Harriet Peel, School of Civil Engineering

Harriet Peel

Why did you choose to study for a PhD at the University of Leeds?

For me, it was important to choose a project which I found exciting and interesting, and that I could see myself working on for the next 3-4 years; that built on my engineering background, but also challenged me with new things to learn. I found that project here at Leeds.

Leeds also has excellent research facilities, such as the ESPRC National Facility for Innovative Robotic Systems for fabricating complex systems. I recently got the chance to utilise these facilities during the ESPRC National Intelligent Robotics Prototyping workshop, where we designed and built robots using the facility’s 3D printers over two weekends - you can see some of our robot designs.

Tell us about your research

My research is split 50-50 between the School of Civil Engineering and the School of Computing, and applies techniques from computing and robotics to inspection of civil infrastructure.

My work focuses on inspection of bridges, specifically inspection of bridge bearings, which are the mechanical components of a bridge. Bridge bearings are critical to bridge performance and infrequent or inadequate inspection can lead to failure at large cost. To make bridge bearing inspection easier and more repeatable, I have been developing a robotic platform that uses low-cost, off-the-shelf technology with cameras to carry out visual inspection and other sensors for corrosion detection.

This work is part of a larger project, The ESPRC Grand Challenge of zero disruption from road works in UK cities by 2050. In partnership with UCL and the Universities of Birmingham and Southampton, robots and other technologies are being developed for the inspection, monitoring and repair of cities. We will be showcasing some of our work in an event for National Robotics Week on the 27 and 28 of June - read more about the project.

What is your favourite part of studying at Leeds?

I have really enjoyed all the opportunities to interact with people from all over the world. Not just in the Schools of Civil Engineering and Computing, where we have a broad international community, but also through campus-wide networks such as Women at Leeds, Engineering outreach events, collaborating with researchers in Italy and at international conferences, which I have been lucky enough to attend in the USA and Taiwan.

What activities do you take part in outside of your studies?

I like to keep active. Recently, I have been participating in the free activities provided by Get out Get Active here at the University, particularly yoga and running, and this year I completed my first half marathon. I also enjoy cycling and walking in the Yorkshire Dales.

I am also learning to lay underfloor heating with my dad… when I get the chance!

What are your ambitions for the future?

I want to continue doing cutting edge research and my future could be in either academia or industry, but wherever I end up, and working on projects that I enjoy. I think the future for robotics research is exciting and I hope I can make a lasting contribution.

Any advice for prospective students?

Don’t be afraid to try things you have never done before. My undergraduate degree was in aeronautical engineering, but now I am doing a PhD in civil engineering and robotics. Remember that you have many transferable skills and your unique experience can provide a fresh perspective on many problems. Also, take the time to prepare yourself and your work environment for taking on new tasks; some of the things that may seem trivial to learn can end up being the most useful.