International Women’s Day 2022 series #BreaktheBias

Interview with Samia Nefti-Meziani

Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Robotics

Co-Director of the EPSRC in Future AI and Robotics for Space (FAIR-SPACE) 

Founder and Head of the Autonomous Systems and Advances Robotics Research Centre (ASAR) and the North of England Robotics Innovation Centre

Professor Nefti-Meziani holds a Doctorat D’etat from ParisXI in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence.

She is an international leading expert with 25 years’ experience in the development of concepts, mechanisms and algorithms in the areas of both hard and soft robotics, automation and autonomous systems.

She has made fundamental contributions in low cost robotics technologies and has developed wider practical cross-sectorial technologies including force augmentation exoskeletons, haptic gloves, soft sensors, dextrous and novel end-effectors and pioneered their use in many sectors including Food, Agriculture, Nuclear, Transport, Aerospace and Healthcare through several projects.

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YOUR WORK AS A PIONEER IN ROBOTIC TECHNOLOGIES HELPS TO DEVELOP THE FUTURE OF MANUFACTURING, HEALTHCARE AND THE SPACE INDUSTRY (AMONGST OTHERS). WHY DO YOU THINK IT'S IMPORTANT TO INCREASE DIVERSITY IN YOUR AREA?

Women have their own perspective and different views of the world based on their unique experiences.

To define the best automation or robotic solutions, it is important to have a diverse range of views from all ways of life to encourage new ways of thinking, you never know what might come from this.

This is particularly important in AI as systems must be tailored to their user.

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THE THEME FOR THIS YEAR’S IWD IS #BREAKTHEBIAS – WHAT ONE PIECE OF ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO WOMEN WANTING TO FOLLOW IN YOUR PATH?

I would advise women to stay true to themselves and their beliefs. Don’t change yourself to fit in, continue to be yourself and people will respect you more for it!

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WHO IS YOUR INSPIRATION?

I would like to give the credit to my mother. She is illiterate and did not have the opportunity to go to school, yet she’s not let this stop her raising children that have gone off to excel in their careers and I must thank her for the loving upbringing and confidence she instilled in me.

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(If relevant) DOES YOUR WORK CONTRIBUTE TO A HEALTHIER WORLD FOR WOMEN IN PARTICULAR?

One way in which innovation in robotics/AI can contribute to a healthier world for women is the transformation in the execution of manual jobs (that a lot of women have).

In the food industry for example, women can benefit from fully functional robotic and automation solutions that can remove the repetitive tasks in food packaging/processing/manufacturing, allowing them to focus on other aspects of the role.

Also, there are high number of women in healthcare that can benefit from Robotics/AI technology that can take away the strain from lifting and carrying patients. In addition, having an AI system that can monitor and detect the daily activity of a person with dementia or communication difficulties, instead of trying to do this by asking questions, this technology can allow the carer to pay more emotional attention and offer other support.

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WHAT HAS BEEN A CAREER HIGHLIGHT FOR YOU?

In 2008 I was instrumental in the development of my research Group in Advanced Robotics and Autonomous Systems ASAR, I was a lecturer and had no funding but worked hard to make this happen. Since then, I have secured numerous grants from the EU/UK government and Industry. I have also led and developed the North of England Robotics Innovation Centre  and the Centre of excellence in robotics and intelligent Automation funded both by ERDF and Research England which will allow me to leave a legacy.

Finally, being part of the Advanced Machinery & Productivity Institute (AMPI), led by National Physical Laboratory, based in Rochdale is an exciting moment.  This will stimulate and support rapid growth in the UK's machinery manufacturing sector and has secured £22.6m funding for a 5-year innovation initiative through UK Research and Innovation’s flagship Strength in Places Fund (SIPF).

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FINALLY, HOW DO YOU THINK GREATER MANCHESTER HAS HELPED YOU SUCCEED?

Without support from stakeholders including the Combined Authority, Rochdale Council, MIDAS and local industries, we would never have achieved the fantastic programme AMPI.

Greater Manchester is THE place to be as a female entrepreneur also - we have a strong framework which helps to commercialise our work and take it to the next level.

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