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John Oliver: Robotics & Machine Vision

John Oliver used his time at Warwick University to become involved in a variety of practical projects in the area of robotics and machine vision.

While studying for his recently-completed PhD, titled Autonomous Surveillance in an Urban Environment, he built up links with other research teams in Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG).

John, who embarked on his doctorate after completing a four-year Masters in Computer Systems Engineering at Warwick, said: 'What is good about WMG is that there are close links with industry, which helps to keep the work practical. It is not just a question of dealing with an abstract academic problem - the focus is on the work being reasonably applicable.'

John's PhD involved working in a simulated environment, with 'squares on a screen' representing robots which can make their own decisions and talk to each other via a communications network. His research involved development of new algorithms and making modifications to existing algorithms to enable the robots to track targets around complex urban areas. In real life this could be invaluable for military operations or for tackling crime and the moving robots would have an advantage over CCTV cameras which have a fixed field of view.

It is an area of research which is of crucial importance to many governments and one being studied by the Ministry of Defence. The next challenge would be to look at how well the robots can work together as a team and improving their efficiency.

While studying for his PhD, John also became involved in the University's internationally-renowned Robot Football project, which enables students to have some fun on the 'pitch' - at home and abroad - while honing their techological, management and design skills.

He also came into contact with the Lawn Mower project, run in conjunction with turf maintenance equipment manufacturer Ransomes Jacobsen. The aim is to develop an autonomous mower which uses a range of sensors including GPS to find its way around agricultural land, golf courses, parks and cemeteries.

Warwick was an ideal springboard for John, from Essex, who had no trouble landing a job as a software developer at MX Telecom in London.

'I never had a bad interview - some employers said they recruited almost exclusively from a select few universities, one of which was Warwick, so the PhD really helped me in my job search.'

John Oliver