AI scientists spark interest at largest school-based STEM fair

The DriverLeics Group from the University of Leicester.

Computer scientists specialising in AI and Autonomous Systems showcased the University's innovative research and education in AI at the nation's largest school-based STEM Fair on 17 June.

Leicester Grammar School hosted the Bright Sparks STEM Fair, recognised as the largest school-based STEM Fair in the country, which drew thousands of visitors from throughout the county and beyond. Featuring over 70 exhibitors from local businesses, universities, and STEM organisations, the fair was a vibrant hub of scientific exploration. 

The DriverLeics team was among the invited exhibitors. The team, comprised of CMS academics - Dr Daniel Z. Hao, Dr Genovefa Kefalidou, Dr Neslihan Suzen, and undergraduate computer science student Abdulqader Dhafer - presented their work at the Bright Sparks STEM Fair last Saturday. 

Based in the School of Computing and Mathematical Sciences, the DriverLeics team is composed of academics and students devoted to AI and Autonomous Systems research, competition, and outreach activities. The team has participated in numerous prestigious events in the past, such as the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in 2019 and 2020 (online). 

The DriverLeics team provided several engaging activities, including an interactive robot dog experience, an AI system that identifies objects in people's hands, and two self-driving cars to demystify the concept of autonomous vehicles.

The DriverLeics team lead Dr Hao said: "As Citizens of Change, we view this as an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the community how our AI and robotics research will shape the future. The reception to our activities was overwhelmingly positive, and I believe it is crucial to understand the perspectives of the general public and the younger generation on AI.

"Many adults approached us with uncertainty, or even fear, about AI, while younger people thoroughly enjoyed the robot dog shows and came up with surprisingly innovative uses for legged robots that we had not considered before. It is vital to stress that AI is a tool, and its use lies in our hands." 

“Working on designing AI for trust or else as known as ‘trust by design’ is critical for providing AI innovations that are engaging, enhance User Experience (UX) and make people feel safe” said Dr Kefalidou who is also Co-Investigator on the UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems (TAS) Verifiability Node project. Familiarity and anthropomorphic design can influence first impressions of robots – for example, participants said “I am scared of the robodog because it does not have a face…I expect to see a face (…) it is also fun though the way it dances and walks around” while for the object identification AI participants indicated “this is so cool…it identifies the cup and the chairs that are even behind!”

Eight-year-old robot enthusiast Martin visited the stand and gave it high praise: “I give the DriverLeics stand a 10/10! I learned a lot about robots!”