To learn more about how the University of Leicester works with businesses, I went to ‘Free Cake Friday’ on 27th July 2018 at the Leicester Innovation Hub. This initiative provides a forum for businesses and innovators to meet academics and business support organisations such as Innovate UK and the LLEP to help you develop ideas and grow your business. It is an open day from 10 – 4pm with presentations and networking opportunities.

The first presentation was from Dr José Miguel Rojas and introduced the University’s involvement in the Audi Autonomous Driving Cup. Audi are running a competition to see which out of 16 teams across Europe can provide the best performance of a scaled-down model autonomous vehicle at a variety of tasks. The combination of knowledge of the team at the University, which includes machine learning, software architecture and software testing may be the reason the University of Leicester gained one of these hard to win places. Their team name says it all ‘DriverLeics’ (pronounced driverless, of course).

The team explained how they are designing software so the model will complete the various tasks which include driving in a straight line, driving uphill and downhill at the right speed, joining a road and parking. The aim is to achieve Level 3 where most of the functions are automated but the driver is still available to intercept. Safety was spoken about at length as understandably this will be the biggest issue. Designing for ‘road awareness’ is quite a challenge and it will be very interesting to see the results.

This was followed by a presentation from Professor Roland Leigh from EarthSense a company which monitors air quality and was born from the drive to use space data for practical purposes. It was stated that it costs the UK £20bn per year to deal with the impact of poor air quality including health problems and lower economic productivity. To help deal with this the company created an air quality measurement sensor to report on air quality. This lets government bodies, organisations and communities clearly see the problem and put measures in place to improve air quality. It was exciting to see how a practical application for space technology could lead to initiatives which have such a direct impact on improving lives.

After the presentations there was a speed networking event, designed to bring businesses and academics together. Along with the promised cake – with at least 10 different kinds they are hard to resist - Free Cake Friday provides a welcome opportunity to meet members of the University to discuss projects and indicatives and network with other business owners. If you want to learn something and have a project you think the University or local organisations could help with it is a great event to attend.