed in response to the number of female students in the USA facing sexual assault, pingWHEN is currently in a private beta-testing phase and will officially launch to the public in August 2015.

Sam was one of four finalists selected from over 50 entries to the annual Plan ENVY competition. Sam Heather said: "Careers at the University of York have been amazing in helping us. Winning Plan ENVY is really going to help drive our business forward."

Hosted by the Careers team at the University, the Plan ENVY competition provides an opportunity for York's many young entrepreneurs to showcase their businesses. Funded by Santander, the competition leads to a final dinner where the top entrants present their ideas and progress to date.

Ben Ezard, also a Computer Science student, won the Most Robust Plan title, and accompanying £500 prize, for his student property rating venture RateMyUniHouse with fellow student Tara Annison.

Grant success for next generation robot software

Date Added: 18th June 2015
A new EPSRC grant will look into new ways of developing robotic control systems.

Researchers at the University of York have been awarded a £1.7million grant to investigate the next generation of software tools that will lead to a new way of developing robotic control systems, which are increasingly becoming part of our everyday life.

Professor Ana Cavalcanti of the Department of Computer Science is heading up a team that will push the boundaries of the state of the art in the development of controller software for mobile and autonomous robots. The team includes Professor Jim Woodcock, also of the Department of Computer Science, and Professor Jon Timmis, of the University of York's Department of Electronics.

Whilst a lot is known about the principles that guide the engineering of software, cost-effective and programming of robot controllers is a challenge facing developers worldwide. The researchers at York aim to develop software engineering notations, techniques and tools for mobile and autonomous robots.

Professor Cavalcanti said "This funding creates an opportunity for us to pursue the ideals of strong and modern software engineering in a very exciting area of application.

"We will also need to understand the languages and design techniques used in the programming of robot controllers, so that we can design procedures and tools to support the automated application of software. The potential for the scientific and industrial impact of this research is enormous."

The research aims to create a toolbox that will give developers the tools they need to be able to specify robotics models for their specific environment, the robotic platform and the controller. For commonly used environments and robotic platforms, the toolbox will include a range of ready-made models. It will also contain techniques that will allow the developer to ensure desirable properties of these models.

"The toolbox will allow the developer to focus on optimising the robot and the code needed to make it run, rather than getting bogged down in routine and error-prone tasks. It will also be very adaptable because it will not be dependent on any one tool, and so can be used with a variety of robotic platforms," Professor Cavalcanti explains.

The work will be funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

York Computer Science academic awarded Royal Society grant

Date Added: 11th June 2015
A lecturer from the University of York has been awarded a Royal Society Industry Fellowship, aimed at strengthening links between academia and industry.

Dr Mike Dodds, an Anniversary Lecturer in York’s Department of Computer Science, is one of four recipients of the prestigious grant. It is awarded to academic scientists who want to work on a collaborative project with industry.

Dr Dodds will collaborate with Microsoft Research Ltd to work on high performance algorithms that ensure computational correctness, known as Principled Reasoning about ‘Liveness’.

He explains: “Computer systems are rapidly becoming more complex, making it difficult to ensure they are reliable and secure. At the heart of concurrent software are high-performance algorithms which manage communication and distribute work. Despite considerable effort, ensuring correctness for these key components remains extremely challenging. My research is about formal verification: using rigorous mathematics to guarantee reliability.

“In this fellowship, I will work with Microsoft on ensuring algorithms eventually produce desired outcomes or `liveness'. Liveness is a key property for system designers, and liveness verification for real-world algorithms will require us to make both practical and theoretical innovations.

“I'm delighted to have been awarded this fellowship by the Royal Society. Microsoft Research are one of the world’s leading centres of verification research, and I'm very excited to have the opportunity to work closely with them.”

The full list of latest Royal Society Industry Fellowships recipients is:
- Dr Mike Dodds, University of York
- Dr Nathan Griffiths from the University of Warwick to work on The Self-Learning and Connected Car at Jaguar Land Rover
- Dr Nicholas Ekins-Daukes from Imperial College London to work on Near-Infrared Absorbers for High Efficiency Multi-Junction Solar Cells at IQE PLC
- Dr Rachel Smith from University of Sheffield to work on Spray Coating of Powders and Liquid Contact Transfer: Prediction and Scale-Up at Procter & Gamble Technical Centres Ltd.

The Royal Society Industry Fellowship scheme is funded by the Royal Society, EPSRC, BBSRC, NERC, Rolls Royce and BP. The scheme provides each scientist’s basic salary for the duration of their secondment, which lasts for up to two years full-time or four years part-time.

Computer Science academic appointed champion of research

Date Added: 10th June 2015
Professor John McDermid is one of seven Research Champions appointed today at the University of York.

The Research Champions will help to harness the University’s cross-disciplinary research strengths to best tackle the great scientific, social and environmental challenges of our time.

The appointments reflect the seven themes which are a key feature of the University’s new Research Strategy, launched in January 2015. Professor McDermid is the Research Champion for Risk, Evidence and Decision-making.

York is ranked in the top ten institutions in the UK for the impact of its research, while the proportion of its research classed as world-leading 4* status is among the highest of any UK university. The research champions will give York’s major interdisciplinary research strengths focus, identity and presence, helping to encourage interdepartmental and international research activity and partnerships.

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Koen Lamberts said: “The seven research champions we have appointed are an outstanding group of individuals who will provide vision, focus and intellectual leadership for cross-disciplinary activities within our research themes. They are academics of the highest calibre who will offer a new and exciting perspective for our world class research.”

John McDermid is a Professor of Software Engineering and a member of the High Integrity Systems Engineering Group (HISE) in the Department of Computer Science which he headed from 2006 to 2012. His primary research interests are in high integrity computer systems, especially in safety and security. Professor McDermid’s work has influenced industrial practice both directly and via standards, and he is best known for developing techniques for managing evidence of safety, supporting risk-informed decision-making. He has taught extensively at postgraduate level, including on continuing professional development courses for industry. He is a Government advisor and a member of the Rolls-Royce Electrical and Controls Advisory Board. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering and was appointed OBE in 2010.

For more information about the Research Champions, visit

Researchers find the ‘key’ to quantum network solution

Date Added: 28th May 2015
Scientists at the University of York’s Centre for Quantum Technology have made an important step in establishing scalable and secure high rate quantum networks.

Working with colleagues at the Technical University of Denmark (DTU), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the University of Toronto, they have developed a protocol to achieve key-rates at metropolitan distances at three orders-of-magnitude higher than previously.

Standard protocols of Quantum Key Distribution (QKD) exploit random sequences of quantum bits (qubits) to distribute secret keys in a completely secure fashion. Once these keys are shared by two remote parties, they can communicate confidentially by encrypting and decrypting binary messages. The security of the scheme relies on one of the most fundamental laws of quantum physics, the uncertainty principle.

Today's classical communications by email or phone are vulnerable to eavesdroppers but quantum communications based on single particle levels (photons) can easily detect eavesdroppers because they invariably disrupt or perturb a quantum signal. By making quantum measurements, two remote parties can estimate how much information an eavesdropper is stealing from the channel and can apply suitable protocols of privacy amplification to negate the effects of the information loss.

However, the problem with QKD protocols based on simple quantum systems, such as single-photon qubits, is their low key-rate, despite their effectiveness in working over long distances. This makes them unsuitable for adaptation for use in metropolitan networks.

The team, led by Dr Stefano Pirandola, of the Department of Computer Science at York, overcame this problem, both theoretically and experimentally, using continuous-variable quantum systems. These allow the parallel transmission of many qubits of information while retaining the quantum capability of detecting and defeating eavesdroppers. The research is published in Nature Photonics.

Dr Pirandola said: “You want a high rate and a fast connection particularly for systems that serve a metropolitan area. You have to transmit a lot of information in the fastest possible way; essentially you need a quantum equivalent of broadband.

“Continuous-variable systems can use many more photons but are still quantum based. Our system reaches extremely high speeds by three orders of magnitude higher than ever before over a distance of 25 kilometres. Its effectiveness above that distance decreases rapidly however.

“Nevertheless, our protocol could be used to build high-rate quantum networks where devices securely connect to nearby access points or proxy servers.”

Dr Pirandola was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

The University of York leads a unique collaboration to exploit fundamental laws of quantum physics for the development of secure communication technologies and services for consumer, commercial and government markets.

The Quantum Communications Hub is one of four in the EPSRC’s new £155m National Network of Quantum Technology Hubs.

The paper ‘High-rate measurement-device independent quantum cryptography’ by Stefano Pirandola, Carlo Ottaviani, Gaetana Spedalieri, Christian Weedbrook, Samuel L Braunstein, Seth Lloyd, Tobias Gehring, Christian S Jacobsen and Ulrik L Andersen is published in Nature Photonics. A link to the paper can be found here:

£3m boost from Europe spells greener, more powerful computing clusters for enterprise

Date Added: 14th May 2015
Computer Science are part of a project developing systems that can provide powerful computing with the most efficient use of energy.

Firms reliant on high-performance computers or embedded systems could benefit from a £2.9 million European Commission grant to research and develop new ways of balancing loads on complex, multicore applications.

A group of technology developers, industrial systems suppliers and research organisations have joined forces to optimise computing resources for computing clusters often seen in automotive, media, scientific and pharmaceutical industries.

The DreamCloud project brings together experts in system software technologies that will develop new and creative approaches for balancing the load of multiple applications running across dozens or hundreds of cores while ensuring required levels of performance and energy usage.

The University of York will lead the technology research, with the High Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) at the University of Stuttgart and Bosch being just three of the firms which have signed up to the project. It is hoped that DreamCloud will develop systems that can provide the most powerful computing with the most efficient use of energy.

Dr Leandro Soares Indrusiak of the Department of Computer Science at the University of York, said: “What’s needed for the next generation of applications that seek to benefit from multicore platforms are new ways of dynamically adapting multicore processing to different application loads and energy constraints.

“We’re seeking to exploit today’s knowledge of biology, market dynamics and control and feedback theory to create new paradigms for the way processing resources are scheduled and dynamically adapted for complex application configurations.”

David Lounsbury, CTO of the Open Group consortium that are working on the project, added that the initiative could “hold tremendous promise for enabling new applications to be developed that more fully exploit the processing capabilities of next generation multicore platforms while providing the performance guarantees needed for critical systems in avionics, automotive, communications and other related domains.”

More information about the project can be found at

Success for York students in the NASA Space Apps Challenge

Date Added: 23rd April 2015
The latest Space Apps Challenge to be hosted in York has seen two projects go forward into the global judging.

The event held over a weekend in April attracted nearly 60 participants, who made up ten project teams. This included 15 students from the University of York.

The winning project, which also secured the People's Choice Award, was CropOp, which was solving the Crop Alert - Learning from the Growers Challenge. CropOp is an app designed to improve 'agricultural extensions', by tackling these basic problems; adoption of better seeds, crop rotation, fertilizer application and weather alerts.

The app aims to improve the delivery system of information involving these issues by an economically efficient system. Future capabilities can include an effective credit system by the implementation of mobile banking for the farmers to obtain better crops and fertilizers more easily.

The team was made up mainly of students from the Department of Computer Science, and you can see more about their project at

The second placed project was ScopeNet, which was designed to solve the Robotic Observatory challenge. ScopeNet a low-cost hardware, firmware and online service allowing hobbyist astronomers worldwide to automate and share their telescopes online. Astronomical observations requested from users globally are optimally dispatched to the most appropriate telescope(s) worldwide. Image processing algorithms produce crisper, better quality images by stacking and registering photographs of the same object taken from multiple scopes in the network, enhancing the performance of a set of low cost recording devices.

You can find more information about ScopeNet at

The event was very well received by participants: "There was a real energy to the weekend, with each group eager to work on their own particular challenge, but also keen to discuss ideas with others. Everyone encouraged each other and that made the final presentations both interesting to hear and a supportive environment in which to present."

The event has its own YouTube channel, where you can watch the proceedings and the teams presenting their projects.

Good luck to those projects in the global judging, and we hope to see you for Space Apps Challenge 2016 in York!

York's Computer Science once again hosts global NASA event

Date Added: 8th April 2015
The University of York’s Department of Computer Science will take part in the International Space Apps Challenge, a 48 hour global coding event organised by NASA.

Taking place on 11 - 12 April, the Space Apps Challenge will see 9000 participants from 125 worldwide locations tackle over 25 different challenges. Using publicly available data, participants form teams to develop solutions to four types of challenges - Outer Space, Earth, Humans and Robotics.

Open to both students and professionals, no technical experience is needed and participants can take part in York or via virtual participation. Teams will present their solution to an audience and a panel of professionals and academics, with the jury nominating a local winner to compete in a global competition. If successful, the global award includes an opportunity to attend a NASA launch.

York’s Department of Computer Science will host the event in collaboration with NASA, and local companies Maplesoft, Inviqa, Merisis, Cybula and HA247.

Nils Moenning, PhD student in the Department of Computer Science and Lead Organiser of the Challenge, said: “It is our third time hosting NASA's International Space Apps Challenge in York - a tradition we are very excited to be a part of. Collaborating with industrial and academic partners who make this event possible, we are very thankful for the support we receive.

“For participants it is a great opportunity to make a difference to technology in space and on earth by working together. This is really the spirit of the Space Apps Challenge: innovation through collaboration. At the same time participants showcase and improve their skills, get involved with public data and win some prizes.”

Participation is free and open to everyone. The event starts at 9:30am on Saturday 11 April in the Department of Computer Science and ends at 6pm Sunday 12 April 2015. To join the event visit:

Follow the event on Facebook and on Twitter.